On the Subjective Banality of Talent

I’m blessed to have been an adult when I fell in love with choral music. Why blessed? Well, I find that the things we come to love in childhood end up being taken for granted. I can’t remember a world without television so I can’t remember ever being struck by its wonder and complexity. In fact, I mostly find television annoying. When you discover things as an adult you appreciate them better. You “remember the day you fist met”, so to speak.

The first time in university when I sat in the auditorium listening to vigorously rehearsed and polished choral music produced live in real space, I felt like I had just seen a new colour that never existed before. It was so captivating. And I remember thinking “I have to at least try to join this choir and participate in this glorious art!”

Then there followed the romance of how I ended up joining the choir. It became perhaps the most impactful, moving, and transformitive experience of my life. I’ve recited that romance before and I will again a thousand times, but a part I often leave out is a very encouraging anticlimax.

The first piece I ever performed with the choir was Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit- which is beautiful and wonderful and one of the single most important choral pieces to me personally, yadda yadda yadda. But singing it was very different to what I heard sitting in the audience 6 months prior.

The audience experiences the piece as a whole; all its harmonies and movements. The singer, conversely, is on a battlefield. The singer has to pay attention to his part and remain attentive to the direction of the conductor. The singer sacrifices enjoyment of the whole in order to know his place and play his part. It’s still a wonderful experience, but it is a different experience that may not grasp the full beauty of the piece.

I was half-expecting the sound to be more beautiful from the stage, but it was actually less.

And this makes me think about talents. I often compliment others on their talents and skills only to have them have seemingly no clue what I’m talking about. I’ve also had people say very nice things to me about things that I wouldn’t consider impressive at all.

Perhaps it is just the nature of our talents that, when we are performing or exercising them, we don’t see their full beauty. But we can take on faith the praises of our friends and appreciate ourselves through their applause. And perhaps it’s better this way. Perhaps this keeps us humble.

So here’s the takeaway: you are probably much more impressive than you think. Appreciate the people around you and own the applause when it comes your way. What you do may not feel like much but if you saw someone else doing the exact same thing, you might just be blown away.

As regards my choir romance, there were a thousand powerful moments that followed that one anticlimax, but I’m glad it happened. It taught me that what feels like the average day to me might actually be worth much more.

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