there are prodigies, and then there is the real deal,,,

November 28, 2006 at 06:25 AM ·

Replies (87)

November 28, 2006 at 07:40 AM · It's an interesting story, but I hate the journalism. It doesn't answer the questions it raises, like a bad interview. That's too bad. Here's a story of a songwriting genius, making $10M a year just in royalties --> here I can understand how compositions are created. I can't understand how anyone is fast enough to write them down. But good songwriting is unfathomable to me. I don't know how someone like John Prine can write twelve lines and evoke half of everything you ever felt. It's a low overhead, streamlined operation:)

November 28, 2006 at 02:07 PM · jim, thanks for the read. royalty is a beautiful thing, superior to compound interest:)

still, i think the level of "genius" is not comparable.

popular tunes are built essentially around one phrase. you get a high (or low:) ) and you move on.

what that jay kid has achieved is what i consider true talent and prodigy. the hardware and software come built in already. just need a printer:)

November 28, 2006 at 02:43 PM · They're comparable. It's not even debatable. But I'd debate it with you anyway, but I can't, because what you said about it is just about like saying classical music is just a bunch of violins:)

November 28, 2006 at 02:49 PM · A few years ago I met Jay Greenberg at a performance of his "Storm" Symphony commissioned and performed by the New Haven Symphony. For a 12 year old, it was pretty good. For a grownup it was great! He was one of the featured child prodigies for a program on youth. (There was also a young violinist).

But I agree with Jim about the 60 minutes fluff. There is much better journalism out there.

How much of a genius is he? Good question. His music didn't break any new ground. It was enjoyable, but derivative, as I remember it. But then again we are post post-modern now. Berg, Glass, and of course Partch already explored the outer reaches and we see a withdrawal to the comforts of harmony and simplicity again.

What I don't understand is the "writing" part. There must be a facilitator. He went to Julliard at age 11 or so. Someone there was favorably impressed, but someone else had to take him there. He clearly possesses the motivation to write down (an abstraction) his inner music and he felt motivated to learn the technique of writing music. That is I think the most extraordinary part. The melodies bubbling out is not so extraordinary. It is the singlemindedness at such a young age that is extraordinary.

I live with a musically gifted child who makes up stuff all the time. But he doesn't write it. (Once he did write some lyrics though. But he hasn't repeated that effort.) And even the Greenberg boy says he starts out humming, which is a familiar thing for me. I haven't read more about him yet. There is probably some good stuff out there.

I wonder if there are really a lot more talented young composers out there--they just aren't encouraged and facilitated.

(Frankly I think that Partch only scratched the surface and that there is a lot of new ground to be explored, but it is uncomfortable to go out into the wilderness!)

November 28, 2006 at 03:14 PM · It would be horribly unfair to try to make some kind of pronouncement on this poor kid's "genius" based on a few seconds of internet-streamed audio. But here goes! ;-)

1) The stuff sounds good

2) The compositional "technique" seems to be in order.

3) Tchaikovsky was another composer who essentially notated fully-orchestrated works, and this led to his well-known self criticism "my seams always showed."

4) I think I detected some of Mr. Greenberg's seams.

5) Has he heard any classical music written after Mahler?

Thanks for posting the piece... I will definitely look out for opportunities for seeing his music.

November 28, 2006 at 03:57 PM · Jesse, even though I have yet to hear Mr. Greenberg's music, I take issue with your 5th question. I'm sure he has heard modern music, and that his personal choice is to write in a more "traditional" style. Tonal writing does not imply ignorance!

November 28, 2006 at 03:39 PM · jim, debate this:)

it is as comparable as comparing apple and orange.

(alright, apple has more fiber.)

bilbo, jim,

critiquing journalism? how else do you in 15 minutes tell the story on Jim-bo Hour?:)

November 28, 2006 at 04:10 PM · Somehow, Television just seems to go so sloooooow. So much time, so little content.

November 28, 2006 at 04:48 PM · Maura,

How can you be sure? He's a kid. There is a lot of music out there. Who knows what he's been exposed to?

(I'll bet he has seen some movies with John Williams scores though:-0)

November 28, 2006 at 07:11 PM · Al,

Thanks a lot for the link. Nice story.

Good for Blue Jay that he was born into a family with support and understanding, and into a society in a time that his talent can be immediately appreciated.

I hope this child will enjoy what his talents can afford him, and not be overwhelmed by the increasing fame and pressure.

November 28, 2006 at 07:40 PM · vivian, we hope he can manage his talent and grow old happy and productive.

couple other things i find neat with the story:

1. his hearing is very sensitive. in the clip he was shown to cover up his ears when waiting for an approaching subway in nyc.

2. he hears multiple compositions at the same time...reminds me of chess masters playing a roomful of people at the same time. no, we are not created equal, at least for music:(

3. he treats music as a hobby, not as a destiny.

4. there are also some interesting comments in the cbs site under the article.

