Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nature or Nuture? Developing a Musical Genius

Link: Superhuman Genius - Jazz Prodigy Ariel Lanyi

The other night I saw this show on the science channel called SuperHuman. This episode focused on "geniuses". There were several people featured on the show from an art prodigy to a man with an amazing memory. Of the five people one of the was a little ten-year-old boy named Ariel Lanyi from Israel who is a pianist and composer. I have seen many piano prodigies, especially on the Internet, so seeing a child play the piano like this was amazing but nothing incredibly new. However it was what his parents said about how he developed his talent that stuck out to me the most. Right in the beginning of the show Ariel's mother says:

"There is a theory that very young children can be taught anything. They don't have to be born that way. But, the earlier you start the education, the more you'll be able to achieve."

When she first said "There is a theory that very young children can be taught anything" I thought to myself, "That has Doman written all over it!" Of course I can't be totally sure, but when they continued on to tell of an incident with two-year-old Ariel in the car, it sounded even more like Doman. He told the story of when Ariel was two-and-a-half and they were driving in the car, and his dad recognized Beethoven's 2nd piano concerto on the radio and labeled the song for Ariel. To which Ariel said, "In...?", expecting his dad to label the key the song was played in as well. His dad didn't know it off hand but Ariel finished his sentence and said, "In B flat major!"

This is exactly how Doman teaches parents to train their children in music, simply to play pieces for them and name them ("This is Beethoven's second concerto in the key of B flat major"). His parents don't say they exposed him to rigorous music training from the time he was born, just exposed him to music and named songs for him, and had music playing in their home "almost 24 hours a day". We don't find out all the details of what they did but we do know that they believe that Ariel was taught to be a great musician because of his environment, it wasn't some gift he was just born with that developed magically on its own.

I was also impressed with his parents' and his attitude towards his "genius": they were humble, and certainly weren't pushy. Most people think that in order to "make a genius" you have to push the child but that's simply not true. Ariel was such a little charmer and I love how he said

"I don't like the meaning of child prodigy cause, child prodigy is basically someone who can play fast, and, not more than that. Not understanding music, just fast."

"And how are you different?" the interviewer asked.

"Because I understand the music, I analyze."

"Are you a pianist or a musician?"

"A musician."

"Are you a genius?"

"[Chuckles]. Not yet. I will be one day, but not yet."

"Not yet", I love that.

I also love his parents' view on his future when his dad said, "When a child prodigy stops being a child then, the question is does he have [what it takes] to be a bona fide artist, or not. And if he doesn't, then, he can be a very happy amateur. If he doesn't follow a career in music then he will have to follow a career in something else. And it has to be his decision obviously, it will not be ours."

I also recently watched a similar story about Marc Yu, seven years old, whose mother was committed to teaching her son to play the piano since she missed out as a child, and played lots of classical music since he was in the womb.

I loved the documentary, except it was funny how, even though the entire video they was pointing to the opposite, at the end of it they concluded that, somehow, these prodigies were born with "different brains" - "music brains" that is.

I just thought this was another interesting piece in the "nature versus nurture" debate. One person could take this exact same story and just call him "a prodigy", saying that he just really liked music as a little child and showed a keen interest and then randomly taught himself to play the piano. It's what Glenn Doman calls a "happy accident", and it actually happens all the time. There are many prodigies whose parents didn't even try to provide an ideal environment, they just nurtured a genius on accident (there happened to be music in the house when he was an infant, there happened to be a piano around for him to play with). But then when we look at it from a different light, where the parents actually developed a love and understanding of music on purpose.

I was really inspired by this story because I have always known that it was good for a child's developing brain to play classical music for them as infants and children, but wasn't ever sure of how much effect it was actually having. It was almost like taking a step of faith when you pop the CD in and just hoping that it's doing something good. Now I'm more inspired than ever and am ready to fill our home with great music, knowing how powerful it truly can be.

"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
Psalm 139:14

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments!