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As a Piano Prodigy, Paying the Price. A Guest Post by Mark

Musical talent is earned, like every other talent.

Musical talent is earned, like every other talent.

“I’d give anything to play the piano as beautifully as you do.”

I’ve heard that all my life.

I’ve been playing the piano since before I can remember. My piano teacher signed me up for concerts and talent shows, and my performances were the highlight of recitals.

I was somewhat of a local celebrity.  People often told me I played with more appropriate expression than grown-ups.

At four years of age, I didn’t really understand what that meant, only that others seemed to enjoy hearing me play as much as I enjoyed playing.

But the price I paid was almost more than I could handle.

At the piano recitals, I hoped to make friends with the other kids, even though they were all older than I was.

But when their parents would tell them, “If you’d practice more, you could be good like Mark,” it only made the other kids resent me.  I wasn’t someone they could relate to.  I wasn’t friend material for them.

Or the kids at school.

Some Privilege, Being a Prodigy!

I was often excused from school to go perform in other places – sometimes at other schools. My teachers insisted I make up the schoolwork missed, in addition to homework.

One of my teachers took a special dislike to me, and made sure to single me out, further alienating me from my peers.

She insisted that I give oral reports on each event in front of the class (to be written, turned in, and graded also) in addition to all the other make-up work.

Other kids saw that I got to miss school and perform, and they imagined I got to make lots of friends and do all kinds of fun things.  But between practicing, performing, and all the extra make-up work, I rarely had time for social fun.

Wherever I went, if there was a piano, people just assumed that I would play.

  • School and church choirs.
  • Parties.
  • Indoor caroling.

The accompanying pianist is usually invisible.  However, the performing pianist is on a pedestal.

Shy people avoided me.  Someone bold people dared to say “Hi.” Then they would run off.

Not for any of them was I a person. I wasn’t a person they could relate to as a friend.

And After I Quit Performing?

When I quit performing, I lost my identity.

And my self-esteem.

Now, when I hear people talk about wishing they could be as good as somebody else at something, I think “No, you don’t. Usually the price to be paid isn’t worth it.”

Note From Rose, A Tiny Arpeggio

If you’re interested in this theme of paying the price, here are some blog posts of related interest:

  1. Are You Willing to Pay the Price Spiritually? Perspective from RES.
  2. Paying the Price for My College Degree. A Guest Post by EMILY T.
  3. Paying the Price of Beauty. A Guest Post by LYNETTE
  4. Cutting a Cord of Attachment to a Lawyer. Paying the Hidden Price.
  5. The Guru Game in the Age of Awakening

 

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  1. 1
    Jnana says:

    Very sad.

    I hope you didn’t quit because the price was too much to pay but because you wanted to move on to other things.

    Still, a loss to the music world.

  2. 2

    JNANA, how good to hear from you. What a lovely, compassionate comment.

    Still, I’m curious. If you don’t mind my asking — and any Blog-Buddies, please feel to respond, not only JNANA — two different motivations were just mentioned to stop playing piano in public:

    A. Deciding that the price for performing was too high

    B. Choosing to move on to other things because (presumably) they now interested you more.

  3. 3

    The implication in A. — to me — is that it’s sad or otherwise distressing to pay the price to keep on doing something, and so a person says “Enough already.”

    Is that necessarily a bad thing?

    JNANA, could that even be part of The Guru Game in the Age of Awakening?

  4. 4
    Jnana says:

    The implication in A for me was that Mark gave up something he loved because the jealousy of others/being used by others was too much to bear. This didn’t seem fair.

  5. 5
    Jnana says:

    Someone I know gave up socializing with certain people because her sister would get jealous and create drama for the family. So she denied herself the company of these people to avoid drama.

  6. 6

    Interesting, JNANA. So here’s a follow-up question for you.

    When somebody else acts without virtue (i.e., Somebody does something wrong or nasty), and that happens to MARK, does that mean that is not part of reality?

    Doesn’t that count as MARK’s problem still?