November 28, 2006 at 07:30 PM · Thanks for your comment Maura. I am not convinced that the concept of personal artistic choice has much relevance to Mr. Greenberg, at least so far. Did you watch the part of the video where he explains his compositional process?

I'm not sure why you decided to defend the merits of tonality. You'll get no argument from me!

(disclaimer again... trying to make conclusions based on a small sample size!)

November 28, 2006 at 08:00 PM · "1. his hearing is very sensitive. in the clip he was shown to cover up his ears when waiting for an approaching subway in nyc."

It does say much at all. I often have to cover up my ears while waiting for underground trains. My ear is very sensitive too; any louder sound will hurt my ears. When I was in college, I was taken to a some kind church where everyone was shouting in the beginner to release ???? My mind turned into an unstable state--I was overwhelmed by the amount of energy through sound. The same scenario happened in one of the classical concerts I attended.

I think in my case, my ears might have enough buffer fluid to mitigate/disperse the energy before it reaches my brain...

Yes, having sensitive ears are important for musicians, but it is not sufficient...I wish it was. :-(

November 28, 2006 at 08:06 PM · Jesse,

like I said I didn't even watch the clip yet, and I was just running off to class so I didn't really get a chance to either think things through or articulate things sorry for the dumb post :)


Well, I'm only a few years older than Jay "just a kid" Greenberg, and I am familiar with works of Ligeti, Berio, Kurtag, Schoenberg, Berg, Ali-Zadeh, Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Crumb, and a whole slew of others. Age does not determine musical literacy...and I would expect that he has heard a good deal more modern music than John Williams movie scores! :)

Al, doesn't everybody cover their ears when a subway roars by? :) And I can get multiple pieces stuck in my head at once too, I always figured it was a sign of mild mental illness. :) (Ever heard Ligeti's "Devil's Staircase" superimposed on the Beatles?)

November 28, 2006 at 08:34 PM · oh please, vivian and maura, stop showing off your highly developed hearing apparatus!:) find a pen and a piece of paper, will ya?

November 28, 2006 at 08:31 PM · Hi. Interesting discussion. As a psychologist who has extensively tested at least 15,000 people of all ages in my career, I can tell you that it is impossible to accurately judge ability from a couple of clips from 60 Minutes (I saw it, too). It is certainly clear that Jay Greenberg is gifted, talented, and is rapidly becoming accomplished.

I think these are 2 key questions:

1. What is his general ability (i.e., intelligence). Is he an ordinary kid with an extraordinary ability, or does he have multiple gifts in many areas (as did many great composers)? That would take an extensive evaluation (not just a few minutes of TV) to answer.

2. But beyond that, is the music he is producing really great, or better than average, or just OK, or less than that? That is an artistic question. Just because a kid is a composing prodigy doesn't mean what he or she composes is automatically great music. And I don't see in any of the comments so far that anyone has had a real chance to analyze or thoroughly evaluate (objectively as well as subjectively) Mr. Greenberg's music.

So maybe he's a great prodigy, but that's still a long way from concluding that he is a great composer.


November 28, 2006 at 10:05 PM · Al,

Showing off? The loud sound of a subway (especially if it screeches like the ones in NYC) hurts my ears, and sometimes I get weird stuff stuck in my head. Big deal. :)

November 29, 2006 at 12:26 AM · Maura knows all about showing off.

Just ask about her bow.

November 29, 2006 at 12:20 AM · maura, i was pulling your,,,ears:) i remember those screeches myself, metal to metal at 50 mph. yikes. some years back, when i moved out of nyc into the suburb, i had difficulty falling asleep for some time because it was too quiet:)

sandy, you have made some good points. but, even if everyone here hears the level of his pieces, i think it is still premature to give a definitive diagnosis. so far so good, though, according to julliard teachers.

you mentioned something of interest to me, about having multiple interests at the same time. can you elaborate and provide some examples? i wonder if those different talents feed off each other or are on totally different circuits? tia

November 29, 2006 at 01:24 AM · some of the greatest musicians and composers have piss poor hearing. So having to cover your ears when the subway approaches like a 3 year old girl isn't very impressive. It's the inner ear that counts, just like for an artist, the inner eye is the most important. How well you hear is almost completely irrelevant.

November 29, 2006 at 01:27 AM · ...Beethoven...

November 29, 2006 at 02:36 AM · The way 60 Minutes shrinks everything down to fit its format and to fit the conventions of pseudo-newsy couch-potato prattle does drive me crazy. I'm sure they cast the story from the beginning as the tale of a circus animal wonderchild, so unlike the normal human, etc., etc.

The interviewer was stumped by his subject? He probably could have written the entire thing without even talking to his subject, so little did he elucidate from the interview. That's what happens when you cast a story and then try to jam it into your ready-made mold.

November 29, 2006 at 03:37 AM · Yes, Maura, Beethoven was a composer ;)

November 29, 2006 at 05:39 AM · That kid is amazing....

November 29, 2006 at 11:16 AM · I agree with Laurie's take on the interview. I usually don't like stories about child prodigies because they so often follow that script. I've never met this kid and I don't mean to be criticizing *him*--he should be of course encouraged to do what he wants and follow his talent's lead.

