January 9, 2012

That "Child Prodigy Rant" post: followup and a plug for my book

Holy crap! 

Yesterday's blog post in which I ranted on about child prodigies has gone viral, with tens of thousands of hits in a matter of hours.  If you're looking for it right now, just scroll down to the previous post and get caught up.

My head is spinning!  And not like the little girl in The Exorcist, either - nope: in a good way.

I am truly grateful to all of you who not only took the time to read my thoughts but also posted comments and shared the site with your friends as well.  I now have first-hand experience with the Fearsome Power Of The Internet.  Whew!

Since Sunday's topic appears to have struck a chord with so many, here are some further thoughts, clarifications, and responses to some of the published reader comments.  I'll end by letting you know that I've got a book coming out, naturally hoping that if you enjoy my writing and my humor, you might wish to order a copy.  But back to prodigies:

  • For those who find it difficult to grasp the inherent stress imposed upon children when they are thrust upon a national stage (be it via live performance, television or a recording contract):  allow me to refer you to Elaine Aron's magnificent book The Highly Sensitive Child.  Clearly, children with precocious musical gifts are by definition highly sensitive.  This book will bring you up to speed on the emotional and physiological differences between these children and others which the world would classify as "normal".
  • My blog post seems to have struck a nerve.  Either in published comments or in messages on Facebook (feel free to friend me, by the way!), many of you expressed gratitude for my having articulated what you've always felt on the subject of child prodigies.  Well, that's just me all over--with my pinky finger on the pulse of the nation...  (har har har)
  • HOWEVER:  a distinct minority raised mild objections.  One reader, noting my claim that mature musical expression in prodigies is nothing more than mimicry of adult models, invoked the name of Music History's No. 1 prodigy of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  I was asked, rhetorically (as if there could be no viable answer), who Mozart was imitating when he wrote his remarkable series of childhood symphonies, operas and keyboard works.  Well actually, that's an easy one to answer, available from any standard Mozart biography:  he was imitating the style of Johann Christian Bach.  It is widely known that the galant style of J.C. Bach made a huge impression on the boy Mozart. A fine summary of their relationship is summarized in Adina Portowitz's article on the Bach-Mozart connection.
  • And in any case, the works of young Mozart do not reflect the emotional depth and maturity of his later masterworks; they are tidy little examples of technical proficiency and a good ear for graceful invention.  That's all.  
  • And, as other readers pointed out, Mozart's exploitation as a touring childhood virtuoso ultimately resulted in an adult with only intermittent professional success and a personal life filled with chaos, illness and general dysfunction.
  • Listen, my thousands of new friends, and listen well:  I have nothing against talented children!  I used to be one!  Talented children should make music every day!  My hope is that those kids whose talent is of prodigious dimensions, far above the norm, are protected--repeat--PROTECTED by those who are responsible for their well-being.  It occurs to me that the most fortunate prodigies may be those born into wealthy homes, without the need or desire to turn young musicians into cash cows.  When fame and money come first, tragedy and misery follow.

I have a message for all of you who are new to this little blog through Facebook postings and other means:

If you liked that post, please know that I've got a book coming out in a matter of days which just might be up your alley as well.

The title is The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates.  It's a collection of now-deleted blog posts from the last couple of years in which I touch on a wide range of opera-related subjects, all with that somewhat irreverent humor that seems to be part of my DNA. 

The publisher is Kendall Hunt Publishing and I expect to see the book available by the end of January if not before.  NOTE:  you will not find my book in your local Barnes & Noble or other bookstore.  Listen, I'm not John Grisham, and a book of humorous-slash-insightful essays about the opera world is the textbook definition of a "niche genre".  I'm Captain Niche.  The Niche-Meister.

The way to get your hands on it is to contact my editor, a cool guy named Curtis Ross via email and order direct from the publisher; just click on his name.  We've already nearly sold out the initial printing, but I think they'll be okay with printing more, don't you?

Too many essays and topics in The Opera Zoo to list, but examples include a day in the life of an apprentice opera singer on tour (OY!); a scene from a Mozart opera re-written as the teleplay for an episode of the sitcom Frasier; libretto parodies of Rigoletto, Carmen, Die Walkuere and Madama Butterfly, and lots more.  The book concludes with a journal I kept while a guest artist at an international opera festival in Rome Italy a couple of years ago in which I record my impressions of the city, the food, the people, the food, life at an opera festival, the food, the gelato, the food....

I like food...

So please consider ponying up for my new book!  And keep reading my blog!  And... um... exercise daily, eat more vegetables and call your mother.   (I'm full of good ideas...)

And thanks for all your comments and appreciation for yesterday's post!

My new book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online at www.kendallhunt.com/operazoo or by phone from the Customer Service line at 1-800-344-9034 ext.3020.


  1. I feel I should rant about Jesus, abortion, the Republicans/Democrats, or compare things/people to Hitler. Someone always rants about these things in the comments section of viral blog posts.

  2. Aah, you reeled us in and now you give us the sales pitch. Good job capitalizing on a great entry. :)

  3. Haha, Kathleen. That's hilarious. I was really confused when people were randomly quoting Bible verses in the comments of the original post... Yeah, that's TOTALLY relevent to child "opera" singers.

  4. Glenn:

    Glad to have found your blog through the viral entry, and I look forward to future entries. It's a nice place.

