Sooner or later almost every teacher gets a super talented student. While a teacher may initially get very excited about such a student, certain difficulties may soon reveal themselves. A prodigy can have one mental maturity level, another and different emotional maturity level all packaged in the body of a small child (a different physical maturity level). You may have to deal with a child who is mentally ten years old, emotionally six and physically four, for example, who may be capable of great things if you can keep all the above in mind and also deal with his frequently strong character.
Teaching any child is is an enormous responsibility but a prodigy is often an even bigger challenge as you have to keep the child playing until his various aspects catch up to his talent, without giving that talent much importance. This requires an enormous amount of long vision and self control on the part of the teacher. The biggest favor you can do a talented child, is to give him a certain humility – that his talent is a gift and not to let his ego grab his talent and take credit for it. He must be praised for what he does, but not be lauded for his talents, i.e., his good fortune. It is like telling a child how wonderful he is because he has rich parents or because he is physically attractive. Your student will get lots of fuss from relatives, friends, and practically anyone who hears him play. He needs you to keep his feet firmly on the ground. His and his parents’ – it’s so easy for parents to get over-excited and ambitious when they become aware that they may have a genius on their hands. Teachers can exert a lot of influence here and must use it wisely.
Why? Because prodigies grow up. And then what? One example of poor prodigy management is that many of them quit when they become adults because they no longer feel special. I will never forget a super-talented young girl I once met who told me she was 16 when I asked her age. Her mother later told me that the girl was going to be 17 in two weeks. What normal teenager wouldn’t tell you that she would be 17 very soon, or indeed that she already was 17? To her, becoming an adult meant becoming a violinist just like everyone else – no longer a prodigy and no more fanfare. A child should want to grow up, not want to remain small so she will continue to feel special. A special child may have the potential to become a special adult if handled properly, but if the child gets the understanding from her teachers, parents or surroundings that she is special because she is talented and small, then there will be trouble sooner or later.
The great teacher Elaine Richey once said, “A child may be precocious at the age of five but no one Is precocious at the age of twenty-five.” Precocious or prodigious children are not stupid – they know they have something beyond normal. The trick is not to let them identify with their precocity which may well mean keeping them off YouTube and avoiding making a three ring circus out of them: “I played it (the Tschaikovsky concerto) when I was 14 – this makes me sad,” was the comment of one grown up violinist on seeing a YouTube video of a ten year old playing that concerto. Instead of being happy that she could play such a difficult concerto at the age of fourteen, which is quite a feat, she is now unhappy that she feels she has been one-upped by a ten year old. But when they are both fifty will anyone know the difference? Is there any guarantee that playing a difficult concerto at an early age produces a better musician as an adult? Continue reading