But the script made his composing process sound so mechanical it was almost boring to read about. And then he himself sounded so bored listening to his own symphony being played that he started writing another one before it was even over. And then he says maybe he won't even be a musician when he gets older. At that point, I'm wondering, why is this news? Where's the struggle? Where's the drama? Where's the humanity? I'm not convinced that this kind of attention is even good for him--or for us, the audience.

November 29, 2006 at 04:35 PM · i will not try to defend tv, not even 60 Mins:) to me, it is a form of entertainment, a wasteland if you will. but, if you are discriminating, there is education value.

i would like to draw a distinction between how the report was done and the content of the report, that is, the kid.

i think the report is well done ( actually saw the entire piece). with a limited time slot, i feel the presentation was factual and not biased into presenting the kid one way or another. it documented his accomplishments and then verified with experts in the field. if the viewers walk away wondering why and how, well, all the better, because there were no grand conclusions/discoveries. it is one more step in our attempt to understand musical prodigies.

on the other hand, i am not sure if humanity, drama, etc need to have anything to do with his ability to compose at his level at this time. will his music be not acceptable as worthy without strive for money/fame, love affairs, illnesses, poverty at the age of 14 in this modern society?

if the kid was observed to be bored at the end of the taping of his symphony, can we simply document it and leave it up for interpretation? he looked "bored", but do we really know what goes on inside his music factory called brain? may be that by itself is a stimulating story about his cognitive function beyond our comprehension, yet to be told? (to be fair that he did pay attention, in the clip he stopped the orchestra taping at one point, telling the people that they messed up a note, something like it should be a B flat instead of B).

November 29, 2006 at 04:17 PM · The kid is only 14 and know one knows what heights he will realize as he matures. He may have as much potential musically as any person who has ever lived. It is a sad commentary about our society that we did not know who he was until now. If he could hit a golf ball with the same prowess that he composes he would rich and world famous.

November 29, 2006 at 04:55 PM · Maybe hitting a golf ball doesn't take as long to mature into. Maybe he's still growing.

How many highly respected experienced innovative 14 year old engineers are there?

Who's the "we"? I heard about him when he was 12. Seems to me he's getting quite a bit of press--especially for a classical music type.

Is it a sad commentary that golfers are more known than classical music people? Only if you feel that fame and mass-popularism is the only barometer with which to gage value.

November 29, 2006 at 06:18 PM · i am quite involved with golf and to a little extent, violin:) so here is my take on the 2...

violin and golf are quite similar. both are difficult to learn and extremely difficult to master. takes years to mature because both are very much both physical and mental pursuits. with violin, we emphasize the proper forms, the tempo, the rhythm, the contact; same with golf. in violin we say power does not come from big muscles, but the proper use, the speed, the fluidity; same with golf. in violin we emphasize feeling and touch; same with golf. with violin we have stage fright, in golf there are yips and hyperventilation. with both, the harder you try, the worse you perform. with both, the shortcut is through practice, practice, practice. with both, serious players make sacrifices early and compete, compete, compete. with both, you can hurt yourself working against the body. in golf there is new alloy everyday; with violin, we have new fibers, lol. with both, you need positive attitude and ability and willingness for self criticism. i think both violin playing and golf are beautiful because with hard work comes that majestic control where the tool and the body becomes one. simply awesome. for beauty, listen to Emil's playing. go watch tiger swing a club. (this week, i am going to get Emil's Golden Age cd as a holidy gift for our kido!)

but, in this era, violin playing and golfing are very different at professional level.

want to talk about popularity? well, over 30 mil americans play golf regularly. i don't have a number for violin players. sure there are more violin players outside the usa, but there are also more golfers coming up also. if kids have to choose to grow up as vengerov/bell or tiger/wie,,more will pick the latter i suspect. nothing to be sad about, simply the way it is. why would you try to sell a kid who loves golf the concept of violin, and vice versa?

want to talk about money? andre/vanessa makes tens of millions per year. then the top real players do fine, then, anything goes. PGA players on the average do much better. hundreds of them take home over a million a year, without winning any tournaments. tiger's lifetime earning will be over 1 billion. next year, the fedex cup,,winner's takehome 10 mil, in one event.

in this society, power is in the hands of the haves and they want to make more money. if you are 14 great with violin, good for you. may be a record deal in the works. if you are 14 great with golf, tens of millions of dollars will come your way because others will make hundreds of millions of dollars off you.

what i find jay different is that, unlike golfers and violin players, he does not need to try hard at all. that to me is true prodigy, one that is not made but born. his greatness, however, will never be fairly evaluated in terms of money and popularity. one simply cannot measure his future impact on the classical world. but if he were a commodity, there will be investors.

it is ok to be critical on others because classical music is about perfection and measuring up to the highest bar (unlike golf, where the lowest number wins no matter how you play). but, it is also ok to acknowledge other's greatness. no one will move your cheese.

