Prodigy... A word used WAY too often...

September 3, 2016 at 11:05 AM · It is just my opinion, but I feel like the word "Prodigy" is used WAY too fast and loose. I feel like the word should be reserved for the Mozarts and true geniuses. An exceptionally gifted child is not the same as a prodigy in my opinion. Sure a 13 year old playing tchaikovsky is exceptional...and also not a prodigy unless they just picked up the violin one day and knocked it out of the park. If that 13 year old has been playing since they were 3 that is simply hard work not an indication of being a prodigy.

It just rubs me the wrong way. If the kids are prodigies for putting in hard work for years then what are true prodigies?

Replies (31)

September 3, 2016 at 02:11 PM · "If that 13 year old has been playing since they were 3 that is simply hard work not an indication of being a prodigy."

In that case, they are prodigies at working hard, because so few others in their age can work that hard.

September 3, 2016 at 02:19 PM · Hahaha. I knew that someone would make that argument! However, I feel that it is fairly disingenuous since the implication is that they are a violin prodigy or at least a musical prodigy. I mean don't get me wrong... I am in awe of that dedication, but the dedication is not really to what is being referred.

September 3, 2016 at 02:20 PM · Musical prodigies seem to proliferate nowadays due to advancement in education and dissemination of knowledge through internet and YouTube in particular. But that does not diminish the achievement of those young talents. Since the violin is a fiendishly difficult instrument, only a small number of prodigies who have worked their butt off since early childhood, under the guidance of highly qualified teachers, can have a realistic hope to become a soloist.

September 3, 2016 at 02:25 PM · I feel that the definition of prodigy is personal, and is usually only used to add emphasis to someone's point. Everyone has a different opinion of what a prodigy is. It's a silly thing to use anyway, IMHO. Everyone has to work hard to get to a certain level, prodigy or not, and some people might have an easier time than others but they are certainly not automatic prodigies.

Would Mozart be a prodigy if he was born today? Genius? Certainly.

September 3, 2016 at 02:31 PM · Sung, I see what you are saying. And to an extent I agree. Do you think that there is the rare individual that could pick up a violin and just understand it and how it fits into the musical world? Could such a person achieve a soloist level in a year? Less? More? Does true genius exist in this sense or is it a story, a fantasy? If so how does one refer to those people?

September 3, 2016 at 02:57 PM · Jessy,

My guess is that a certain portion of the newborns are born with the prodigy potential every year. We are just witnessing more of them than before due to various reasons. Also I don't think the word prodigy applies to only Mozart and other chosen few of the world.

September 3, 2016 at 03:39 PM · Yes, the word is used -- actually misused -- way too often. A lot of people don’t stop to think before they speak -- just say what others say, do what others do, go where others go. You can hear it in the common -- indeed, egregious -- misuse of plenty of other words these days -- like “aggravation” and “privilege” for starters.

Some of these youngsters, not all, are performing under pressure from pushy, overbearing stage-moms and stage-dads. I don’t doubt this is a major reason that, as the above-linked page states, “most prodigies peak in their youth.” While authors differ on how much of a stage-dad Mozart’s father, Leopold, actually was, it seems to me, from what I’ve read, that the child Mozart showed very early the stuff of a true prodigy -- e.g., he was precocious and self-motivated, not just parent-motivated.

September 3, 2016 at 03:42 PM · Here is an article about prodigies that raises some good points:

September 3, 2016 at 03:49 PM ·

True prodigy IMO. You know it when you see it.

Have seen him live.

I would go again for sure.

I am not a jazz guy, but IMO, this kind of music and ability transcends genre and instrument.

There is a lot of stuff on the internet with talented kids. When I saw him live, I never heard anything that ever reminded me of a talented child. The whole performance for a whole set was the kind of polished maturity you get from someone who has spent a lifetime pursuing an art.

September 3, 2016 at 04:20 PM · Just read the above-mentioned article. Be sure to read it if you haven't already -- linked here:

The word protégé, which appears in the text -- "The American Protégé competition" -- is often misused, too -- either confused with or incorrectly substituted for prodigy. They are NOT the same thing.

September 3, 2016 at 04:45 PM · I can't agree with the nonchalance in your post about learning the Tchaikovsky by age 13. It certainly isn't only the predictable result of hard work, since many people work very hard on violin and never get much of anywhere at all. It's also true that a child can have all the talent in the world and that child still won't end up as a prodigy if the parents don't have the money, knowledge or interest to take him or her to the right teachers. A true prodigy is made through a combination of talent, hard work, family situation and a measure of luck. If you're winning international competitions at the age of 13 with your Tchaikovsky, then yes, I think you qualify.

September 3, 2016 at 04:53 PM · Thanks for putting the link as a clickable Jim.

September 3, 2016 at 05:40 PM · Sarah I think you actually summarized my point. I don't believe a prodigy is made. I believe a prodigy is born and it will become evident regardless of circumstances.

While I agree that hard work will not necessarily lead to tchaikovsky I do think that a (true) prodigy who takes up the violin will attain that level with relatively little effort.

Meanwhile a person who is "merely" gifted will attain that height through years of hard work and dedication.

I am differentiating between the highly talented and the true geniuses.

September 3, 2016 at 06:09 PM · If that's the case, then where are all the self-taught violin soloists? Or would you argue that none of the soloists working today are true prodigies? Because I'm not aware of any that do not boast a long and distinguished resume of prestigious teachers.

