Monday, March 28, 2011

The Summary: Music, Talent and Performance, A Conservatory Cultural System

In the book by Henry Kingsbury, Music, Talent and Performance: A Conservatory Cultural System, I have chosen to focus on the chapter, The Parables of Talent.

The chapter opens with the phrase, "The linking of esteem between the person attributed with talent and the person or persons making the attribution leads to an observation that bears on the positive value placed on being "talented", the notion that talent is a "gift" to be envied or coveted." Kingsbury continues to elaborate on this idea, by insisting the moral obligations of musical development. The young person's talent is an attribution which demands development which benefits not only himself, but the community in which he is affiliated.

What does this statement mean? How does one relate the aforementioned information to one's personal experience and talent?

I see these comments as the introduction to my own personal realization of the "burden" of living with the label TALENT. Along with my ability to gracefully interpret great works on my major instrument, the piano, I soon also realized that with great "talent" came much responsibility. The ability of my younger self to confidently perform the works of Chopin was environmental, I was born into a musical family; however, my skills were reinforced by my long hours of practice. Once my true ability was realized by my family, the constant pressure to perform before random visitors to our home or at church increased; I received threats that God would take away my talent IF I refused to perform. Kingsbury states that from the Western biblical perspective, a musician's "talent" can be seen more as a property which belongs to a "cultural ideology" than as a property or characteristic of the individual.

Kingsbury writes that the manifesting and assessing of musical talent are greatly influenced by social powers and authority. He provides the examples of the college-aged student who has the opportunity to audition before the "critical ears" of teachers or who participates in a recital with highly competitive peers; these are considered, resources for the situation. These resources include the support and encouragement from the student's teacher, the student's general social maturity, and the music-technical and emotional preparation for the performance. Kingsbury concludes that the student may perceive this situation as adverse, nevertheless, that student has access to resources for dealing with these situations.

Drawing from my own experiences, I too see talent to be influenced by social powers. When I began to study piano, "formerly", at the age of 6 years, my music course commenced as the other first-graders in my teacher's home-studio; however, what distinguished my progress greatly from my colleagues was the fact that my family, who too were musically trained, were heavily involved in my music studies. These social powers, as referred to by Kingsbury, my family/community, provided the resources for further development as a musician, to eventually surpass the skills of my peers.

The other spectrum of talent, according to Kingsbury, comes from the numerous accounts of adults who experienced negative encounters with music as children. Due to the lack of support, these "untalented" adults, report themselves as "unmusical". However, Kingsbury believes that everyone has the capability to make music; the creation of music can be as simple as humming, while waiting for a bus.

Those granted permission to "participate" in music making is extremely subjective and selective. Society decides what music is and who can participate, creating parameters of what is considered, as appropriate for "human consumption". I, as a piano instructor, observe various levels of abilities; however, I also understand that ALL students need encouragement to help them reach their own potential, independent of the skills possessed by other students.

In short, the label of "talent" is an ideology ascribed by society, without the acknowledgment of a student's background, sufficient access to quality music instruction, a supportive environment, and finances. These resources, in my opinion, are factors which assist in shaping and directing the young mind and ability for future success.

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