What It’s Like To Be Born a Musical Genius

April 18, 2017 — 50 Comments

 

I was born into a family of musical impressarios. My oldest brother sat down at the piano when he was only three years old and delivered a perfect rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” At 3, my son was still pooping into a diaper and the only thing he would have done at the piano was give me a splitting headache.

I’m the least musically talented person in my family. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call myself a musician. The brother who is closest to me in age argues that I “am musical,” which sounds like the spoken equivalent of a participation trophy.

That particular brother and I have a multi-layered relationship regarding music. I have always been in awe of his talent; envious, proud and completely daunted by it.

When he was just 11 years old, he picked up a guitar and musical artistry poured forth. He was able to hear things the rest of us didn’t and could recreate songs note for note. He could rock 2-chord simplicity, making the song “Horse With No Name” sound amazing, but he could also carve out complicated, curving, epic solos.

HOW DID HE DO THIS? It seemed ludicrous for me to continue. His genius was too strong a contrast to my mediocrity and I gave up playing instruments.

That’s what happens when you are born into a family of musical geniuses. To be average is intolerable.

 

About a year ago, I started playing guitar again. I’m not great; I’m not even good. I’m fair. If I play a song, its recognizable.

It’s common for people over forty to take the “fuck you” pill. I’m heavily medicated on that prescription, and consequently, asked my brother to come over and jam with me.

Have you ever googled “what it’s like to be a musical genius?” There are no first hand accounts. People are loath to speak about themselves this way. But one night when we were jamming, my brother divulged to me the story of his musical genius.

He knew the minute he picked up the guitar that this was some kind of “gift from God.” He almost felt as if he was channeling. A force he couldn’t control took over, guiding his hands to greatness.

And therein lies the rub. He couldn’t control it.

He was in bands most of his life, but none worked out. Most of his childhood friends were incredibly talented musicians, and many went on to pursue careers in music.

But people shied away from playing with him on musical projects because his “gift” was so unpredictable.

He’d be in the middle of an extraordinary guitar solo onstage, the kind that people tout as ‘legendary’  – and then hit a sour note. Or three. He never knew when it would happen nor how to fix it.

He tried to harness his gift and devoted himself to the mindful execution of music. But musical training seemed incompatible with the “gift.” To work in this way would make his head ache to where he could not continue.

At one point he studied guitar with a prominent NYC jazz guitarist, a man who required an audition to even study with. During the audition, his musical voodoo poured out and the  jazz guitarist thought him much more advanced than he really was. After a handful of lessons in which my brother had no idea what was going on, he quit.

My brother’s entire life he never discussed his “gift” because he felt that talking about it would jinx it. It took him 40 years to tell me how he felt that day when he picked up a guitar and the heavens opened up.

 

 

He’s able to finally talk about it, because these days, he’s no longer afraid of jinxing outside forces. At 50, my brother has decided that he needs to start over and learn music from the ground up.

Yes, it’s grueling and draining, but it’s also feeding his soul, to finally reconcile technique with genius.

 

I always knew there was something magical about my brother; about all of them, in fact, when it came to music. Like most things, it was terrible and wonderful. They intimidated me, but I was raised with a love for music so profound that without it, life would be monotone. One long, silent birthday celebration with just candles.

To hear that this gift I’ve always envied was in fact a curse, something that has prevented him from pursuing his dreams of playing out in public his entire life, was an epiphany.

We’ve both arrived at our own musical epiphanies; simultaneously, but independent of one another. He’s starting at the beginning. And I’m finally playing again.

I stayed up all night the other night playing guitar.
My hands ached; my face was smeared with fatigue but my heart was buoyant. As the room was bathed in the streaky light of dawn, I finally realized that all that matters is how I feel when I play music, not how I sound to other people.

And that’s MY gift.

How much do you love music?? Do you play?
Doesn’t it suck to have a sibling SO much better than you at something?
Talk to me. I’m listening. 

 

Come hang out with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so I can have friends without leaving the house.

