The motto of Blaxland High School, the last place where I engaged in crowd control [which some people call high school music teaching] is Effort Earns Success. It used to bug me. Success seems to come easily to some people, whereas others try hard and fail.
ABC Lateline interviewer, Leigh Sales asked Matthew Syed, journalist and former table tennis champion What weight do you give innate talent versus hard work and opportunity?
Syed replied that he gives innate talent almost no weight at all. He would agree with Tennyson that
The heights by great men, reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept
Toiled upward in the night.
He says that great athletes and musicians are made, not born. Some, like Ian Thorpe, may have all the right equipment, but what made him a world champion swimmer was hard work and the drive to keep at it.
When Mozart travelled Europe at the age of about six, wowing everybody with his amazing talent, he had already put in about 3000 hours of practice, according to a recent biographer. Talent was of some importance, but the work that he did is what made him one of the greatest composers the world has so far seen.
Syed points out that this is good news! It doesn't mean we can all write stunning piano concertos or win gold medals at the Olympic Games, but it does mean that it is Effort that Earns Success.
In 1965, my friend Ian and I were at another friend's house. This bloke used to always boast that success came easily to him. If he came top of the class, he would say "Imagine how much better I'd have done if I'd studied."
Up until that day, we swallowed it, but when this genius left his bedroom, we raided his desk drawer and discovered a study timetable and detailed, comprehensive handwritten study notes. He was clever, but he achieved success because he also worked hard.
I have seen seemingly less talented piano students go further than the naturally gifted through sheer hard work.
In 2008, my wife and I attended Angela Hewitt's performances of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2. On a Thursday in October she played the entire Book 1 from memory. That's 24 preludes and 24 fugues. (The fugues are fiendishly difficult and usually include 3 or 4 independent lines of music played simultaneously.) Then on the following Saturday, she played the more difficult second book of 24 preludes and 24 fugues. This time she had the sheet music in front of her, but did not ever seem to refer to it.
Of course Angela is talented, but the reason she was able to play these 96 mostly difficult pieces of music was her hours and hours of hard work. Both at the piano and also studying the music away from the piano. She couldn't have done it without her wonderful musical gifts, but the key thing was surely the months and years of solid work which she put in.
Thanks Matthew and Leigh. Great story.