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Genius is...

March 16, 2009 at 5:36 AM

I remember in an interview, Julia Fischer said something along the lines of "sometimes there are performances, whether or not you play in them, that you come out of and feel that something has changed about yourself"

Today I experienced that with shocking force.  Today, I went to a recital (a percussion recital) and thought "...I think this person is what you'd call a genius".  I was literally blown away by the intensity of the performer, how absorbed he was in the music, and also his perfect control over his instruments. 

But I hate to call him a genius...because for a short time I roomed with him and saw how he practices.  I remember I came to the room and he was practicing and I got out my violin and practiced on the other side of the divide in the room. (and because there was little else I had to do that day I practiced more than the "normal" amount of 3-4 hours)  After I came out tired but satisfied with how much I had gotten done, I saw that he was still going.  And after a while during which he continued to practice, I asked him "what are you working on" to which he answered "well, I want to completely relax these muscles when I hit the drum pad.  I can do it pretty well but there's still an element of hitting the pad really fast instead of letting it do the work"

So I wonder what it means when we call somebody a genius. When calling Mozart a genius, are we forgetting, at least in part, the hard work he did as a small child under his (insanely) demanding father?  When we look at great mathematicians like Leibniz and Lagrange, scientists like Newton and Einstein, artists like Caravaggio and Bernini (my favorites), poets like Shakespeare and Petrarca, composers like Beethoven and Mendelssohn, violinists like Ida Haendel and Yehudi Menuhin and we say they're "genius", how much are we celebrating their vision that we don't possess (which I do NOT deny exists)....and how much are we covering up our fear of diving into something headfirst like they did?

Something I don't have to wonder about is this:  when I see something and think "genius", I'll be spending more time in the practice room than usual for a long time afterwords. 

From PM Rolf
Posted on March 16, 2009 at 6:03 PM

Very interesting and I would love to hear more input about this.  I just went to a neurology grandround and the speaker, Dr. Daniel Levitin (author of  This is your brain on music), touched upon this topic.  He mentioned about the practicing 10,000 rule is the common demoniator among "geniuses" and some audience question that statement.   But i do agree that there are so many enviormental factors that can affect how one develops, it's going to be difficult to determine how a genius was borned.  He mentioned that the genetic factor that makes a genius a genius, maybe a a gene that allow someone to work secluded alot, locked in a room by him/herself for long hours praticing (half joking and half serious)!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 16, 2009 at 6:25 PM

Interesting! I have read an article on this, if I find it, I will post it here (the link)...

They said that they did not want to find what made geniuses but they wanted to look at the common elements between them. Here are those I remembered and yes I know there is exceptions... for those who would claim it is not true.

- come from a vry rich and educated family or from a very poor and miserable one (but not in between the two. Why??????????????????)

- be a workoholic!  

- be weird socially

- have a lot of emotional problems and sometimes quite a hard life

But of course, very rare are the geniuses who didn't work at all!  So you are refering to the workoholic side! 

I also think that it HAS TO BE YOUR PASSION and this applies as well to normal people. I'm considered by those who know me quite hard working but I can not be as efficient in something that is not my passion even if I do my best.   I quite often do crazy hours, mainly on weekends,  to practice when I am loaded and miss time to do ennough ( like 3 AM). But I have steel never did my maths, sciences stuff at 3 AM... Even if I can go to bed late for school.  Only violin can push me to do such a crazy thing!    Just an example of the "passion" effect on normal people... lol

Interesting topic!


From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on March 17, 2009 at 4:07 AM

What is a genious ?


"Some people see things that are and ask why? Some people see things that never were   and ask ...why not?"           G.Carlin.


From Rosie Rivers
Posted on March 17, 2009 at 5:40 AM


I read an interesting article once about neuro science and the latest discoveries.  It seems that the brain does not have a limited number of neurons, but rather an infinite number of potential neurons, and these neurons increase in numbers in direct relation to the amount of thinking the brain does

So for instance if you are just starting out in algebra and you find yourself frustrated and angry because your first few weeks of algebraic learning is slow, if you keep at it, your brain will increase the number of neurons associated with the new learning. 

If you stick at it, the difficulty passes as new pathways are formed. Also, when you feel frustrated, it's the brain releasing chemicals to stop you from starting anything new.  Kind of like keeping you in a comfort zone until these new pathways are formed, and then you start to get the good feeling chemicals released to actually keep you on those new pathways (a new comfort zone)

Interesting isn't it because I feel you can apply this to anything - especially music.


From Christopher Davis
Posted on March 17, 2009 at 6:41 AM

This conversation makes me want to sit in a practice room all day so my brain can figure out all the pathways for me to become a genius on the violin!  

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 17, 2009 at 11:22 AM

Rosie, this is amazing news!  


From Rosie Rivers
Posted on March 17, 2009 at 10:39 PM

Yes but I got the information from a business leadership web page years ago and that was what had been leading edge brain discoveries.  It seems that in the corporate jungle, these discoveries were assisting managers motivate their employees. So why not use the same principles for practice. 

There was another element however ... sleep.  If you keep a healthy and sound sleeping regime, you assist your brain to improve on those newly learnt techniques.  When I put the two together (ie routine practice + neuro science) I realised how much potential we all really have. 


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 18, 2009 at 5:19 AM


it`s true of course. The problem with programming your compurter though isd the quality of the input.   One learns all the bad stuff as well. That`s why it`s sometimes better to do nothing at all;)

One way in which violnist fail to taike advantage of sleep is the programming they do before sleeping. If the last thing you do is shadow play (minus the insturment) a piece you are working on then your unconscious will take over duting the night).

Notice thta Camilla Wick advocates practicng the motions of the instrument without actually having one present.



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