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50 responses to What It’s Like To Be Born a Musical Genius

  1. 

    Nice sharing!

    Totally understand this! My Brother is same not as gifted as yours but he was definitely better than in most ways and stuff!

    Guess that’s why God wanted him sooner to be with him…

  2. 

    How much do I love music…?
    Is this a trick question?
    Music is the beat that drives everything I do. It’s the air I breathe. It’s the food I eat. It is my dreams.

    • 

      It’s more of a rhetorical question, like the one you mumble through a mouth of pizza “How GOOD is this pizza?”

      I know music is your oxygen. The people I am closest to all feel that way. ❤

      • 

        Once upon a time I played piano. I too was fair. I lacked the dedication to it because I wanted to play the guitar instead. Alas, that was a long time ago and now I regret walking away from it.

      • 

        You may pick it up again. Not now, while you’re in the trenches with the little ones. I regretted it so much, but I couldn’t do much about it until my kid got older.

  3. 

    I love that you’re so happy learning and playing and making YOU happy with what you have achieved xoxo

  4. 

    I grew up surrounded by music on both sides of my family. I’m married to a brilliant musician. I don’t know a world without hearing or playing it. I am embarrassed to admit, though, that my own playing has taken a back seat for several years. That’s a whole other story. I still sing, though.
    But more than any of that, I needed to read what you say here about gifts and allowing them to flow and not being afraid of their unpredictability and power. Thanks.

    • 

      When you’re ready, if you’re ready, you’ll come back to playing. It will find you.

      Brilliant musicians are so sexy, aren’t they???

  5. 

    I was put into piano lessons at age 8. I did not ask for them. It took about a year for the teacher to conclude that I had reached the limit of my musical talent. The thing is, that neither of my parents (only child, no siblings) played, even though my dad had played violin in his youth. All the music in the house came by way of the radio and records. I think it does make a huge difference growing up with family and others who play, even poorly but with joy. The same is likely true of dance (also not one of my talents – picture Steve Martin’s character’s attempts at dance in “The Jerk” ). Musically, I am a listener, constantly and in wide variety.

    • 

      You managed to grow up with music imprinted on your soul, despite not playing an instrument.
      I also started with piano lessons, but hated them as well. I wanted to play guitar.
      Now I do.

  6. 

    Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
    Samara on music and epiphanies

  7. 

    Music plays a huge part in my life. I have always said that if I had to give up one of my senses, it would be my eyes because I can’t imagine a world without it. I can play a little bit of piano, I play by ear. I sat down one day with my tape recorder and taught myself the entire song “Colour my World” and I can still play that now (40 years later) but if you put the music in front of me, I would not be able to do it. I can read music but translating it from page to fingers has never worked very well. I listen to all kinds of music. I LOVE classic rock, but I appreciate the talent of ALL genres even if it isn’t something I will listen to in my car. Music speaks to the soul from the soul and vibrates the sounds of our lives….

  8. 

    I love this post, Samara. 1, Because I love music. 2, Because I’ve never been as good at it as I wanted to be, not even close. 3, Because I’ve been on the receiving end of outside forces triggering my inner blocks all my life in regards to music.

    I don’t have any musical geniuses in my family, but I have a stepbrother who is a competent blues musician.

    It’s a fascinating look into how human we all are, regardless of our native talents.

    I hope you and your brother are able to lean on each other and just have fun with your music when you’re together.

    Dan

  9. 

    I was blessed/cursed with perfect pitch and an aptitude for auditory memorization. After my mother got me into piano lessons, I used to come home from every movie we went to and go straight to our piano to figure out how to play the score (Jurassic Park being one of the more memorable incidents of this – John Williams, you are a god among men).

    Of course, all this meant that I learned music mostly by ear rather than via any sort of technical instruction (despite the best efforts of my teachers), so even after years and years of piano lessons and singing in multiple choirs, I’m still complete crap at sight reading and musical theory. And as someone who also enjoys composing, it’s beyond frustrating that it’s so hard for me to get even a simple musical phrase down on staff paper. These days there’s all kinds of useful software to help take the guesswork out of it, but I still feel like I’ve failed myself.

