Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Boot Camp for Budding Virtuosos

Business Week has an article in the Aug 21/28 "Competition" issue on the Meadowmount School of Music in Westport, NY. This summer camp creates some of the top string players in the world by putting young people through a rigorous course of practicing (at least 5 hours a day) and performing -- maybe. As the article points out, only the top 60 or so students are allowed to perform, though 220 attend. Everyone else pays their tuition and yet is never deemed worthy to give a concert.

In this way, the school is more or less following the real world of professional classical music. One study found that there are 6 qualified musicians for any open position today in classical music. The last time the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington had an opening for a violinist (in October 2004, Business Week says), more than 320 folks applied and 124 auditioned. I see this myself in the choral field. I'm the president of an organization called the Young New Yorkers' Chorus. We had dozens of people apply for the music director position this year -- and had to choose among people who were all qualified for the job. YNYC runs a "Competition for Young Composers" each year, and also sees how many young musicians are competing for the scarce commissioning dollars out there.

All the students at Meadowmount want National Symphony Orchestra type jobs, and indeed many of them do eventually land such positions. The Business Week article tries to make the point that succeeding in the musical world (and by extension, the business world -- this is Business Week) is almost entirely about how much you practice. Raw talent is not the issue. If you want to be better, do more.

That may be partly true. But music students with more innate talent, in my experience, tend to love their craft more. It is hard to practice 5, 6, 7 hours a day or more if you don't love something. Being naturally good at something and loving it tend to go hand in hand -- which leads to more hours spent practicing, and practicing better.

So unlike Business Week, I wouldn't say that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I'd say it's more like 40-60.

But at 60%, the "perspiration" part is still the most major component. That's why in all fields, not just music, it's a crime to let gifted kids skate through without working hard. When a gifted kid is told to just wait for everyone to catch up in math class, she's denied the joy of learning to work hard, which makes her better at math, and more likely to succeed in the future.

1 comment:

Mike Martin said...

Excellent post. touching on your comments towards the end, I have come to the conclusion that loving something, or having a true "passion" for it separates those in any given field, music or otherwise. I work a lot with people who work with kids and it is unmistakable those who are in it for the kids. They have a passion for what they do. Passion is the one thing I am convinced you cannot teach. It can be kindled, coaxed and nurtured, but overall it is either in you or its not. the kids at the music camp, the ones who excel, are those who find true joy and passion for the music they are making. If only we all were so lucky in our respective fields and daily lives.