    Does life have to be fair, in the sense of everybody acting as nicely as you would? Aren’t there often problems?

  7. 7

    When MARK decided that the best way to solve his problems related to public performing… was to quit the public performing…

    Was that just sad and victimey?

    Or could that have been a quiet triumph for MARK, that there was more to his human self than performance talent? Maybe choosing to honor what made him happy was acing a quiz here at Earth School!

  8. 8
    Jnana says:

    I really don’t know Rose.
    Jealousy from others is an ugly thing to have to deal with.
    And if that was an unavoidable part of his music life then giving it up would be the happier path.

  9. 9
    Irene says:

    I came into this life with certain talents, so some things come really easily to me. (Though not to Mark’s degree of prodigy!)

    It was a distinct relief when I realized that just because I was good at something didn’t mean that I *had* to keep doing it.

  10. 10
    Irene says:

    Even when I did decide to keep using a particular talent, that didn’t mean I had to do it in front of others, performing for their pleasure.

    It was very freeing to start doing things when and because I wanted to, not as expected by others.

  11. 11
    Christine says:

    I hope Mark does find something after this that is worth paying the price for.

  12. 12
    Mark says:

    Hi Jnana,

    I gave up performing for many reasons. I was tired of being “That piano guy Mark.”

    Nobody cared about my other talents and interests, or my personality.

    Not even my parents.

  13. 13
    Mark says:

    When a kid plays the piano with such talent, they’re a prodigy.

    When an adult plays the piano–no matter how beautifully–it’s just a hobby.

    At least, that’s how others seemed to see it. The older I got, the fewer performances, the more accompaniments. Then, it was, “Where’s that piano guy, What’s-his-name?”

  14. 14
    Mark says:

    I still play the piano. I still love the piano. But any performances are informal, and only for people I trust to accept me for Mark, not “That once-prodigy piano guy.”

  15. 15
    Kira says:

    Mark, I liked this post very much.

    And that sort of thing is exactly why I never put more time and effort into any of my artistic talents than I have. I wasn’t aware of it in that way when I was four, but even then, I knew I had a lot of things I’d rather do than practice piano. (My parents quit the lessons because I wouldn’t practice.) The jealousy issue was bad enough for being the top student in my class.

  16. 16

    Not just a happier path, JNANA, but perhaps a smarter path.

    A more self-respectful path.

    Letting go of one talent to pursue others… doesn’t make MARK’s path ugly. His soul has been learning all the time.

    Isn’t it interesting how we can have picture- book, pretty-pretty ideas about a talent or a career and not really compute the price a person might have to pay in human terms?

  17. 17
    Anonymously Anonymous says:

    I don’t want to get into it, but I understand this dynamic very well.

    It is an unusual situation to be an outstanding performer as a child, but when considered across all the countries of the world and in more than just piano playing, but also, say, violin, gymnastics, acting, chess, etc, there must be many thousands of adults who look back on childhood with a similar and surprisingly painful dynamic.

  18. 18
    Anonymously Anonymous says:

    One thing I’d like to point out, however, is that once one gets into one’s teenage years and adulthood, one has increasingly more choice about one’s social environment.

  19. 19
    Anonymously Anonymous says:

    Yes, most people in this world are dead-set on conformity and thrive on the energy of tearing others down to their own size, but it gets increasingly easier to avoid and/or ignore them, and look for and spend time with friends and colleagues who, with genuine heart and self-confidence, celebrate excellence of all kinds.

  20. 20
    Anonymously Anonymous says:

    In my experience, although it is true that some people can be wonderful today, small-minded tomorrow, or small-minded in another circumstance, in general– big generalization–they are not the same people.

  21. 21
    Anonymously Anonymous says:

    Once one figures out the difference, and once one has the more degrees of freedom that come with adulthood, in my experience, life gets much easier.

    I’d like to add that the extreme concentration and hours of practice are a form of meditation and mental / physical development, and so even if one moves on to other things in adulthood, that investment was not wasted.

