A Genius in the Family: An Intimate Memoir of Jacqueline du Pré
This is an account of the life and death of renowned British cellist, Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987), as told by her sister and brother, Hilary and Piers. Aside from her charismatic image as a prolific artist and national treasure, this controversial book reveals the personal life of Jacqueline du Pré and the life-long impact her tremendous musical talent has had on her and her closest family members.
In great detail, Hilary describes their musically nurturing home environment and how music was a central part of her and Jackie’s childhood. As Jackie’s outstanding talent manifested at a very early age, it put Hilary and Piers in the shadow and dominated the du Pré’s household routine.
After her Wigmore Hall début at the age of sixteen, Jackie’s professional development took her out in the world and abroad. Alone and out of her family’s protection, self-care and personal independence became a struggle for Jackie, to which her increasingly active musical life was of little help.
Her marriage to Daniel Barenboim in 1967 and their marvellous musical collaboration put Jackie in even greater demand as a touring musician. She started showing signs of exhaustion in 1969 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973. As Jackie’s physical condition deteriorated, it also caused terrible emotional suffering to both her and her families.
This tragic narrative is most thought-provoking in several areas: 1) the impact of “musical talent” on the lives of individual, family, and community; 2) the challenge of instilling the notion of self-care and independence while a person’s potential ability is in development; 3) the danger for instrumental instructors to over-emphasize the “how/what to do” instead of teaching music.
While a young individual's musical talent is being developed, it usually involves the whole family in their investment of care, time, and financial resources. Instead of taking the result of this talent development as the sole goal, the awareness of how the individual flourishes in the human context of self-identity, family relationships, and community deserves equal, if not greater attention. When we are taking care of a student's musical development, information about personality, family, and their interactions is usually helpful.
As Hilary was a victim of her flute teacher and his insistence on her blowing perfect single notes for weeks and months, it is a reminder to us teachers of our real intent in teaching music. Is it so important for a student to achieve technical perfection that she becomes scared of touching her instrument? Is a “good performance” so significant that a student may lose desire of making more music in public? While students learn the meaning of hard work to enjoy the fruit of their effort in music-making, there is always this fine line between helping them to achieve their best and pushing them over the edge. When we are dealing with difficult situations, it shall be helpful to keep this in mind.