I'm getting a little tired of hearing my eldest complain that she's not good at piano, singing, drawing, or other talents she wants to master -- because she's not instantly the best. I told her that Harry Potter's eleven-year-old Instant Seeker! and similar "hidden talent" tales of sudden mastery are wish-fulfillment fantasies, and that most people who master skills do so by dedicating themselves, by getting trained, by working really, really hard and not giving up.
Talent is a factor, absolutely. But so is baseline. And when it comes to her current obsession, singing, Iz has the baseline -- she's not tone deaf (first hurdle, ask Cyd Charisse), she has a sweet tone, her voice is clear. If she decided to work on her voice, she could be a singer. But she'd have to get training, and put in the hours. Which makes her balk, as she wants to sing NOW. So here are the three tales I told her about women who sing:
- Gwen Stefani has natural talent, which I never knew about until one afternoon when our little group of skankers/mods was sitting around singing 2nd wave ska songs, and she piped in with the chorus from The Special AKA's Girlfriend. I told Z that once Gwen decided to be in a band, she worked hard, hard, hard on her singing and performing -- and she never gave up, not for the almost ten years it took No Doubt to hit it big. But she also didn't have proper training, and as a result almost blew her voice out after No Doubt's first big concert tour. Training is important.
- Michelle Pfeiffer also has natural singing talent. But she doesn't usually sing unless a role calls for it. And when she filmed the updated Hairspray, she had to retrain her voice. She had to work hard, and get professional guidance.
- Madonna had a serviceable but unremarkable voice for years, which was fine when she was satisfied with being a pop star and personality. But when she got serious about her singing so she could play the lead in the musical Evita -- a very challenging role -- she hired a vocal coach and spent months working on and extending her range. She was then able to showcase her new, stronger vocals on her next pop album, Ray of Light. Because she worked hard, not because she had natural talent.
I may have her listen to the KQED Forum (a fine show) interview with David Shenk, author of "The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong." But I'd also appreciate any anecdotes you may have about working your ass off so you could be good, and why it was worth it. Iz is getting to the age where advice-not-from-parents is starting to carry more weight. Thanks.