Who are some of the best role models in the category of “kid musicians”? Fortunately, there are probably hundreds of current “miniature masters” of the musical world, some of whom are not yet 10 years old. It seems like everywhere you turn, a new name is being added to the pantheon of awesome child musical artists.
Child Musical Geniuses, Past and Present
The list below offers up a quick bio of youngsters you may, or may not, have heard of. A few are historical figures that went on to make names for themselves as adults. Some are international stars of the modern era, others are currently on their way up the ladder of fame, and still, others are budding Internet sensations with millions of followers. Here’s a look at some of today’s and yesterday’s most renowned child musical prodigies:
- Kit Armstrong, 10, sophomore at Utah State. He’s a computer genius and raises chickens. He’s giving a soldout piano recital at Stanford Lively Performances on Nov. 10.
- Emily Bear: Bear, still in her teens, has made her mark as a songwriter, pianist, and composer. In fact, she released an album of piano music at age five and continues to astound the music world with his unique virtuosity. She was the youngest person ever to perform at the prestigious Ravinia Festival. She is the youngest person ever to win the Morton Gould Young Composer Award, taking the trophy for that renowned prize twice already.
- Frederic Chopin: The Polish genius was born in 1810 and was a respected pianist by the age of seven. Today, his incredible technique is still studied in music schools. Chopin was primarily a piano prodigy as a young child but later expanded his skills into composition. He’s considered the greatest of the Romantic Era solo pianists and one of the top composers of the modern age.
- Lili Boulanger: One of the major musicians to come out of the late 1800s, Boulanger made her debut at age six and became the first female winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome award. Her specialties included performance pieces for the violin, piano, cello and harp. She died young from tuberculosis at the age of 24 but her sister Nadia, also an exceptional musician, lived and taught music until her death at the age of 92 in 1979.
- Glenn Gould: Considered one of the most accomplished classical pianists of the modern era, Gould was a Canadian child, aged four, when his talent was first noticed. After teachers led him through a series of systematic lessons, he entered the Royal Conservatory of Music, in Toronto, at the age of 10, graduating two years later. At that time, he became a professional touring pianist. Today, he’s known most for his technical proficiency and clarity of interpretation of Bach’s works. His genius was unbounded as he made a name for himself as a radio and television broadcaster, writer, journalist and teacher. He also conducted orchestras and was a respected contributor to some of the world’s top musical journals.
- W. A. Mozart: Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, musical geniuses of all time, Mozart made his debut at age 4 on both the piano and the violin, the two instruments he literally mastered at a young age. Born in 1756, Mozart eventually made his biggest mark as a composer of timeless pieces that still enjoy widespread popularity today. As a child, he toured Europe with his father and musician sister, Nannerl, who was something of a prodigy herself.
- Alma Deutscher: In a way, Deutscher, who is still in her teens, follows in the footsteps of Mozart because her two instruments are violin and piano. She began competently playing the piano at age two and the violin a year later. By age four she was composing her own music and has already published several acclaimed pieces including a piano sonata, an operetta and a violin concerto. There appears to be no end to her musical genius as she continues to play, compose and tour.
- Niccolò Paganini: He debuted at the age of seven, after which time Paganini excelled at the violin, guitar, viola, and in the field of composition. History has ranked him as one of the very best composers and violists. In his day, he was the leading virtuoso on the instrument and developed a technique that violinists study to this day.
- Nino Rota: The Italian master who composed his first oratorio at age 10 went on to enjoy a successful commercial career writing film scores. He excelled in composition, piano, conducting and as an academic instructor of musicians. Born in 1911, some of the era’s greatest musicians became his social friends. People like Stravinsky, Fellini and others always noted how Rota seemed to live by intuition. When asked about the role of music in life, Rota famously said, “I’d do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That’s what’s at the heart of my music.”
- Evgeny Kissin: The Israeli citizen is currently 48 years old but was one of the biggest prodigies in the world in the early 1980s at age 10. He began professional training when adults noticed his talents at the age of five. He plays the piano in a unique way, and his interpretations of Romantic compositions are considered some of the greatest ever.
- Kit Armstrong: A piano prodigy by the age of five, Armstrong is currently in his late 20s and continues to astound the music world with his concertos. He won, for five consecutive years, the prestigious Morton Gould Young Composer award and is still placed among the modern era’s leading musical composers even as a young adult. His piano recordings sell briskly and whenever he gives live performances, they are sold out months in advance.
Is There a Formula For “Genius”?
Most experts think that true musical prodigies are mostly born with their talent but still need to take lessons to develop the gift to its full extent. Mozart, for example, might never have pursued a career in music if it hadn’t been for the adults around him.
Mozart’s genius was of such high caliber that he would likely have become world-famous even if he’d not started playing until adulthood, but that’s pure conjecture. The truth is that we really don’t know what can or will happen to promising young musical talent in the absence of encouragement, support and training.
If there is a formula for producing a musical genius, no one has discovered it yet. What we do know is that any child of average intelligence can be taught to excel at musical performance with persistence, family support, a competent instructor and a healthy dose of self-discipline.
What To Do If Your Child Is Musically Exceptional
If your child or musical student shows signs of being exceptional, take action. In most cases of special talent, special training is needed. A future Mozart or Beethoven will quickly outgrow standard musical instruction and might even be bored by the lack of challenge. That’s why some “bored” students turn out to be quite gifted once they connect with the right teacher.
Kids who show signs of exceptional ability should be taken to a professional music instructor who can assess their talent level, competence and potential. If your child or student is a true prodigy, experts will be able to identify the child’s keen ability and set him or her on the right path with specialized training.
What About All the “Normal” Kids?
Let’s face it: 99.9 percent of kids in music classes are of average talent, even though some have a bit more or less natural ability. With dedicated study and regular lessons, practically any child can advance along the spectrum of musical talent well into adulthood.
How can “kid music geniuses” inspire your child? There are multiple ways that youngsters become inspired to press on with their music studies. When you expose them to some of the child geniuses, they are usually in awe of seeing someone their own age, or close to it, with such musical virtuosity. Even though an average child knows down deep that he or she will not become a prodigy just by wishing, every student can gain encouragement by watching a top talent perform.
Be careful to explain to your young students that musical geniuses are very rare but that anyone can learn to play an instrument professionally with practice and dedication. Seeing the genius perform gives ordinary children a glimpse into what it might be like to truly master an instrument.