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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Educating genius

There is an assumption, even among those whose qualifications and distinguished place in our educational order of great things should lead us to expect a pearl or two of wisdom, that the success of an artist, and ultimately the acknowledged greatness of an artist, is largely dependent upon and derived from the quality of rigorous training and the powerful influence of fine teachers. But training is not education, although the terms are very often accidentally -- or even deliberately -- confused, mistaken or inadvertently interchanged. Musical training is, of course, what goes on in our conservatories, and at its most fruitful it produces instrumental technicians of an astonishing virtuosity.

In these times of superb recording quality, the successful training of a young player is measured against technological goals; sound production and interpretive mannerisms are monitored by market demands and profitablility; a young artist has to be packaged and sold in the celebrity bazaar. Training is what is done to an apple tree to make it grow horizontally. Training is given to supermarket staff and heavy goods vehicle drivers, to barristers and army cadets. Training is about learning to do something exactly as society expects it should be done.

But education is about broadening horizons and enabling the emerging artist to be free from social prejudices, to travel beyond the petty limitations of markets and profitablity -- and even that of the conditioned public expectation. Training produces artists with a talent for doing something better than others, just as training a poodle to perform more challenging tricks than other dogs can have it described as talented. But talent derived from training has to be linked with something more than just tricks, and this is what education really is.

The education of someone musically gifted can open up new realms of possibilities, a breadth of interlinked and lateral thinking and experience that begins to turn talent to genius. The training process will not induce genius, for it will only ever be a by-product, but it can seriously inhibit the emergence of those special qualities that the merely talented may, out of a lack of enlightenment, completely fail to recognise as genius. And if the teacher of the training process cannot recogize the quality, it is unlikely that the market providers, the manufacturers of remarkable talent sales, will recognize it.

Busoni said that genius was an excess of intuition. Can intuition then be taught? Or induced? Or is it something we are so fearful of that we must use training to by-pass it?

Copyright © 30 September 2003 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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