"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds...
Let no such man be trusted."
- William Shakespeare
As a lifelong musician, who still spends several hours at the piano or organ each week, I'm always amused when someone acts surprised if I forego other activities because "I have to practice."
"You practice? I thought you already knew how to play the organ."
Then, when I tell them I don't consider playing a musical instrument a talent but a whole lot of hard work, they take on a part-judgmental, part-sympathetic air and question my intelligence - or low self-esteem.
"Me practice?" one of my piano students once asked in astonishment.
Buster's family couldn't afford the piano lessons he wanted until an uncle promised to underwrite the cost. But soon after his lessons began, Buster's mother told me she couldn't get him to practice and she wondered if the lessons were a good idea.
Thinking a little reality check would revive her child's interest I said, "Why, Buster, even I have to practice."
"You're kiddin'!'" he said, blowing holes in my reality with some of his own.
No kiddin' then, no kiddin' now. Those who achieve proficiency at the piano, the easel or any skill at all get there by the proverbial route to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
Maybe the question here isn't what is or what is not a talent, but what the word "talent" means. Though Webster's unabridged includes "mental endowment or capacity of a superior kind," that definition is listed last in the paragraph. The first definition, from the Greek word, "talanton," means "a thing weighed, lifted up, or suffered."
The concept of a talent as weight explains the Biblical use of the word as a unit of money, when metals of varying value weighing 56 to 93 pounds equaled one talent. And I'm sure my former students, especially just before a recital, understood the part about a talent being "a thing suffered." Still, whenever I asked the stage-fright ones why they were taking piano lessons, not everyone answered, "Because my parents made me." I also heard: "So I can play like my grandmother," or even, "People look up to you when you can do something they can't do."
We always agreed that, unlike reading and math, we could get by in life if we didn't play a musical instrument. Music requires an extra, time-consuming discipline they don't have to expend. But as they already knew, or would someday understand, that extra discipline leads to profoundly great rewards.
Now, for those who saw yourselves in the above paragraphs - or wish you had - it's never too late to refresh an old music skill or start a new one.
Your first lesson follows. Just read the sentences carefully, and find a music term hidden in each one. For example, if you saw: "In music it is essential to study hard," you would underline the word, "alto." As you'll notice, this exercise is no walk in the etudes. Talent or music vocabulary may help, but it's also a piece of work:
• Due to circumstances beyond her control, Doris missed her appointment.
• Sammy often orders supper from the breakfast menu.
• Cleo's marriage to an elderly rich man prompted gossip.
• On hearing the name "Omar," Charles thought of a Persian poet.
• Dave regretted his decision to paint his car olive green.
• After finishing up his California tour in Carmel, Odysseus flew back home.
• The teacher asked Jane to stop erasing the blackboard.
• My son, a talented actor, got a role in a Broadway show.
• After Ken sprayed the tomato plant, he mulched the asparagus.
• Some people tend to panic on certain occasions, as when misplacing car keys.
• After checking my calendar, I agreed to meet Basil in November.
• Her term paper on journalist Joseph Alsop ran over 17 pages.
• I broke my glasses playing handball a day after I got them.
• Interesting markings on gourds make them attractive decorations.
• When the cookies burned, Jean had to decide between making another batch or using store-bought cookies. (From Dell Variety Puzzles and Games, November, 2005.)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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