November 29, 2006 at 07:06 PM · Well for me it's quite simple, I am just amazed at anyone who can write a symphony at that age, he's got to be a genius.(full stop!) Whether the agents and the rest will recognize his talent is another matter.

November 29, 2006 at 09:40 PM · Laurie, nice analysis.

al, apples and oranges are quite comparable similar things:) If you want to compare apples to apples, compare this kid to...

November 30, 2006 at 12:49 AM · 60 Minutes "reporting" is pretty much a standard for most attention-span deficit oriented media that we encounter these days. Why is anyone surprised? It's like believing every cancer cure story you've read in the newspaper. However, it also seems that a LOT of people here a commenting on Jay Greenberg's talent without ever having heard of him before or knowing anything about him.

Maybe some of you should investigate some of the links here. I particularly found this one interesting. You could of course also check out his website on Sony BMG Masterworks complete with samples of his music. Who knows, you could even get really carried away and buy the CD at Amazon (complete with "through" link).

Me, I've heard at least a movement of his 5th Symphony a few times on CBC2 Radio here in Ottawa and quite enjoy it. I haven't heard enough to pass judgement on his ability one way or the other. Unlike some here who've heard even less but feel the need to denigrate. Weird really, but again, like 60 Minutes reporting, probably a reflection of modern times.


November 30, 2006 at 04:34 AM · Showing off my ear, AL? I re-read my post, and found there were too many "NOT's" missing....

Muhahaha...Now I know why I was MISUNDERSTOOD.

Please fill the gap when it requires, will ya. :-)

Just visited the kid's website. Thank godness, I didn't need to cover up my ears--Otherwise, I won't have anything left worth showing off. :-)

November 30, 2006 at 02:24 AM · Well I listened to some clips. It sounds a lot like what a beyond brilliant teenager old would write. It sounds like Copland meets Mahler. He's a smart kid but if he wasn't his age I don't think this music would necessarily receive the same attention. I want to hear his string piece though.

November 30, 2006 at 03:17 AM · His quintet is a neat piece of music.

November 30, 2006 at 03:27 AM · I am not saying that hitting a golf ball properly is easy however it is a skill that is pretty much meaningless in the scheme of things. Being good at tiddly winks or spitting watermelon seeds could be respected as much as golf if the British nobility took a hankering to it when it was invented. I am sure it is a fun game but a culture is bankrupt when it places more value in terms of support and interest in people who hit balls than people who contribute to the overall betterment of mankind. Composing great music touches the soul and is an intelectual and artistic pursuit that is complex and meaningful. I don't think people would be at too much of a loss if they never invented golf. But I can't imagine a world without music. Our society shows it's respect for people by lavishing them with fame and fortune. It is sad that classical music gets so little respect from the masses. I have 100 hundred tv stations and all there is to watch are cartoon, sports, soaps, Jerry Springer, game shows, country music, rock, and Andre Rieu. I am exagerating but not by much.

November 30, 2006 at 04:38 AM · "oh please, vivian and maura, stop showing off your highly developed hearing apparatus!:) find a pen and a piece of paper, will ya?"

Oh yeah Al, now that I am back from having enough of watching my ears in the mirror, I have the pleasure of chewing you out:

"find a pen and a piece of paper"? Huh? I am in hi-tech, and we techies only say, "go find yourself a cube." I though you knew it two years ago! :-)

November 30, 2006 at 06:54 AM · What is most surprising about this youngster is that his ability seemingly came out of nowhere.Instrumental prodigies usually start at a young age and are fervently monitered by anbitious parents.They do however progress,if albeit rapidly through the various stages of instrumental technique.In this case the family seem to have no musical culture whatsoever and seem to have been exremely surprised at their sons early requests and unusual gifts.

November 30, 2006 at 11:28 AM · The sort of detached and effortless nature of his talent is interesting, but I find that is one of the characteristics that makes his story fit poorly into the conventional prodigy narrative where the journalists seem to be trying to put it.

When I wrote "boring," above, I didn't mean that he was boring, or that his music was boring; what I meant was that an attempt to impose some kind of moral or personal value judgement on him--a narrative that tries to make him out to be the next Mozart or something--is boring.

I admit I don't really understand, or like, the music world's fascination with making child prodigies famous. Even with Mozart, I prefer works he wrote when he was older. And the personal consequences of childhood fame are almost never good.

November 30, 2006 at 12:21 PM · "I don't really understand, or like, the music world's fascination with making child prodigies famous."

All there is to understand is it's the next best thing to a having a singing frog.

November 30, 2006 at 12:27 PM · Hi,

Karen - Like Jim said and is probably best expressed in the old commercials of André Agassi for Canon when I was a kid: "Image is everything."


November 30, 2006 at 12:48 PM · I think his abilities are fascinating. I think his intellectual process is the most interesting. It does seem similar to reports of Mozart's compositional process.

Mozart's music was (and is) celebrated by the masses. Had it not been, we probably wouldn't care about his extraordinary mental/spiritual process of composition.

