Your Talent or Your Life

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story about a man who had shown great promise as a violinist in his youth, but abruptly quit music forever at the age of sixteen. The passage below best summarizes the story, but I think the article is worth a full read. I particularly recommend it for parents or educators dealing with very talented children:

Photo by Little John on Unsplash.
"So many of us had talent, then we just disappeared," he continued. "They never see who they are. They don't know what they are. It's the same reason child actors never grow up. We never see ourselves."

Ms. Hulbert, the author of Off the Charts, called Mr. Chandler's turning point a "kind of midlife crisis." "A gift that once nurtured them suddenly becomes a big struggle," she said. "Their crisis comes down to autonomy: What am I?"

Mr. Sortomme, his former Juilliard classmate, was not entirely surprised to hear of the turmoil. "I remember feeling there was not a lot of joy in Saul's life," he said. But he dismissed notions of Mr. Chandler as some fallen child wonder. "Saul is better off having stopped playing the violin to save his life instead of just keep going to give the world one more great violinist," he said.

When Mr. Chandler was recuperating back at home, Ms. Pardee and Mr. Galamian pleaded with his parents: What can we do? What can we tell the school? Does Saul want to play something else? Mr. Chandler passed along his reply: "Tell them I never want to be on a stage again." He put away his instrument and commenced his reinvention... [format edits, bold added]
The story is both bittersweet and cautionary. I feel relief for the man who went so far as changing his name to escape the hell that others succeeded in making of his musical talent. But that is tempered by the wonder of what might have been had the boy been allowed to explore his talent more on his own terms. At the same time, great talent presents a great challenge to a parent: How can one make sure a child is giving something his best shot without ruining it for him? It is clear that the "Tiger Mom"/helicoptering parenting style in vogue now isn't up to the job. Nor is "anything goes" an answer. Seeing that helps, but a child doesn't know as much or have as much confidence as an adult, and might be unable or too uncomfortable to push back when, say, an urge to discipline comes across as pressure to commit a sacrifice.

I leave with the following quote: "I lived my life. Not the life of this violin... I hate this thing." Given his context, I think this was exactly the right answer, and it took guts to give it. One wonders, though, if his affinity for the instrument could have been spared in some way.

-- CAV

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