    So while it’s a fun party trick to be a human pitch pipe, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat envious of my friends who didn’t have music come as “naturally” to them, but who nevertheless easily outmatch me on the formalities. I suppose the grass is always greener, and all that, and I’m by no means ungrateful for my gift, but…it just sucks sometimes.

    • 

      I completely understand. Now having had my brother explain it to me, I can see where musical genius is an obstacle, instead of a gift.

      And you haven’t failed yourself. If you compose music, and enjoy doing it, that’s success.

  10. 

    I can’t play any instruments and I can’t sing for shit…but I’m pretty sure I’d rather be dead than live a life without music.

    • 

      I once asked a student what music he was into, and he answered, “I’m not really into music.”
      Not into music? That’s like saying you’re not into oxygen.

  11. 

    My mother forced me into piano lessons and I hated it. I was technically pretty good but I didn’t have that zing or passion or whatever. I just wanted to listen to other people, not do it myself. In the meantime, my mother just couldn’t get that I’m not a musical genius and kept trying to push it on me as a career (it was something that she wanted for herself, even though she wasn’t very good either), so my dislike grew. I admire people who can play well but have no desire to participate. 🙂

    • 

      It’s so strange how parents can try to live vicariously through their kids, isn’t it? I pushed my son to play an instrument, but not to make up for my failed musicianship. I feel that learning an instrument opens up a part of your brain that is not otherwise open. It was more to supplement his studies than anything else.

      Now, he’s a happy band geek, delighted to be learning saxophone.

  12. 

    Not a day goes by that I don’t have music in it. When I was a kid I wanted to be a musician but alas, stage fright kept me away from seriously pursuing it. I play guitar and sing – I always had a voice, which has faded substantially with age. I knew a guy who played guitar like you describe your brother – talent beyond belief. Like your brother he could never seem to find a band that could keep up with him. I don’t grab my acoustic guitar for a personal jam session as often as I’d like. One day I’m gonna busk on a random corner of my town, just because. Something I’ve always wanted to do.

  13. 

    I have a brother who is better at getting along with people than I am. It bothered me for many years, until I figured out how much he had to subvert his own self to do that.

  14. 

    Lord, lord, Samara, lord. Musical geniuses, submissive geniuses – is the genius channeling you or are you channeling the genius? (Retweeting as S&M&M.) I grew up with kids whose Dad was a genius conductor, famous, respected – all that. Was he happy? Were they happy? Did the beautiful red-haired sister like Nasty more than Nietzsche? You’re funny, write really well, sometimes make me think this is not just Tales of 1001 Hangouts. And yet ….
    PTSD or yeast? Yeast or PTSD? Do I want to lay down with you? Honey, I don’t even know if we could share an Uber. Anyway, keep it coming, and so will I. Be well.

  15. 

    This is what happens to geniuses most of the times. Yes things are good as long as you ‘feel good’ about them, not necessarily when others ‘perceive them good’.

  16. 

    I do not come from a musical family. I remember an uncle or two toying with the guitar back in the 70s when everyone seemed to be doing that. My son has a keyboard class this year and is doing well (grade-wise) though I have yet to hear him play. A colleague of my husband’s gave us a standing keyboard he didn’t want anymore, and I keep telling myself I’m going to teach myself to play one song. Meanwhile, a friend on the west coast has a son (12yo) who can pick up any instrument and play it. Never had a single lesson. He plays the guitar like he’s channeling Hendrix. It’s fucking amazing.

  17. 

    …how I feel when I play music, not how I sound to other people = the sound of one hand clapping. Congrats. Some folks never get there.

    We had a team-building exercise at work. We had to make a wish. I immediately jumped in and said I wish I could be an instant virtuoso on any instrument I touched. I wanted the artistry without all the heavy lifting involved. Every other person wished for stupid stuff like world peace and an end to hunger. What a bunch of fucking phonies. No imaginations at all.