I think this young man's gifts should be recognized and encouraged (celebrated?),and the masses will judge the longevity of his music in good time.

In my opinion, we classical musicians are our own worst enemy. We expect the world to recognize and embrace us for the gifts we bring, while simultaneously, we break down and tear each other to shreds for any perceived "weakness" (difference from ourselves?). It is quite common.

I wonder if it might be possible to remain discerning in these matters, but also judicious in deciding which of our judgements to keep to ourselves (is there something wrong with that?) and which to offer up for public consumption?(I'm playing my familiar theme again...)

I say we need to respect and encourage this young man's gifts (and our own) if we are to survive in this present culture.

End of sermon. ;-)

November 30, 2006 at 01:36 PM · thank you david for focusing on the pertinent issues and making sense of them.

November 30, 2006 at 05:37 PM · I hope that everyone has been taking everything said in this thread with a huge grain of salt... Certainly any criticisms I raised earlier were meant quasi-toungue-in-cheek. This is a kid! There is no composer living or dead who produced a truly meaningful body of work by the time they were fourteen. Give the kid some space; give him some time.

This is why I wish 60 minutes might have investigated one of Mr. Greenberg's panned-over Juilliard classmates, or perhaps one of the struggling, yet gifted 20-something composers I know!

As a farewell to this thread, allow me to post a link to another composer with a miraculous connection to the honored traditions of the great composers! (toungue still firmly in cheek)

November 30, 2006 at 07:10 PM · To composers with love.

Dear composers of the past,

I am writing in English so that y'all can understand. You see, I am afraid of things like spirituals and, without a doubt, will freak out at the sight of such "creature". So please don't visit me lest I jump out of my window. I'm on the 7th floor, which is not high enough to put my misery to an end immediately nor is it low enough to let me walk away without damage. You see, I just took on the violin playing, and I am seeing myself play solo in the world renowned Carnival Hall (btw. how do you spell Andrew's last name?).

Oh, one more thing. Please don't laugh at my thoughts as a soloist--IMAGINATION IS EVERYTHING!

Gratefully Yours,

Vivian Guo

the senior prodigy :-)

November 30, 2006 at 09:03 PM · Thanks for the link Jesse--that was nicely spooky, even though it's probably a load of bull. :) I wouldn't mind a visit from Mr. Liszt though... (tongue mostly in cheek as usual.)

November 30, 2006 at 09:38 PM · Al,

Thanks a million for the article.

It is without a doubt, that most agree on this kids one of a kind level of genius.

Instead of some arguing about it, I think we should applaud it and hope he maintains it succesfully through to adulthood. 'Cause 'much' happens in life.

I am looking forward to hearing and playing his music.x

November 30, 2006 at 09:44 PM ·

November 30, 2006 at 09:47 PM ·

November 30, 2006 at 09:48 PM · something is going on with the computer. For every post, it is posting double.??????

November 30, 2006 at 11:22 PM · Yes, Gennady. We are playing the double jeopardy game. :-)

"Instead of some arguing about it, I think we should applaud it and hope he maintains it succesfully through to adulthood. 'Cause 'much' happens in life."

Can't agree more although it is more difficult to appreciate something until it is gone forever...

Hope you will play his music and share with us. And my comrade, Al, never runs out of good links for entertainment and education at the same time. :-)

November 30, 2006 at 10:50 PM · gennady, "looking forward to hearing and playing his music." now that is the spirit!

imagine, do a recording and your grand grand grand kids will be emulating you one day, the classics of the 21st century!:)

vivian, was that an out of body/mind literary moment? :)

December 1, 2006 at 02:05 AM · Inspired by the visits of "spirituals". :-)

December 1, 2006 at 04:56 AM · About mulitiple intelligences-- an anecdote. A couple years ago I was living on Shelter Island where Itzhak Perlman runs his summer camps, and wandering into camp with my violin and box of violin duos to see "who got game", there's our prodigy in question and a group of others getting worked up discussing Schopenhauer and Plato (or was it Sartre, Camus, and Kierkegaard?) There, you see, I don't even recall which philosophers [using the term loosely for Camus and Sartre], except I recall thinking that they each wrote thousands of pages, and there were eight teens and preteens taking a break from practice quoting memorized passages in debate.... !!

About the music-- most of Mozart before Koechel 200 and above isn't worth much to me. I'm happy to give him time and look forward to future writings!

About our culture and its recognition, support, and memory of prodigies... who remembers Philippa Schuyler?

December 1, 2006 at 05:25 AM · You call that mulitiple?


Just to clarify, I do hope the little guy writes a #1 hit symphony and gets all the chix. Best to all you genius brats out there. I mean that.

December 1, 2006 at 05:51 AM · Most Asian kids can do that easily; I was one of them. What impressed me though was my fellow student from college, a double E major (or Physics? Boy, that was decades ago). Allegedly, he was leading philosophy majors in discussing philosophy. Rumor had it, Princeton held scholarship for him for two years until he was released from our mandatory military service...

