Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Felix Mendelssohn at age 15

Mendelssohn composed his first symphony for full orchestra at age 15. As I listened to it recently on WRTI, I tried envisioning one of my children at age 15 composing this work.  Somehow the memory of my struggle to get each one of them to practice a few times per week kept clouding my imagination.

No doubt people recognized Mendelssohn's talent from the time he first made a public concert. This would have been a few years before he composed his first symphony. How wonderful to have a talent that's so visible.  Others will encourage such a visible talent and cheer it on to greater levels of success. Many of us have skills and talents that are subtle or do not suggest a need for an audience.  Even so, why do so few of us ever reach the level of mastery that Mendelssohn had achieved by age 15?  Having just celebrated my 56th birthday, I wondered if any of my skills could equal to the level of mastery in music that Mendelssohn had achieved by age 15. This was a rather frustrating introspective experience.

Do we all have the hidden capacity somewhere within us to be a Mendelssohn in some area of exerptise? Or, are the Felix Mendelssohn's of the world, special in some way, only occurring once in every 10 million  people? Malcolm Gladwell suggests in Outliers that 10,000 hours gets us to a pretty amazing level of mastery. So, why do so many of us fall short of our 10,000 hours? Do we give up? Does the tiniest glimmer of our genius fall short of the notice of those who can encourage us? Do we try to cultivate this capacity in the lives of others?

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