A few weeks ago I talked about the power of 'The Moment'… that crucial crossroads in our lives when we're given the reins of opportunity to turn right or left, to rise or fall… those choices that looking back, meant everything.
Most of us have had these moments in our professional and personal lives. But I believe that they're also there waiting in a place you might never expect… in the formation of talent.
Of course, there's no conclusive proof of what makes a musical genius… the debate goes back and forth between some combination of genetics, environment, brain circuitry and practice (10,000 hours of it, according to Malcolm Gladwell). In fact, the only thing experts do agree on is what they're uncertain of.
I certainly don't claim to have any definitive answers, either. But I would like to share what I've observed in my own practice over the past 13 years… commonalities that have led me to an exciting conclusion about 'the moment' that- perhaps- talent is born.
In my experience, brilliant musicians today… singers and instrumentalists that 'speak' the musical language fluently, intuitively, effortlessly and naturally… all had initial language-less, non-technical, and generally teacher-less experiences. In other words, they approached music's door, and- finding it open- walked in silently and usually alone, sat down, and make themselves comfortable.
In that space, immersed inside of music's house, they observed and played without inhibition, rules or criticism from self or others, and developed their ability as an extension of their soul's own language. Certainly, many of these musicians went on to study technique and to read music, but it wasn't part of their initial experience or engagement.
Conversely, I've observed that those who began the study of an instrument or the voice with technical instruction- or as an individual, intellectual pursuit- seemed to master only two rather than three dimensions of proficiency. Yes, they can read music. Yes, they can play songs. But they're not fluent. It doesn't come as naturally to them. They always have to think about it, the way someone who studied French or Spanish in school has to think about and translate from one language into the other before being able to connect.
For those scoffing at the idea that how we learn music might be as important as inherent talent, take a look at countries and cultures- Ireland, African-American churches, the Native American tradition- that teach and celebrate music as an uninhibited practice. It is astounding and inspiring to observe that most- if not all- bravely, comfortably and fluently speak the language of music with powerful, beautiful voices.
This is not a function of a greater amount of inherent talent per capita, but rather, a difference in approach toward music and creative pursuits: the initial engagement- if it wants to demonstrate as inherent rather than practiced, a natural ability rather than a learned one- must bypass the technical, language-oriented, left-brain, and engage directly and immediately with the creative, right brain, emotional centers. The aforementioned cultures go right to these emotional centers. Our current teaching model turns sharply to the left.
None of us can go back and change the way we experienced our initial musical, artistic engagements. But what we can do is use this wisdom to our advantage as we walk into the world and approach learning, particularly things of a creative nature. Abandon language, judgment, and a sense of time. Ignore the temptation to name and perfect things. When the moment comes, sit in the house of your creative pursuit, make yourself at home, listen, and play…