  22. 22

    MARK, thank you so much for your great generosity in sharing this personal story. And for commenting here so beautifully as well.

    Thanks to all the rest of you who have been commenting. ANONYMOUSLY ANONYMOUS, each of your comments just stopped me in my tracks. What compassionate wisdom!

  23. 23
    Mark says:

    Hi Christine,

    I have found many things worth paying the price for.
    And a few more things that were not. 🙂

  24. 24
    Kylie says:

    Very interesting post and comments. I was aware of some of the costs of being a musician, but other aspects (like jealousy and constant requests I hadn’t thought of.

  25. 25
    Jnana says:

    Rose, I hope it didn’t come across that I painted Mark’s path as ugly because that was not what I meant.

  26. 26
    Jnana says:

    Thank you Mark for your comments which made me comprehend your situation better and agree that letting it go was freeing on many levels.

    But good to know too you didn’t give up the piano altogether because it is uplifting to listen to one who is gifted in music.

    And just to

  27. 27

    JNANA, I found your comments here delightful and thoughtful and interesting.

    Up to your usual standard!

  28. 28
    An Avid Reader says:

    Hi Mark,
    Thank you for sharing your story. The jealousy that comes with being very talented at something can certainly be a very difficult thing.

  29. 29
    Lilian says:

    The thing with talent is that you need to know what you want to use it for and not just be there for their own sake. Otherwise it’s just a burden. With Mark, it sounds like he’s decided to use his talents for pleasure and to nurture friendships, which is wonderful.

  30. 30
    Isabella Cates says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Mark.

    An interesting life you have lived! 🙂

    Congrats on finding your way around the huge talent you brought in. Some people never do, and it’s their downfall.

    Rather than a story about other people and their jealousies or objectifying, I see this as a story about your strength, triumph, finding your way around something big to make it work for you.

  31. 31
    Isabella Cates says:

    I took so many piano lessons as a kid… so many. Tragic, every single one! Lol…

    I think I cried and begged to get out of piano lessons as much as I did trying to get out of shots at the doctor! The slow, dull pain of piano lessons!

    The only thing I was ever any good at was improvising, and I only had one teacher who let me do that at all. And he was short lived. 😀

  32. 32
    Mark says:

    Hi Anonymously Anonymous,

    Your comment #17 explains some of my thinking behind writing this guest post.

    There are many people who have been through variations of my experience–I hope to validate their frustrations somewhat.

    The price to be paid is rarely acknowledged.

  33. 33
    Mark says:

    I agree with your comment 21 especially.

    That investment was certainly not wasted. I have grown in ways I probably couldn’t have any other way.

    The focus, public performances, other experiences, do carry over into other aspects of my life. And the compassion I learned.

  34. 34
    Lilian says:

    Thank you, Mark, for sharing. It sounds like you’re learning to integrate your talent into your personality as a whole.

    In this world, when only what makes us special is important, then that can be discouraged.

  35. 35
    Lilian says:

    For example, I’ve worked in universities for years. What worries me is that the way things are set up makes it harder for people to live balanced lives than it should be…

    People are encouraged to believe that their academic talents are the only useful or valuable thing to them….

  36. 36
    Lilian says:

    So people’s whole lives turn into a performance of “professor” or “maths genius.”

    And who can live up to that, year after year after year? And their whole financial future is wrapped up in that performance.

  37. 37
    Lilian says:

    So, it’s good that Mark had this experience early and is able to chose what he wants in his adult life.

    For me, I don’t want to do the “genius” performance as much as I want to do what I love and serve the things I love.

  38. 38
    Irene says:

    What I noticed when I was doing things that came really easy to me (and other people were noticing that) was less what I think of as jealousy and more simply not being seen.

    Maybe this is what jealousy looks like from the perspective of the person who is the object of the jealousy.

  39. 39
    Irene says:

    What happened was that I became not a person, but the one who did that thing.

