BY: Andrew Fusco, Pipe Major
“It’s not whether you can or can’t… it’s whether you will or won’t.”
- Cuba Gooding Jr in Life of a King
Something about describing someone as talented or gifted bothers me. Keep in mind, I am prone to getting fired up over seemingly nothing and everything all at once. I am a passionate man. :)
As a musician, I hear people refer to us as talented now and again. It’s meant as a compliment and without harm of course. It is used in many forums to describe people that are good at something, whether athletics, music, dance or any other number of arts. To me, it’s something else.
Talent is defined as natural aptitude or skill. Now while I agree that some people have natural ability towards certain types of activities, I believe that having talent is such a small part of what makes someone great.
For me, calling someone talented robs them of the real credit the individual deserves in the form of hard work. To be even a novice bagpiper takes immense amounts of work and dedication. That is the true hero of a musician's journey, the dedication, the passion, the effort. I think we would gain more as a society in general if we credited and thus encouraged someone's hard work instead of their “gift”.
Even Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school varsity basketball team at first. As the legend goes, he went home and cried in his room after not making the varsity team in his first attempt. If that isn’t the biggest argument against the importance of talent, I don’t know what is. I didn’t make my Junior High basketball team either and I played basketball as a kid a lot. But I wasn’t passionate about basketball. I was, however, passionate about music.
The pipes are an incredibly difficult instrument. I have played saxophone, trombone, drums, guitar, and the pipes. I have only taken the drums and pipes to a capable or higher level, but I can say, without a doubt that the pipes have taken the most effort and study to get even to a basic competency.
Mike Johnston (www.mikeslessons.com), a drum set educator that has revolutionized online music education for the drum set, had something similar to say on the subject in a recent podcast. He said that for him, it's an insult to consider someone “gifted” as it completely discounts all the hard work they put into their craft to sound as good as they do. I couldn’t agree more.
More important still to the misconception of talent; is from the perspective of someone learning an instrument. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking of someone who is a great piper as talented. You are then allowed (in your head) to not work as hard as you accept that you aren’t as capable as someone else because God blessed them.
I’m betting Jack Lee, Stuart Liddell, Angus MacColl or any of the pros, worked their tails off to be where they are today as pipers. They are considered talented, but what you are seeing and hearing when they display their “talent” is years of hard work, investment in themselves as musicians, and some damn impressive tenacity.
I know that if someone is willing to put in the work, they can do honor to the pipes. It’s the time you put in the basement in the dark by yourself, working the basics over and over again that makes someone great. That choice is something we control.
Next time you have the pleasure of hearing a good piper, or anyone that excels at their craft, instead of remarking about their talent, consider their hard work, dedication and tenacity. Thank them for putting in so much time and effort to properly honor what they do. They will appreciate being recognized for their effort. I know I would.