    • 

      I would have said “I wish I didn’t have to participate in stupid team-building exercises.”
      I’m back in an office environment, working as a project manager. It’s a bit eccentric, which is probably why they hired me. No team building exercises. I hate that shit.

      “No music, no life.” Remember Tower Records? I’m getting their slogan as a tattoo, with musical notes around it. No instruments for you? Somehow I thought you dabbled.

  18. 

    I’ve owned a guitar for 40 years and could maybe still pick out “Home on the Range” or “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,” lol. You know how they say that kids are born knowing everything but they forget it all (or did I make that up)? My kid once sat down at the keyboard I’ve had for 10 years, but never play, and was playing something that sounded like chords, but has never shown any interest since and doesn’t even like when music is on in the car. One time many years ago I sang “Coat of Many Colors” to her and she told me “Sing it again” all the way home, but only that one time. Most of the time it’s like the one time in the car when I was singing something and, from her car seat she said, “Dad,” and then, like a comedian with perfect timing, skipped a beat, and then said, “Don’t sing.” I laughed my ass off. But she can draw as well as any adult I’ve ever known, like amazing stuff that could illustrate any magazine story or comic book. And I’m proud but jealous that she’s so good at that and I can barely draw a stick figure.
    My singing ranges from being almost note-for-note for some Johnny Cash songs, to someone torturing not one but two alley cats on stuff that’s outside my range. I can’t imagine a day without music or without annoying everyone anywhere near my car with music blasting at ear-splitting volume. Hey, from what I hear, you can’t take your ears or your liver to Heaven with you, so why not use ’em up? Oh, and isn’t it great to stay up all night doing something creative instead of partying? Glad to hear you write, Samara.

    • 

      I really admire people who can draw or paint. I’m hopeless in that respect, too. Stick figures all the way.

      Johnny Cash is fantastic. Now I’m going to listen to him all the way to work.

      Thanks for reading. I love seeing you here. xoxoxo

  19. 

    I love music, but i”m not great at anything. I always wanted to play the piano because I knew grandma was leaving me her piano when she died, but alas, it was in Alabama and I was in California. My cousin ended up with it. I ended up with the accordion.
    My husband can pick up most any instrument and start playing it, but he never gets beyond a certain point. As he says, he’s mediocre at everything, although better than I. What I can do is sing. Better than most but not amazingly. My son and I were always asked to sing in church. He has an amazing voice. They asked me out of courtesy, but it was him they really wanted. LOL

  20. 

    I relate to you brother, and I don’t mean to be conceited, because he’s probably a better musician than I am. But I have a hell of a lot of talent and potential, and I have come to say those words sarcastically, because at my age what is potential useful for? It’s my way of saying I have failed. Lots of “potential.” I really feel like I could have been great at a lot of things, particularly creative things, but the difficult part for me has been pushing through the hard work. I have come to believe that perseverance is more important than talent, though I really relate to stories like those of Buster Douglas, an inconsistent fighter, who got it together once to do the one thing no one else had done, beat Mike Tyson. And then the next fight he was much less muscle and much more fat and it showed in the results. But you can’t take that moment away from him. It was no fluke. I also used to think that if I practiced too much I would lose the joy and the feel, and I partly thought that because I knew so many people who had great technique but didn’t sound good. I’ve come to believe now that if you’ve got the groove, you don’t lose it, and that those who don’t, never did. But I still have problems working through the pain.

  21. 

    How much do you love music?? Do you play? I used to love and NEED music more. I also used to play the violin, which I’d started out of admiration for a favorite teacher.
    Doesn’t it suck to have a sibling SO much better than you at something? Yes, it used to suck that my younger sister was SO much better at attracting the attention of the opposite sex. However, just like with your brother, this turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing as she aged, went through two husbands and more “losers” than I’ll ever know about! Now, in her late fifties, it looks like Sis may have finally learned to be and accept herself as she is.

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  1. THE Musical Gift | Olde Hippie - April 18, 2017

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