Last night, we had our last long band practice in my apartment before hitting the studio this coming weekend. We’ve been practicing for the bluegrass project for months. After the guys went home, I got to thinking.
For whatever reason, I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about "giftedness." The concept is that certain people are bestowed with natural abilities in specific arenas, and some aren't. The gift could come from good genes or from the heavens; regardless, it’s supposedly inherent. Years of practice can help the “ungifted,” but they’ll just never be as good as those with natural talents.
Barring an instance of childhood prodigy, I’m going to disagree.
While I may have been born with a functioning voice box and an ear that can detect pitch, I was not born a singer: I was born a baby. Small people are not born horse jockeys, and without some desire to play basketball, a very tall person is just a very tall person.
I don't have "the gift." My first song was literally about Swiss cheese and it was pretty awful. My voice was awkward and off-pitch. The next hundred songs were about love that I hadn’t experienced, and they were just as terrible. A couple hundred songs in, I started to get the hang of it, and with the help of voice lessons, I went from being awkward to being mediocre. Now, singing and playing the piano feel a bit more natural.
I’ve heard the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of work within your craft to achieve a level of genius. That sounds plausible to me. But there’s more to it than that. What keeps you practicing? Or a better question: what made you want to start practicing to begin with?
For me, here's the answer: the love of music was always bigger than my fear of being mediocre and sometimes bad at it.
A parent can force their kid into all kinds of lessons, but if the child doesn’t love it, they won’t want to keep it up. My parents pushed me into ballet, and if you’ve ever seen me dance, you know how well that turned out. Tonight, I can’t stop thinking that we may as well surround ourselves with the relationships and activities we really love as much as humanly possible. Ultimately, those are the only things that will last and become increasingly more natural, because they’re the only things that will weather years of sweat, tears, and growing pains.
The Olympics start this week. A lot of the world has Olympic fever, myself included. Olympians make their sport look so beautiful and effortless; watching them mesmerizes me like watching videos of Michael Jackson dancing or Esperanza Spalding playing the bass. True some of the athletes have had a life that gave them a leg up physiologically, economically and socially. But these athletes work…hard. What I marvel at most is what must have kept them so dedicated and in love with their sport for so long. I can’t wait to watch. Happy Olympics to all of you fellow ungifted, and I’ll be in touch next week after we make the album. -Em