Talented Musicians? Are We Simply Talented Or Is It Visible Mastery?

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I certainly don’t mind when someone “compliments” me about my “talents”, but I don’t particular like the nuances of the word “talent”. Like many performing musicians (and artists and athletes), I am constantly being applauded for my “talents”, whether for performing a jazz improvisational solo or conducting a symphonic band concert. Whether referring to me or any other musician or their “talent”, I don’t believe most people realize that the majority of the “talent” they see is not really “talent” at all. What they are really witnessing is the product of countless years of work, intense mental discipline and the end result of both tremendous and rigorous physical labor.

Personally, I often have wondered that when people talk about someone as being “gifted” or “talented” that they aren’t padding their own self sense of worth (consciously or unconsciously) by putting the “talented” people off into the category of having “natural abilities” and “innate tendencies”. The very definition of talent is “something that lacks labor to acquire” and is “naturally given or innate”. Certainly being “good at music” is not innate nor does it come without toil but rather, it comes with the culmination of intense focus and mastery of ones field!

Most people do not realize that to be accepted into a music program, at a university, the student must already be adept, proficient and show a significant level of mastery over their instrument and music in general. This includes reading music, understanding rhythms, tonality, intonation, a diversity of words in multiple foreign languages and confidence in front of people and audiences. One cannot simply choose to major in music on a whim no more than one can be selected to play football for a major college team without having played for years previously in high school (or even longer). There are also many great musicians who have mastered music without attending the university but rather have “schooled” themselves by studying for endless hours and years on their own. No matter what the “vehicle” may be, extensive time is involved. Thomas Edison’s axiom of genius being “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” applies to the good musician all the same.

You don’t often hear of someone who scores an “800” on the math portion of the SAT being applauded for their “talent”. When looking back at the great composers and musicians of the past, you will find that every single one of them toiled and labored as much as any other great person in any other “untalented” field. Not unlike those students who have mastered math, writing and verbal skills.

Although, people can have greater aptitudes than others with relation to success in a particular field, the components of effort, achievements and hard work cannot be ignored or dismissed. To dismiss the good musicians of our time, and those currently in our schools and communities as simply- “talented” would be to ignore the entire process of what was done to accomplish that level of mastery. This process should be recognized in addition to any of the perceived aptitudes and “talents” that they also may have.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could easily perceive the mastery of one’s subject in every field like we are able to with music? If that were the case, it would make the both the hiring and voting processes much more simple and the determination of what and who is mediocre and what and who is good, crystal clear.

                     ~J. Pisano

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Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is an industry innovator, education clinician and lecturer, trumpeter and conductor, and the creator of many education websites. He is currently the Vice President of Innovation and Engagement at Keystone Ridge Designs, Inc. After twenty-three years as a professor and administrator at Grove City College, he made the move into industry in 2018.  As one of the youngest full professors in Grove City’s history, he served in various roles over his tenure including the Technical Director of the Pew Fine Arts Center, Assistant and Associate Chairs of Music and Music and Fine Arts, Director of Music and Fine Arts Technology, Director of Jazz Studies, Stage Manager, and he finished his tenure as the Director of Bands where he directed the college’s Symphonic Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Pep Bands, and various small ensembles.

He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award, the PA Citation of Excellence, and named a “member for life” of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators, an associate member of the American Bandmasters Association,  a past President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association, and a member of various education and music honoraries. He has written for numerous publications including DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and was the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine for eight years; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. He is an active conductor, trumpeter, clinician, and educator. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.

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