THE PRODIGIES' PROGRESS
IMAGINE a musical audition where the contestants are barred from the view of the judges. The first candidate plays a Bach partita for violin in a way reminiscent of the legendary master Fritz Kreisler. The second contestant sings an aria with exquisite pitch, rhythm, and verbal articulation. The third plays a simple but elegant piano sonata that he has himself composed.
The curtain is raised to reveal two surprises: first, the contestants are all four-year-old preschoolers--youthful musical prodigies; second, the youngsters represent three entirely different populations. The first is a Japanese child who has been enrolled since the age of two in an intensive Suzuki Talent Education program. The second child is a victim of infantile autism, a youngster incapable of normal communication or the simplest problem-solving, yet able to reproduce entire operatic compositions perfectly upon a single hearing. The third auditioner is a child-prodigy composer, belonging to the succession that includes Mozart in the eighteenth century and Felix Mendelssohn in the nineteenth century. Three dazzling musical achievements, presumably attained by disparate musical routes in three distinctive youngsters.
Though such achievements can perhaps be made most readily (and dramatically) in music, an analogous trio of individuals could be assembled in other domains of competence. For example, in the area of visual arts one could cite an autistic child like the gifted artist Nadia (see previous essay); or a child growing up in an intensive "hothouse" artistic atmosphere, such as that reputedly found in Bali; or a young