Sunday, September 5, 2010

Genius Denial

I've long been somewhat of a genius denier. This is not to say that there aren't really really talented people out there. The problem is where we like to think they come from.

Case in point: musical prodigies. I've known quite a few. And while we might like to trot them out on stage and be amazed at their freakish abilities, I've yet to know one that didn't practice like a million hours a day more than their jealous competitors.

Anyway, please check out this amazing podcast. It's a RadioLab episode featuring Malcolm Gladwell, who will eloquently argue my point. Gladwell, for those who may not know, is the New Yorker correspondent turned best-selling author beloved by everyone except those who are jealous that he got a million dollar advance on his first book deal. These are the same people who don't like Jonathan Franzen. Radio Lab, for those who may not know, is by far the most amazing post-modern science / human-interest program on radio today bar none.

The one thing I wish Malcolm had added when Robert the host says "what about this guy that works a thousand hours in his garage writing songs, who loves music, but writes bad music, and the guy who loooooves music and spends thousands of hours writing songs and is named Richard Rogers" is: show me that guy. Show me the musician that is passionate about music, has practiced their instrument or their craft tens of thousands of hours, and sucks.

The other reason I am drawn to this story is because I'm the guy that has always been really skeptical of the genius worship of the likes of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Yes, they were amazing composers. But they had their bad days (check out The Battle Symphony). But when a teacher tells me "you must play Bach this way because it's Bach, and he's a genius," I just feel that the logic is backwards, and I am inclined to disregard the advice, and thus lose competitions. This might say more about my own personality flaws then Bach, but the point is this: the music isn't good because Bach is a genius. Bach is a genius because the music is good.

Let's get over it a little.

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