What is it that separates those with some talent from those with a great deal of talent?

You can tell almost immediately and while few can put a finger on it, everyone knows the difference between a middling talent and a genuine talent.

Last night I was attending the bi-annual music fest of the local secondary school and there was a broad mix of talent on display. Most of the kids were, like myself, gifted with a bit of talent. They got through their pieces with only a few errors and managed to hold their heads high at the end. Some were better than others, but most were of middling talent.

There were however three acts that stood out, at least in my mind and ears, as remarkable. Two girls sang solos and one boy played acoustic guitar. And, with each of them, everything else seemed to stop. They were so good that they quite unconsciously held everyone mesmerized. The girls both had lovely singing voices and performed their music beautifully. The boy on guitar had grown men weeping, wishing as I was, that they could play half as well. I would frankly settle to play a quarter as well as this young star.

All three kids had me shaking my head, mouth agape, saying, “wow.”

I’ve been playing the flute for four years now and have strummed a guitar for almost twenty-five. I’ve put more time into my flute and it is clearly the better of the two. My guitar playing is not bad, but plateaued a long time ago. Occasionally I learn something new, but it’s mostly just variations on the same basic chords.

I could definitely practice more and no doubt improve somewhat, but I can’t escape feeling as if there is a glass ceiling up there somewhere.

I mentioned once to my teacher that perhaps I’d reached the limits of my talent. She laughed and said it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “You have no idea how funny you sound saying that.”

I didn’t feel very funny at the time.

I suppose I could go on improving and there are no doubt many regions of music that lie unexplored. The difficulty is finding the time and motivation. The hill gets steeper and the progress gets more difficult to measure. It becomes more and more like work.

Now, having said that, I know the same is true of professional musicians. They have to work hard at it too and what separates the great from the really great is often simply a matter of greater devotion and sacrifice.

But, when I listen to Sir James Galway play the flute I just want to put mine in the closet forever. I don’t care how many hours and years of practice, nor how much training I have, I suspect that I will never be able to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” like Jim.

Nor for that matter will I be able to play like my teacher. Every time I feel as if I’ve learned a bit, I hear her and think, That is amazing! She just plays at a higher and arguably inaccessible level.

Practice and motivation are critical and without them even the best players will never go far, but there are thousands of musicians who practice diligently for years who will never, ever be able to play like James Galway. If they could, they’d be selling out concerts worldwide just like him.

So, maybe I haven’t reached the limits of my talent. After all, I’m told that even the best and brightest among us only use about 20% of their potential brain power.

But, when I heard those kids sing and play last night I just had to hand it to them. They were brilliant.

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