    I had a thought regarding the most recent comments from fans of Ms. Evancho on your original prodigy blog.

    Is there any way to technically, yet understandably, explain what is happening in her very throaty singing, that may be vocally dangerous? As many have said, her fans simply don't believe there's anything wrong because she sounds "pretty" and is "singing softly" and "not belting" without a mic. Those suggesting otherwise are simply "snobs" who are "old-fashioned" and "reject progress," and... my favorite.. "can't understand true genius."

    Is there some comparison, or study, or something?

    It's probably way too much work, as if you need more, I'm sure. It could turn out to be interesting, though.

    (I saw that on the comments to the Tim Page WaPo article, a couple tried to explain, but there was so much noise on that blog it didn't work).

    Appreciate the time you spent on this. And will check out your book.

  5. Here is a link regarding the "Throaty singing" question. http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/137033178.html

  6. Look for a post by Lauren about three qtrs of the way down the comment thread...she's pretty clear.

  7. So glad to have found your blog and found you on Facebook. I always enjoy your sessions before each performance of the Va Opera, and meant to order your book when you talked about it at Aida, but, well, it slipped my mind. This time I'm following through. Thanks for making opera so much more approachable for "regular Joes" (and "Joannes"), like myself. Looking forward to the book and catching up on your blog. :-)

  8. No wonder Opera houses are closing down!

    Whining about a 11 year child prodigy just to get attention!

    Opera Snobs and Opera singer wannabees !!


  9. Jackie Evancho is a Classical Crossover Artist and not a
    Opera performer

    What is Classical Crossover?

    Simply put, Classical Crossover is a term used to describe artists that adopt strong classical influences in their music, but ultimately they have an accessible and popular sound or a marketable image to reach out to a wider audience. CC Artist performed with a microphone. !!!

    Jackie remains in her head voice the majority of the time which is the safest voice for her, so as not to put too much pressure on her lungs and not to push too much air through her chords. Every once and awhile she will drift into the whistle voice, but with more training that will go away because I think she will have a wide upper range.

    I think her lower and middle ranges have an appealing warmth, and her intonation is gorgeous. Her ability to sing seamlessly from the lower register to her effortless upper register would also be envied by many opera singers. Let’s face it, what’s so unusual about Jackie is her thrilling, silvery upper register, which affects the central nervous system of her listeners. The ethereal sound that she makes at the top of the staff is what consistently arouses emotion

    Vocal instructors typically have the student go through
    vocal exercises to determine proper technique. Other words
    it is taboo to talk negatively about other teachers!

    Move over rover and let Jackie take over !! (JimiHendrix)


  10. Anna Maria Alberghetti.



    "Anna was born in Pesaro, Italy and as the daughter of a concertmaster father and a pianist mother, she began singing professionally at the age of SIX with a 100 piece orchestra on the Isle of Rhodes.


    "The daughter of Italian musicians, soprano Anna Maria Alberghetti was singing on the European concert circuit at the age of 12."

    "Today, Anna is busy with an international schedule of concerts, lectures, and personal appearances

    If Anna can do it, so can Jackie

    Quit whining !

    Opera Snobs !


  11. Is this the source of Jackie's increase in extraordinary vocal prowess

    In 2010 Jackie had her tonsils removed and the combination of working vith vocal coach Yvie Burnett.

    Yvie Burnett uses Estill Voice Training techniques,Burnett trained as an operatic mezzosoprano, and sung professionally with the Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne
    Estill Voice Training (often abbreviated EVT) is a programme for developing vocal skills based on deconstructing the process of vocal production into control of specific structures in the vocal mechanism.[1] By acquiring the ability to consciously move each structure the potential for controlled change of voice quality is increased.[2]

    Voice teachers quit whining !!!

    Snobs !

    Gabriel (ArcAngel)

  12. Hello! I'm a brazilian pianist, and I'm currently studying to be a teacher. I think your rant is amazing and, if you allow me, I would like to translate it to Portuguese and publish it on my blog (http://nocmoon.com/), with all credits and link to your blog. I hope you read this, I didn't find any other way to contact you.

    Cheers from Brazil

  13. Patricia,

    Feel free to reproduce my piece in translation as you suggested. Thanks for your interest! Let me know what sort of response you receive, although after some 350 comments following the viral post, I suppose the response is fairly predictable.
    Glenn Winters

  14. "It occurs to me that the most fortunate prodigies may be those born into wealthy homes, without the need or desire to turn young musicians into cash cows"

    Couldn't have said it better. In this country, there are many who equate finances with success.

    In our current political climate, It doesn't matter how talented you are, if you are struggling financially, you are quickly labeled as "lazy" or "irresponsible" and treated with contempt. That's quite an incentive for a struggling family to snatch that proverbial carrot.

    Its the society that we have built folks, money above any thing else is the only real measure of success.

  15. Thank you, Dr. Winters! I was going to post the link here, but you already found it. So, thanks for your kind comment too!

  16. Enjoy the beauty and emotion that music can unlock in whatever form it is presented.



  17. People who keep posting about child prodigies currently working are apparently also psychic and know how they are going to turn out in the end. Yes, they may be fine. Right now. But Dr. Opera is correct that musical maturity does not equal emotional maturity, and gifted children are often more sensitive than their peers. Parents need to consider the future when they exploit their kids like this. If the majority of adults deal poorly with losing their fame, how do we expect children to handle it?)


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