    When I was introduced to someone, I was the expert in *thing* and expected to describe, answer questions about and display my knowledge and talent at *thing*.

    If I wanted to talk about something else, that was allowed. So long as I was equally expert at that. If I wasn’t, they mocked me because they’d finally found something that I wasn’t good at.

  40. 40
    Irene says:

    Friends and family would assume that I wanted to do that *thing* all the time. They assumed I’d do it for them for free, and at that time of my life, I didn’t know how to tell someone I loved: “no way, you have to pay me” or even more shocking “I don’t want to do that”.

    They also assumed doing that *thing* was what fed my soul and became very distressed when I decided to switch out of a career emphasizing that interest. One in particular thought I was “giving up on my art” and I ended up doing a lot of reassurance as to why that wasn’t true. She still doesn’t believe me.

  41. 41
    Irene says:

    Fact was that while I enjoyed doing that *thing*, I never enjoyed it nearly as much as they assumed and there were plenty of other things I also wanted to do and to talk about.

    There are other things I’m better at and that are more interesting to me now. I was a much more varied person than they were able to see /I was able to communicate to them at the time.

  42. 42
    Irene says:

    There’s great wisdom and compassion in this post and comments.

    We look at the outside of other people’s lives and sometimes end up assuming that they are paying no price for the good things they enjoy, the talents they have and the accomplishments they’ve achieved.

  43. 43
    Irene says:

    But from the inside, there is always a price paid. What that looks like and how that person chooses to proceed is completely unique and individual.

  44. 44

    LILIAN and IRENE, these comments are just magnificent. Thank you.

  45. 45
    Mark says:

    Yes, Irene, yes! I feel so understood. 🙂

  46. 46
    Amanda says:

    Thank you for sharing, Mark!

    I have two highly talented musicians for children. My son thinks in music, has perfect pitch and effortless talent for playing and my daughter has a GREAT voice.

  47. 47
    Amanda says:

    We put them in for music lessons at school and very quickly both of them lost all interest and motivation.

    I stopped the lessons. I don’t know what was behind their lack of interest but music had clearly become a problem and a weight on their minds.

  48. 48
    Amanda says:

    A few years after that they both got back into music, in their rooms after school and entirely on their own terms.

    Maia learnt Grade 8 pieces for the piano srraight off the internet and Josh taught himself guitar.

  49. 49
    Amanda says:

    We have a house full of music! They sing, play, write songs and practise for hours, entirely self-motivated.

    It feels natural and fun. No pressure.

    Perhaps that’s how music is meant to be for some musicians!

    🙂

    Amanda

  50. 50

    Yet more evidence (if needed) that you’re a superb mother, AMANDA. How inspiring!

  51. 51
    Irene says:

    Mark, re #45, *I* feel so understood! Thanks for writing this post and getting me thinking about how it applies in my life.

    I don’t always remember the price I’ve paid for some of the gifts I have. I sometimes end up accidentally internalizing the guilt and supposed-to-feel gratitude for not enjoying every minute of my talents.

  52. 52
    Irene says:

    Amanda – a great success story!

    I know someone who is now a very skilled pianist and composer, but who spent several years hating music lessons until his mother found him a teacher who worked with how he learned, which was by ear, and by composing first, then getting interested in other people’s pieces so that he was motivated to learn to read music (like Rachmaninoff).

  53. 53
    David B says:

    Wow, Mark. Thanks for sharing this and your followup comments.

    I was very happy to hear you found a way through and didn’t abandon the whole thing. I’ve seen that happen with several people of immense talent, always expected to be on. And so often expected to perform. (in whatever arena)

  54. 54
    David B says:

    And I’ve certainly felt great pressure to be a certain way that didn’t respect who I was. It takes time to find your way out of that later.

  55. 55
    Joe says:

    Just in case any of you were looking for a good reason to not practice the piano, besides what happened to Mark, here is a great scientific validation that practice does not necessarily make perfect at all

    http://www.vox.com/2016/5/30/11767704/practice-doesnt-make-perfect

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