This started as a Twitter thread, so it reads like one (including the awkward stuff we all do to fit our rants into the Twitter character limit). But I feel like I want to share it here as well. Here it is, unedited:
I’ve got a rant coming on here, and it’s one that always hits me this time of year, when my teen opera is rounding the corner. But I’m going to share it here, because I think it applies to artistic pursuits across the board. And this rant is about “talent.” Thread to follow.
Every year, well-meaning adults (teens, too, but especially adults) will attend my teen opera or watch clips online & respond w/some variation of, “Wow, they’re so talented.” And yes. They are talented. Talent is a real thing. But talent is not what got them where they are today.
This is not the product of talent. It’s the product of painful, unglamorous, relentless hard work. It’s years of labor on a constantly-changing instrument, months of preparation specific to this opera, & 6 weeks of tedious rehearsal all summer while their friends are at the cape.
Some are juggling rehearsals w/jobs because they pay for their own lessons or are trying to get to college. All of them are practicing outside rehearsal hours to memorize that #%@ recitative or *finally* nail that one run, because there’s no substitute for putting in the hours.
So, yes, they have talent. But so do a lot of teens in the valley. What makes their performance of THIS difficult material possible at THIS level is putting in the work to learn the necessary skill. And chalking it up to “talent” dismisses that work as the defining factor, imo. It suggests that, based on attributes bestowed upon them at birth, they just walked right into this. And they just didn’t.
There IS an aspect of privilege here—the privilege that gave them the time/means/access to the training needed to make this work possible. That’s for real. Commentary on THAT is totally valid.
The thing I’m getting at here is just how much of being successful at an artistic pursuit is actually NOT talent, but learned skill, & often a person w/ less natural talent can eclipse one w/ more by putting in the work to master the skill.
Obviously these kids are not masters, or even close—they can’t be at their age. & even within the group, there’s a wide range of skill level. You can tell who’s been studying longer, whose voice is more developed, who started work on their arias a year ago vs. 2 mos. (I will actually edit this ONE tweet to add that vocal development is only partly under their control, so NONE of this is judgement on any of them. EVER. They are my heroes 24/7)
But overall, it’s a very dedicated group, & their successes are hard won. When kids outside the group envy these kids’ achievements, I want to say, “You could BE THIS if you put in the work.” The lesson isn’t “Too bad you aren’t as talented.” It’s “Work harder, starting today!”
Anyway, that’s what I came here to say. Talent isn’t nothing. But it’s FAR from everything. So don’t admire the talent, admire the TOIL. /rant