December 1, 2006 at 01:03 PM · I was sort of a prodigy, too, when I was a kid. I could speak 9 different languages. Unfortunately, none of them could be identified.

:) Sandy

December 1, 2006 at 01:47 PM · to quote Nadia Boulanger talking about Yehudi Menuhin:

"Yes, yes, it overwhelms me, a child prodigy. But what shatters me even more is an elderly prodigy. Verdi writing _Falstaff_ at eighty astounds me more than Mozart writing his masterpieces at twenty."

To his credit (and due to exposure in the media) Jay Greenberg already has a career as a composer, something that is quite rare, even for highly competent adult composers. I have known many prodigies and young people with fantastic memories (many of them in my family). I envied what I thought was genius when I was a child, and knew that it was something that, no matter how hard I worked, I could never have.

Now I know that what really matters is how each person develops his or her particular strengths and carries that growth through adulthood and into old age. I hope that Jay will be able to use his fantastic brain to help solve the problems of the world and to touch people emotionally.


December 2, 2006 at 12:38 AM · "I was sort of a prodigy, too, when I was a kid. I could speak 9 different languages. Unfortunately, none of them could be identified."

Too bad there wasn't 60 minutes, Sandy. :-)

December 2, 2006 at 06:59 AM · Elaine -

What you wrote reminded me of some things. One of my brothers was a big achiever early, valedictorian, eagle scout, all kinds of strange offers in the mail when he graduated from high school. On the other hand, I barely made it through high school (there's a long story that excuses it, and college went better). To me, my brother didn't seem so smart. He didn't seem well-read. His politics and philosophy didn't make sense to me. It seemed to me like a lot of what he was apparently learning didn't get internalized or something. Not long ago I was over at his house and noticed a book he'd just finished. Coincidentally, I had been talking about that book to a friend who mentioned she had dated one of the characters in it. I mentioned the name, and my brother remembered it and said that it didn't say much about him, just mentioned him in passing. I looked him up in the index, and read around that area, and the person's name was mentioned only once. The book was investigative journalism, and full of names. That's his secret - he wasn't expecting an exam on the book but he was just naturally over-prepared for one anyway! The natural memory for details. That was a shock. When I read it, I was only concerned with meaning and I couldn't have cared less about details. A sharp person in the wrong field, taking the wrong test, is only average. It's good Einstein didn't insist on being a violinist, leaving it to Fritz Kreisler to discover the secrets of the universe.

Buckminster Fuller held the opinion that every kid is born brilliant and systematically dumbed down. I have seen something similar in my own life, obvious really, the most outstanding kids, the most successful people at an early age, are just standing on the shoulders of their parents in one way or another. They're what I call "old souls" but there's nothing mysterious about it.

However - this is the important thing - if you did not have that benefit, there's no reason to think you don't have the ability. I can do many, many things I couldn't do at even age 30. I don't mean things that involve specific training either. If IQ is mental age vs chronological age, they're both moving right ahead together, at least with me:) I can wish I was twenty again so I could take better advantage. But then I'm comfortable now. Don't applaud, just throw money - most unknowns have better lives than the ones receiving applause. Very easy to do, fortunately. Quality of life, including the meaning of your life, doesn't depend on how big a genius you are; how well you compose, or split atoms. And if it isn't something you would rather be doing, why celebrate it particularly in someone else really? Applying to even the big historical figures. The rational thing is to think oh that's nice, it sounds good, and move on with it, not point at it and gawk. We insidiously turn some things into unreal things to gawk at. I don't think it's ever constructive.

December 2, 2006 at 07:15 AM · I wonder why the article and the professor from Julliard fail to name Korngold- a composing prodigy within our own century. I guess he just isn't on Jay Greenberg's level.

I do agree that he should be fully supported and criticism held to a minimum for now. He said he was interested in doing other things with his life. Negative comments and critiques of his work at a young age can't be good for the musical world, assuming we want to see him mature into a truly great composer that I'm sure he could be in the near future.

December 4, 2006 at 03:42 AM · That kid is something else! you all sound jealous! :D

December 4, 2006 at 05:26 AM · He obviously is getting the recognition he desrves, since he was featured on 60 minutes and major orchestras are playing and recording his works.

Who has the last laugh?

December 4, 2006 at 04:04 AM · "Who has the last laugh?"

His parents and maybe their bank I supposed? :-)

December 4, 2006 at 05:27 AM · " I supposed?"

Don't you mean "suppose" like in the present tense?

April 13, 2007 at 03:33 AM · I am listening to Jay Greenberg's CD. His 5th Symphony just wrapped up; i'm listening to his Quintet right now. I am VERY impressed with Jay's talent. He is a wunderkind.

His symphony is bold and well-wrought. The Quintet's writing has firm mastery over Shostakovitch-level dissonance.

If there is one criticism i'd level at Jay, it's that his themes aren't immediately memorable the way Tchaikovsky's or Brahms' are.

April 13, 2007 at 01:58 PM · Nobody seems to write themes today.

For the past half century, everyone is writing "motifs."

