Where Are The Mozarts and The Bachs of Today?

Seymour Bernstein, American pianist, composer, teacher, and recently the star of the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction”, says in an interview

The standard has risen tremendously, and there are a lot of young people approaching that standard, more so than ever before in the history of the performing arts. Everyone knows that, it’s not just that I say it.

But now there’s something very sad associated with this: music is dying. What I mean by that is the creative aspect of the music is dying. So, where are the Bachs, and the Beethovens, and Chopins, and the Mozarts, where are they? How could it be that no one has reached that stature in our century?

But I know where they are. You know where they are? They are walking  across mayor concert halls of the world but they’re never going to stop and create. They’re making too much money as performers. That’s one thing. Then they have never in their early education… creativity and re-creation never go together… they were just taught to be performers, not creators. That never happened, you know. Before the 1900s, it was unthinkable that you should study the piano without composing. It’s our educational system that is faulty.

This reminds me of Einstein’s famous quote:

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

It’s also related to something Seth Godin likes to talk about (for example: here and here).

Writer’s block was ‘invented’ in the 1940s. Before that, not only wasn’t there a word for it, it hardly existed. The reason: writing wasn’t a high stakes venture. Writing was a hobby, it was something you did in your spare time, without expecting a big advance or a spot on the bestseller list.

My experience with formal education system is similar, but it took me too much time to figure it out. Only after finishing university, and even some years into my first job, I realized that new things are usually attempted by people who don’t have a lot to lose: those who haven’t invested too much in their formal education or were somehow rejected by the education system. And those who did well in school/college/university just want to follow what they assume is a safe path to success. So it makes me wonder what would happen to Einstein if he DID get a permanent teaching post at the university  instead of working all those years in the patent office.

As a side note, I’m currently reading Bill Bryson‘s book A Short History of Nearly Everything. And in this book he tells a lot of stories about people behind major scientific breakthroughs. At some point you cannot help wondering if all those people were either: crazy hobbyists, educated people with independent wealth, or, if in academia, so awkward and antisocial that no one wanted anything to do with them and just left them alone. You would be hard-pressed to find someone your mother considers a “normal person” here. Really hard-pressed.


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