Recently two forwards of young children doing extraordinary things landed in my inbox. One was of a little boy waving his arms in tempo to a recording of a Beethoven Symphony, and for all those who are not entirely sure what a conductor really does (i.e. everyone) it might seem as if this little boy propped up on a podium in front of a symphony orchestra might actually make them all play together and in tempo.
The other was of Umi Garrett, an eight-year-old going about the business of playing seriously difficult virtuoso piano pieces by Liszt and Chopin in the same way a builder goes about constructing a piece of furniture or a house – objectively, unaffectedly and unselfconsciously; simply doing the job at hand with as little self-concern as possible.
Let me say first that I have never seen a child like Umi, and I think a lot of it probably has to do with her extraordinary hybrid vigor (Japanese/Irish/German and Polish). But a lot of is just Umi – she is obviously a very understanding and caring little person as well as extremely intelligent, and she has a genuine and infectious sense of humor – a sure sign of intelligence.
One of the many friends and relatives to whom I sent the link said: “Wow! She is absolutely amazing. She makes it look fun and the music just flows beautifully, as though it is effortless.”
And another of my friends offered this truism: “Humour is the ability to see two things at once – i.e. the expected and the actual. Or the assumed and the true. Or the generally accepted and the real. It is a factor of intelligence. The most advanced humor is to see one’s own self image vs. the worst truth. Perhaps it’s just her brain, but there is a sense of fun in there too. Slightly wacky. It must be the Irish in her.”
A few years ago another young lady – also eight years old – made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Centre. On the menu was Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1, a staple of the virtuoso violinists’ repertoire.