You need a Ph.D. in musical composition just to understand what's going on. I think that composers have been so calculating and academic and obsessed with originality (or being derivative in an original way) and so scared to write anything so trite as to be emotional, that they deny themselves the pleasure of being swept away by a good-old-fashioned theme.

The only place where themes seem to count is in the enduring charm of a lot of popular music (and of course folk music). But even Broadway shows don't get it. When's the last time an audience walked out of a theater whistling a hit tune without having to listen to the CD 50 times?

Even some of the now "older" violin concertos are suspect. Every time I hear the Walton Concerto, for example, I keep wishing he had really let loose on some of those themes. The last violin concerto that I think really did it was the Barber. Where is today's Tchaikovsky or Sibelius or Brahms or Goldmark, or for that matter Bartok or Shostakovich?

And that's my 2 cents worth. Or, in this economy, that's my nanocent worth.


PS. On this website, I fervently believe that each one of us has to proofread carefully to make sure haven't left any words out.

April 13, 2007 at 01:39 PM · sandy, your 2 cents is worth more:)

besides, 2 cents per day at at yearly 10% return in 50 years is over 10,000 dollars:)

not a musician here, but i do notice people have stopped using their brains, creativity and stamina, stopped playing chess for instance,,,

instead, we play video games and make knee-jerk silly posts online for more immediate gratification:)

April 13, 2007 at 04:48 PM · Sandy Marcus asked, "Where is today's Tchaikovsky or Sibelius or Brahms or Goldmark, or for that matter Bartok or Shostakovich?"

They're all working at Goldman Sachs :)

Al, you also make some important points, especially when you talk about compounding:) Also I agree about people today wasting their time playing video games and the like. I'd say more about it but I'm in the middle of an online hearts game.

April 13, 2007 at 05:10 PM · Sandy wrote:

"You need a Ph.D. in musical composition just to understand what's going on. I think that composers have been so calculating and academic and obsessed with originality (or being derivative in an original way) and so scared to write anything so trite as to be emotional, that they deny themselves the pleasure of being swept away by a good-old-fashioned theme."

Amen brother! The way I see it is, being "avant-garde" is now the establishment, and when the revolution becomes the old guard, nothing good can come of it. Writing like Brahms is revolutionary today, for crying out loud. Backward to the future, comrades!

April 13, 2007 at 07:44 PM · Yeah, Maura: Not only that, I really believe that the good-old-fashioned big themes still have legs. I think that a violin concerto written today in the Tchaikovsky mold (something like what Barber did) would become very, very popular very, very quickly.


April 13, 2007 at 07:48 PM · Exactly. I think there is a big problem with composers equating popularity with trashiness. That is true to a certain extent (now as in the olden days), but certainly not always, and we have to give people enough credit for being able to recognize great music when they hear it. (more on this topic later, it's one of my favorite hot-buttons) :)

April 13, 2007 at 08:29 PM · I think if somebody writes a violin concerto it's almost guaranteed to never see the light of day, no matter how good or what characteristics it has. That means not a lot of people will make an effort to write one (and maybe not the smartest people) and that the ones that are written, you aren't going to know about. I've never done this before, but I'll bet I could cobble together a decent violin concerto, but why bother :) I have absolutely no motivation whatsoever to take a swing at that and I don't know why anyone would unless they found themselves in the business and had to.

April 13, 2007 at 08:38 PM · Jim, I almost agree with you, but not quite. The standard violin concerto literature is so overplayed, and the lesser-known concertos are so listener-unfriendly, that I think there very well may be a market for an honest-to-goodness new warhorse with big beautiful themes and thrilling orchestrations and all the rest that can be made into popular songs. I think that violinists and audiences would embrace it. The Romantic Era, after all, never really died. Where is Tchaikovsky now that we need him? If I had any talent at all for musical composition (which I don't), and if I knew harmony and counterpoint and musical structure (which I don't), I'd write such a violin concerto faster than you can say HahnChangMutterKovakosZukerman.


April 13, 2007 at 08:42 PM · Imagine you're a farmer, but nobody will buy what you grow unless you're a famous farmer:) and the way to become famous is get rutabagas into the mouths of the right gastronomes. Either that or circulate pictures of yourself driving a harvester at age 3.

April 13, 2007 at 08:04 PM · May I... I was just wondering: how many pieces did he write in total? There are a few things that come out of the 60 min presentation and which do not add up:

-he writes thousands of bars in only a few hours

-he starts writing again before he hears the end of his 5th (only??? :) symphony

-he does not need to improve on a piece once written down

-he "channels" the music which seems to be coming (almost) ready-made, all the while being able to function normally

-he is criticized for not questioning his works

So, what does he do? Does he select only some of the pieces he "hears" (so, in a way, he does put out only those that seem worthy to him and that's where self-criticism comes in), or does he turn off those music "channels" most of the time (and perhaps by doing so he loses some gems)? I do not mean to be nosy or irreverent, but the issue is very intriguing and a better presentation/interview could prevent people from getting the wrong impression. I think the boy is incredible, but I also think that presenting him as some psychic (what's next, contacting the dead... composers on Larry King?, channeling the music in other people's heads too?) is not to his advantage and it's a waste of time for the rest of us.

