I mentioned in passing earlier that I was listening to "very weird symbion project stuff". One of the tracks is called 2 Hour Tekno because kasson wrote it in 2 hours. "i was bored one night and decided to see what i could write and program, mix and master, in just 2 hours. it's not that bad considering." <-- Understatement of the frigging millennium. You can download it here and listen for yourself.
I'm already jealous of his musical talent - in as much as you can be jealous of someone that you're in total awe of while not actually falling down & worshipping at their feet. (Because sending him a laundry basket was loony enough, I don't need to get a reputation). And then I hear THAT. The guy writes better music in 2 hours than I could write in my entire lifetime. (I'm not joking - on my old Archimedes there is a sound sampler & synthesizer program, and one day if I'm feeling very, very mean, I'll dig out my "compositions" and convert them to a modern format, for you to cringe at).
So then I got to thinking about talent, and why his (and anyone else's) ability to consistently write good songs bothers me so much.
The thing with music is that there's only so much you can learn. I played the piano and cello at school and learnt some music theory. I actually cared about the cello, and practised properly for something like 7 years. Yet can I write songs? Hell, no. I can't even string three chords together and make up a punk song! How in God's name generations and generations of punk bands manage to string the same 3 chords together and yet come up with something original seems like nothing short of magic to me. Because, y'know, name any handful of punk songs that are based on C, G, D or C, G, F - and they don't all sound the same.
Then there is the pitch thing. Richard, for example, can listen to any song and know what key it's in. He insists that he doesn't have perfect pitch, yet he can pick up the guitar and within minutes have the whole thing fingered out. I spent literally years working on aural tests to try to distinguish perfect fourths, perfect fifths, imperfect cadences, whatever. Spent years and years, and never really managed it - I generally scraped through that section of the music exams.
I hit on it earlier. For me, music seems like magic. I care so much about music that I spend all day, every day singing to myself, hearing the words and melodies of my favourite songs playing in my head. There are albums that I have played quite literally more than a thousand times, where if I never, ever heard them again, I'd still know all the words. Look at me a few months ago - bought Erasure's "The Innocents" off eBay & played it for the first time since I was 15, and found I was still word-perfect in half the songs. One of the reasons I'm often reluctant to listen to new stuff is that I worry that all this music in my head takes up space that should be reserved for useful information!
So only so much musical ability can be learnt. The rest is innate. Either you got it, or you don't. So - why the hell does that bother me? Just because I don't have it? There's more to it than that.
What talents do I have? Well, *looks down & buffs fingernails nervously* I'm pretty darn good at chemistry. Oh woo. Chemistry. There's a sexy talent if ever I saw one. Wait a minute - I did a chemistry degree, of course I'm good at chemistry. Duh. I learnt it all at college.
I should know from my own students that that's not true. Some of them enjoy chemistry, are keen to learn and put the time & effort in. Yet still they struggle with comparatively simple questions. The knowledge is there but the understanding isn't, they aren't able to link together topics and see the subject as a whole, even though they are very bright students who get easy As in their other subjects. I tell them that chemistry is a hard subject because there's only so much you can learn from textbooks, the rest is more like detective work. You get the clues and have to piece it all together to come up with the solution. And there might be more than one right solution, or none at all - especially once you have to consider real-world industrial things like percentage yields, equilibria, cost of chemicals and safety. I tell them that learning how to "do" chemistry is more important than memorising facts - that in a real world laboratory context, you always have textbooks and reference manuals to look up details like the boiling point of some particular compound. What's important is not remembering the actual boiling points of individual chemicals, but instead being able to look at a class of chemicals and know instantly what the trend in boiling points is. Being good at chemistry involves verbal reasoning, mathematics, spatial awareness, parallel processing, time management and problem-solving - before we even get onto the scientific knowledge that must be learnt and the scientific understanding that must, somehow, be gained.
OK. So why does that seem less of a $deity-given talent than musical ability?
Is it because science is based on logic, whereas music taps into the emotions? Is it something to do with left vs right sides of the brain? Is it something to do with the fact that I'm strongly - strongly NF on personality tests?
I can't give you an answer. But it's certainly something I'm going to be thinking about.