I would have to disagree that genius will become evident regardless of circumstances. I believe the world has surely lost a lamentable number of geniuses to poverty, war, disease, abuse, lack of education, institutionalized racism and sexism, and any number of other unfortunate circumstances. Sure, you hear of people who come from nothing and make it anyway (virtually never in classical music, though, I would add), but there are likely far more who come from nothing and don't make it. Raw talent is not enough in our world, sadly.

September 3, 2016 at 06:18 PM · Who's to say Mozart is a prodigy? I mean come on this question is just an endless paradox that is too subjective to be answered. Now the media's definition of a prodigy, on the other hand, I think we can all probably agree is laughable. If a 2nd grader picked up a violin and played twinke twinkle little star the news would have a whole segment on it.

September 3, 2016 at 07:03 PM · Mozart was indisputably a prodigy. But he's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. He didn't rise to fame because he was discovered in the middle of rural Austria banging two sticks together with unusual panache. He was born in a wealthy city to a musical family. His father was a violinist and a composer. He had the exposure and the resources from earliest infancy to grow his talent.

September 3, 2016 at 07:53 PM · Sarah, I believe that true genius is extremely rare. To answer your questions about losses I agree we lose many incredible talents in every area to those horrors you mention. Though the life ending calamities you mention are a bit of a straw man argument as naturally a prodigy will not be known if they are killed. As is true for any talent.

So setting aside circumstances which kill I believe a Prodigy will rise above those other challenges and that change and emulation always follows such genius.

However, those droves of people you mention are not the ones to break the mold. They are just the noteworthy components within the mold.

Many violinists each year join the incredible talent pool without ever making a splash other than a footnote, a mention of a competition won. That is not prodigy.

Would I argue that none of the soloist today are prodigies? I don't know. I would say that if any are and the violin was their muse that their chances of becoming a soloist are as good as the chances that led them being a soloist now, given alternate (and presumably worse) circumstances.

September 3, 2016 at 11:29 PM · I wasn't only talking about death. My argument is that genius may be an innate quality, but it requires the correct environment to develop into anything fruitful. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that point.

September 4, 2016 at 12:17 AM · I agree strongly with Sarah. Genius requires the right environment. Moreover, some people may be born with the potential to be amazing in multiple fields. Luck and interest may determine which direction someone goes. Corey Cerovsek is a good example, I think.

September 4, 2016 at 12:58 AM · One useful example is a piano player named Emily Bear. All questions answered.

September 4, 2016 at 02:31 AM · Emily Bear is a good example of the vital role that environment plays. Grandmother spots her musical inclinations, decides she should have piano lessons as a tiny tot. Then she gets lessons from the very beginning with the late Emilio del Rosario, pretty much indisputably the best piano teacher of pre-conservatory kids in the Chicago area. Couldn't ask for a better jumpstart.

September 4, 2016 at 03:44 AM · According to the dictionary definition - a person, especially a child or young person, having extraordinary talent or ability

September 4, 2016 at 06:26 AM · Meh, who cares what label gets used. A lot of kids play at really high levels, at which pros from the past may not have been able to match. A lot of these kids flame out or don't even go on to really distinguished careers, so the label really ends up being a form of marketing. Maybe its useful in that young talents can now get recognized more easily than in the past, so that they can hopefully have their talent nurtured and not exploited. Lord knows, I've heard some current pros who were once prodigies, and I wonder if it went to their heads, based on what I heard. But I can also be a grumpy audience-member...

If I hear an amateur or student or kid playing, I sort of subconsciously cut them slack, but musicianship is what my ears and brain pick up, and no amount of marketing is going to convince me to like something I don't.

Let the kids do their thing, whatever it gets called. For the rest of us, we just need to plug away and practice and play as well as is within our control, and hopefully we can step back and recognize a good musician when we hear one.

September 4, 2016 at 01:19 PM · Fair enough! It is a good discussion, though. I am still inclined to think that prodigy is used much too frequently.

I am also inclined to think that emily bear would have been something special even if her grandmother had not seen her talent.

But I digress. I agree to disagree! :-)

September 4, 2016 at 01:59 PM · Emily Bear began her career while still in diapers BEFORE awareness of external adult behavior and rationalizations.

(I used to be a child prodigy but I outgrew it.)

September 4, 2016 at 02:37 PM · I think it is used too frequently, because the uninformed throw the term around without having much perspective, and sometimes with too much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, these "prodigy" enthusiast are often those in the media spotlight themselves, such as journalists, and celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres.

I also can't help but notice that the vast majority of those labeled as prodigies play just one (or more) of three instruments out of the vast selection that are played regularly: violin, cello, or piano. Surely there are other instruments one can play when small and have a sizable collection of solo repertoire, such as viola, harp, and guitar.

September 4, 2016 at 03:46 PM ·

September 4, 2016 at 08:21 PM · "Prodigy" and "Mozart" 0n same page ?

September 4, 2016 at 10:15 PM · Mozart would still be considered to be prodigious, as rated by the extent of his work.

September 5, 2016 at 01:28 PM · I'm not questioning Mozart ( a favorite of mine ), but only using him as a model for comparison. Emily Bear sure fits the mold. She plays, composes and jams. How prodigious can one get AND beginning all this as an infant.

IMHO, "prodigy" just doesn't apply to mid-life discoveries. That certainly happens but I think it is a different kind of achievement. I do not expect that I might some day realize that I am a prodigy. I would have known that a long time ago!

September 5, 2016 at 02:12 PM · What do you think of Alma Deutscher? Very sweet girl with wonderful talents for performance and composing.

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