April 13, 2007 at 09:28 PM · Maria, my take on the 60 minutes clip is that Jay is such a throwback to a time when there were 16 year olds who could write symphonies that they don't know what to do with him. Jay's genius is of a type they haven't dealt with for many years. That young man is simply a very talented composer of great music. There is no scandal to make the story 'interesting' for the newscasters. The story exposes the extent to which lazy journalism has infected today's mass media.

As far as his writing symphonies straight through, I don't see any reason why Greenberg can't write a symphony straight through using automatic writing techniques. After all, Kerouac wrote his first novel the same way. It's been done before. It would seem to me that Greenberg's compositional facility is such that he writes complex pieces the way most of us type responses to this post - simply and intuitively. If that is so, then Gennady is right on the money in saying that Jay Greenberg is a genius.

Sandy, i think you're right about composers no longer writing themes. I also think it is much to the detriment of classical music that we no longer hear themes being written as in the old days. Regardless of what the critics, academics, and intellectual experts 'who know better' might have us all believe, people still like a good tune and no amount of musical sophistication will ever change that.

April 13, 2007 at 09:31 PM · I agree with Jim on this. It must seem pointless to compose a violin concerto. Think of all the fabulous violin concertos that rarely get played (at least here in the U.S., I think it's better in Europe): Both Prokofiev VCs, the Britten, both Szymanowsky VCs; the Glazunov, the Korngold, both Bartok VCs (sure, the second gets played at competitions, but where else?), the Nielsen, even the Elgar. None of these are obscure in the least, they are all great (and accessible) works, yet they don't get played much. So I think people are overly optimistic when they think a new work, no matter how melodic, is likely to be played and become popular.

April 13, 2007 at 09:46 PM · Dion, thanks for the comments. And as to Mr. Greenberg's ability to simply pour out music, remember Saint-Saens' famous quote, "I write as the tree produces fruit." And his music was pretty good.

And Jim, what can I say? I have just tried to image that I'm a farmer who definitely isn't famous. But I'm not growing Rutabagas; I'm growing a plant that everybody wants but hasn't had in a long time - a cross between wheat and cream cheese cake. Along with that, yes I can circulate pictures of myself at age 3 - maybe not driving a harvester, but certainly digging around in the dirt.

Mitchell: Yes, maybe. But a new concerto in a very old-fashioned popular romantic style would I think be noticed and given a lot of attention. Maybe it shouldn't be, based on some of the wonderful pieces you mentioned, but that's what I think might happen. Even if the Elgar is the most beautiful thing in creation (which I think it is; I love it), it's still old stuff. It's not played as much because you can always hear 10 different recordings of it.

Anyway, interesting discussion.

Cheers, Sandy

April 13, 2007 at 10:21 PM · I'm all for genetically modified concertos, really big, pithy ones that taste like water. That's the kind that'll stand up to mass production and make lots of money in the process.

April 13, 2007 at 10:30 PM · there may not be money to write a concerto, but if you are interested and talented, by all means, i say.

no one now or in the future can write something as good as or even better than things hundred years ago? it would seem to be the case, but hey, you just never know!:)

April 13, 2007 at 10:41 PM · It's not rational. Maybe you have to be driven to do it, like Oliver Wendell Douglas (Green Acres).

April 13, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Anything makes sense to the person for whom it makes sense.....(Does that make sense?)

April 13, 2007 at 10:58 PM · "Genetically modified" will definitely not go over in Europe. Have to give the export product a different name.

April 13, 2007 at 11:01 PM · i dont see a difference for a modern person to write a story, a book, a poem, or a concerto.

it is simply an expression, driven by something, definitely not money for concerto for the average joe mozart, but may be a true interest, or a vanity thing, i dunno.

it is relatively easier for a person to write a make-believe story, a poem, even a book, but it takes skills to write a concerto. even a bad one. hehe

this jay kid is highly abnormal,,,,good for him and good for classical music. may be 200 yrs later people will idolize him:)

mitchell, agree that greatness does come, but more far and in between may be:). the other thing is that the classical music stage is getting smaller by the day. every kid starts with violin or piano, what happens to them when they grow?!

the other thing is that it takes a gutsy high profle player to play an obscure modern pieces couple times, then it will gain momentum. problem is, how many trying to make it artists dare to gamble like that? for people like perlman, he may wonder... why bother?

April 13, 2007 at 11:07 PM · Al, sorry I changed my last message before I knew you had responded to it, b/c my dates on Bartok were off. Anyway, you do never know, maybe a genius like a Bartok or a Shostokovich will come along and create masterpieces seemingly out of whole cloth the way those masters did. We can always hope.

April 13, 2007 at 11:08 PM · mitchell, having the wrong date on bartok is safe with me since i am probably the only one on this board that won't know the difference:(

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine