The 'price' for greatness

Posted by: Bech

The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 10:34 AM

To me the great concert pianists are an excellent example of people who have 'paid the price.' I'm a big believer in the concept that 'everything has a price.' That is, if you want to accomplish a great goal you will have to be willing to pay a great price. A very moral concept. If you want it, you have to be willing to earn it.

Would some of you like to give your opinion regarding the time and effort it usually takes to become a great pianist?

I wonder what percentage of people with sufficient talent refuse to pay the price? I would guess a high percentage.

Bech
Posted by: rada

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 11:10 AM

I have a sense that those with the best abilities get propelled into the business before they know what has happened.
Then is seems it is either a tremendous love or a tremendous ego that keeps them going?

rada
Posted by: Kreisler

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 12:59 PM

I generally agree with the OP, and I think the same applies for a lot of things.

For example, my wife is currently working on her medical residency. Having met many of her colleagues and been around physicians for several years now, I can safely say (and they would agree) that a very large number of people have sufficient intelligence to make it through medical school.

However, a relatively small number of those people are willing to go to school for 8 years, do a 4 year residency, go $200,000 in debt, and work 60 hours a week (including nights and weekends) for the rest of your life.

When I was teaching at a university, we saw the same thing - students come in wanting to major in music because they like to play the piano or be in band. But not all were willing to "pay the price" (things like theory classes and learning how to teach.)
Posted by: prenex

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 01:04 PM

I did poorly in school and I'm paying the price now. laugh
Posted by: Opus_Maximus

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 01:49 PM

I'm not sure.

Given that music - specifically solo concertizing - is such an insane, lofty, ridiculous
thing to do and way to spend one's time, I tend to feel that it's not really so much a matter of "paying the price", as of "there being no other option".

"Paying the price", sort of implies that a CHOICE has been made - a choice to sacrifice certain comforts in one's life - and I think that for most musicians who are TRULY great, or great enough to become concert pianists, it was never an issue of a choice - only destiny or compulsion. As a lot of the greatest pianists have said "Music choose me". I think that doing something this crazy or risky requires one to have a belief in themselves so strong and unassailable, that it transcends logical thinking in life (choices, sacrifice.)

Regarding what K said, I feel that the conscious choice of paying a price and sacrifice
is more common in Medicine or Law, or other such fields that are more balanced and
provide more direct and immediate goods for the price (monetary, security, etc.)

A price is paid for all things, the difference being the conscious awareness of it.
Posted by: Kreisler

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 02:05 PM

Something I think that is relatively common in music is that people will accept a small college teaching job or begrudgingly start teaching children in order to support the beginnings of a concert career. Often, a person will discover they actually love teaching and find that the "price" they were "paying" is actually very rewarding and fun.
Posted by: TheHappyMoron

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 02:37 PM

I agree, everything has a price, and as Kreisler said, most times the journey is more fulfilling than the goal reached. this applies to everything; if you want something you have to work for it.
Goethe said "thinking is easy, acting is hard, and putting thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world". success is for the willing.
Posted by: pianomie

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 04:22 PM

Didn't some of history's greatest musicians have such spectacular talent that they didn't work all that hard - didn't need to! = and were in fact bon vivants?
Posted by: MarkH

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 04:41 PM

Originally Posted By: pianomie
Didn't some of history's greatest musicians have such spectacular talent that they didn't work all that hard - didn't need to! = and were in fact bon vivants?


I don't think so. Take Liszt. In his younger years just before his touring, he would practice 12+ hours per day. Later, after he gave up touring, he DID give constant masterclasses, and keep an active evening life with his students. HOWEVER, he would also regularly get up at 5am and compose until noon or a little after every day (orders were not to disturb him). He was such a busybody that Princess Carolyne ironically nicknamed him "lazybones."

I think more generally the "spectacularly talented" composers (and other people of accomplishment) just seemed to come up with things so easily because their other more boisterous activities were more visible, or because their biographers idolized them and exaggerated. You can begin life as a supremely gifted Mozart or Mendelssohn, but you can't accomplish major works like the Requieum or A Midsummer Night's Dream without major amounts of work.
Posted by: Kreisler

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 05:19 PM

Originally Posted By: pianomie
Didn't some of history's greatest musicians have such spectacular talent that they didn't work all that hard - didn't need to! = and were in fact bon vivants?


I can't think of any.
Posted by: stores

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 06:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Originally Posted By: pianomie
Didn't some of history's greatest musicians have such spectacular talent that they didn't work all that hard - didn't need to! = and were in fact bon vivants?


I can't think of any.


Mozart comes to mind, but otherwise I agree.
There IS, indeed, a HIGH price to be paid. Someone stated earlier that they sensed those with greater abilities were probably simply propelled into things before they knew what hit them. Where do you think those abilities came from? You're not just born with the ability to instantly play Rach 3. One must sacrifice an enormous amount in the attempt to "make it" and even after giving up everything there is no guarantee whatsoever that one WILL "make it". I know several pianists who have done the competition circuit for several years but never had the success they hoped for. I know one pianist who is now incredibly successful, but traveled the circuit for years with enviable outcomes, but never nailed the big prize. They entered what was to be their final competition (having decided beforehand that this was the last time) and finally won it all...but that doesn't happen very often. Then there are those who are a smashing success their first go through. At any rate, every single one of them gave up friends, sports, parties, social lives of any kind, steady income (relying on family funds and the support of donors), vacations...you name it...sacrifice is the choice you make. Whether you goal is to make the concert stage your home or not the biggest key is knowing HOW to use the time you have, which is why I'll never understand those who don't feel the need for a teacher...and not just Mrs. Bufont down the street, but a GOOD teacher who will ground you in the basics giving you a strong foundation and righting you on your feet to use the precious little time you have available to the best of your advantage. Every successful pianist knows this is key and especially in one's formative years where everything is so crucial. It's one helll of a sacrifice, but the music makes it so very worth every single moment.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 06:34 PM

I'd guess that almost all pianists who reach a very high level have spent a great many hours practicing. But what I don't think is clear is whether the greatest pianists spent more time than the excellent but not "greatest".

If one could some how rate the top 10,000 pianists in order from 1 to 10,000, would the top 100 have spent more time practicing than the bottom 100?
Posted by: wr

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 06:36 PM

Originally Posted By: MarkH

I think more generally the "spectacularly talented" composers (and other people of accomplishment) just seemed to come up with things so easily because their other more boisterous activities were more visible, or because their biographers idolized them and exaggerated. You can begin life as a supremely gifted Mozart or Mendelssohn, but you can't accomplish major works like the Requieum or A Midsummer Night's Dream without major amounts of work.


Oh, I don't know...didn't Mozart said he composed as easily as a pig urinates? In other words, it may be doing something, but it wasn't "work".
Posted by: Minaku

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 06:55 PM

On the contrary, Mozart worked extraordinarily hard. His schedule was pretty nuts. I'm not sure when he ever slept.

Edit: He could compose easily, sure. Any of us can compose easily, but it'll probably sound bad. There's a clear difference between the masterpieces that he poured himself into and the things he wrote to fill obligations or make money.
Posted by: PaulaPiano34

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 07:31 PM

Originally Posted By: stores

Mozart comes to mind, but otherwise I agree.
There IS, indeed, a HIGH price to be paid. Someone stated earlier that they sensed those with greater abilities were probably simply propelled into things before they knew what hit them. Where do you think those abilities came from? You're not just born with the ability to instantly play Rach 3. One must sacrifice an enormous amount in the attempt to "make it" and even after giving up everything there is no guarantee whatsoever that one WILL "make it". I know several pianists who have done the competition circuit for several years but never had the success they hoped for. I know one pianist who is now incredibly successful, but traveled the circuit for years with enviable outcomes, but never nailed the big prize. They entered what was to be their final competition (having decided beforehand that this was the last time) and finally won it all...but that doesn't happen very often. Then there are those who are a smashing success their first go through. At any rate, every single one of them gave up friends, sports, parties, social lives of any kind, steady income (relying on family funds and the support of donors), vacations...you name it...sacrifice is the choice you make. Whether you goal is to make the concert stage your home or not the biggest key is knowing HOW to use the time you have, which is why I'll never understand those who don't feel the need for a teacher...and not just Mrs. Bufont down the street, but a GOOD teacher who will ground you in the basics giving you a strong foundation and righting you on your feet to use the precious little time you have available to the best of your advantage. Every successful pianist knows this is key and especially in one's formative years where everything is so crucial. It's one helll of a sacrifice, but the music makes it so very worth every single moment.


+1000 You nailed it Stores! smile
Posted by: wr

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 07:51 PM

Originally Posted By: Minaku
On the contrary, Mozart worked extraordinarily hard. His schedule was pretty nuts. I'm not sure when he ever slept.

Edit: He could compose easily, sure. Any of us can compose easily, but it'll probably sound bad. There's a clear difference between the masterpieces that he poured himself into and the things he wrote to fill obligations or make money.


Well, yes, he was extremely busy, but again, I am not sure how much of that was "work" (except perhaps when he actually didn't want to write something).
Posted by: gooddog

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 08:54 PM

The OP brings to mind Clara Schumann, who sacrificed spending time with her children for her career and Johannes Brahms who devoted himself entirely to his music when his romances failed. Come to think of it, so did Beethoven.
Posted by: TeresaD

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 09:19 PM

There is a new book of interviews of some of today's top pianists: "At the Piano: Interviews with 21st-Century Pianists," by Caroline Benser. Simone Dinnerstein, Stephen Hough, and Jonathan Biss are just three who shared their thoughts, generously. Ms. Benser asked all of them about how they got into the concert-pianist life, and a lot about their early practice and study. A lot of what they said relates to this discussion.

Full disclosure: she mentions me in the acknowledgements. So I really wanted to like the book! And I did!

I think it's on amazon.com, but you can also get it at the Scarecrow Press website, https://rowman.com/Action/Search/SCP/benser.
Posted by: Bech

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/14/12 11:48 PM

Super cute Marc Yu says: "The thing is, you have to love music."

So...like some of you are saying, it's sometimes more about being strongly motivated by your love of music than it is about 'paying the price."

Off topic but if you don't know Marc Yu check him out on YouTube. You'll be glad you did.

Bech
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 01:36 AM

Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: MarkH

I think more generally the "spectacularly talented" composers (and other people of accomplishment) just seemed to come up with things so easily because their other more boisterous activities were more visible, or because their biographers idolized them and exaggerated. You can begin life as a supremely gifted Mozart or Mendelssohn, but you can't accomplish major works like the Requieum or A Midsummer Night's Dream without major amounts of work.


Oh, I don't know...didn't Mozart said he composed as easily as a pig urinates? In other words, it may be doing something, but it wasn't "work".
I can't really claim that I know how Mozarts' mind worked, but even if we assume that music came in his mind instantly there's still the matter of communicating this to the... paper and the audience and the performers and the publisher, etc...

Even if the whole requiem was in his mind, it sure must've taken a LONG time to copy everything down to paper (even in draft mode) and then check the copyists' work...

Boring? Sure (though I personally love creating scores (and I'm not saying I'm Mozart or anything...)), but necessary as well.

Greatness and the price paid doesn't mean sitting on the piano bench for 13 hours per day and pissing yourself because you won't stand up to go to the loo. It also means all those side skills you need to practice in order to 'make it' (charm, wits, personality, luck, study, practice, networking, etc)...
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 02:45 AM

If you read Mozart's letters, you will be struck by the hardships of constant travel, money concerns, poor accommodations, ongoing struggle to find patrons, humiliating encounters, poor instruments to perform on, homesickness etc..
He may have been prolific and a genius composer but he certainly struggled for independence when he could have easily taken up a permanent position at some prince or aristocrat's household, singing their praises and composing salon pieces in return for steady income.
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 02:51 AM

Originally Posted By: Andromaque
If you read Mozart's letters, you will be struck by the hardships of constant travel, money concerns, poor accommodations, ongoing struggle to find patrons, humiliating encounters, poor instruments to perform on, homesickness etc..
He may have been prolific and a genius composer but he certainly struggled for independence when he could have easily taken up a permanent position at some prince or aristocrat's household, singing their praises and composing salon pieces in return for steady income.
I agree (and I have his letters to his father I think)...

But I'd have to wonder if these hardships made him what he was... If the problems he faced made him even more prolific and amazing composer...

I mean I don't really know many filthy rich who are also prolific composers... I do know a few who were great at composing and thus became rich, but not the other way around! ha
Posted by: wr

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 04:09 AM

Originally Posted By: rada
I have a sense that those with the best abilities get propelled into the business before they know what has happened.
Then is seems it is either a tremendous love or a tremendous ego that keeps them going?



Yes. Or maybe they just don't know how do to anything else.

To me, the thing about "paying a price" or "making a sacrifice" is mostly about framing things in a certain way, rather than being something real. People just do what they do, and what they choose not to do is basically the stuff of imagination.

It's like a variation of the useless exercise of thinking about what could have been. And oftentimes, there are strong elements of self-congratulation and self-pity involved, it seems to me.

To me, if you don't do all kinds of other stuff in order to learn how to play piano really well and then have a career doing that, it's bogus as a sacrifice, because it's just doing what you really want to do. That's all. If you really prefer doing all the other stuff, then you will do all the other stuff.
Posted by: Bech

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 03:43 PM

When I started this topic part of my intent was to get some of your estimations as to the years and hours per day it typically takes for a talented pianist to reach greatness. Just a ball park average.

My guess is 4-6 hours of practice 6 days a week and at least 15 years of this.

However, when you say great pianist in a complete sense I would think you would then have to consider the size of their repertoire, how well they interpret, etc. Perhaps this might require 30 years of experience and practice. Argerich comes to mind.

I know I'm being somewhat contradictory here since greatness assumes a pianist who 'has it all.'

Bech

Posted by: TheHappyMoron

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/15/12 03:49 PM

how could you possibly put an estimate on it?
Posted by: LaReginadellaNotte

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/16/12 01:34 AM

It's my understanding that even Mozart didn't become a first-rate composer without great effort. In his letters, Mozart talked about how he had closely studied the works of virtually every major composer, learning what he could about musical style and formulating ideas of his own. According to Mozart, his compositional mastery was the result of long and sedulous study.
Posted by: fuzzy8balls

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/16/12 02:43 AM

I'm trying to pay the price, no one is taking my money. Haha
Posted by: trigalg693

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/17/12 06:12 AM

Almost all the people I've heard of who are doing really well in international competitions and stuff are practicing about 6 hours a day or more. Some people who win big competitions get away with less, but they're rare.

I believe it's impossible to maintain the amount of repertoire concert pianists do with less than 6 hours a day, although I may be wrong...
Posted by: Bech

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/18/12 12:17 PM

Originally Posted By: trigalg693
Almost all the people I've heard of who are doing really well in international competitions and stuff are practicing about 6 hours a day or more. Some people who win big competitions get away with less, but they're rare.

I believe it's impossible to maintain the amount of repertoire concert pianists do with less than 6 hours a day, although I may be wrong...


Thank you, trigalg693. Your statement, 'maintain the amount of repertoire' sure sounds right.
The amount of music a great concert pianist has to know well is pretty amazing. Not possible in just a few years and without thousands of hours at the piano. Not just the music as written but all the small details/nuances.

Too, I'm sure they are often adding pieces to their repertoire.

Would seem that they must nearly be commited to 'living with their piano' or they wouldn't stand a chance.

Bech
Posted by: BDB

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/18/12 12:22 PM

The final price: Whitney Houston.
Posted by: stores

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/18/12 04:47 PM

Originally Posted By: BDB
The final price: Whitney Houston.


Hardly.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: The 'price' for greatness - 02/18/12 05:21 PM

Originally Posted By: Bech
Originally Posted By: trigalg693
Almost all the people I've heard of who are doing really well in international competitions and stuff are practicing about 6 hours a day or more. Some people who win big competitions get away with less, but they're rare.

I believe it's impossible to maintain the amount of repertoire concert pianists do with less than 6 hours a day, although I may be wrong...


Thank you, trigalg693. Your statement, 'maintain the amount of repertoire' sure sounds right.
The amount of music a great concert pianist has to know well is pretty amazing. Not possible in just a few years and without thousands of hours at the piano. Not just the music as written but all the small details/nuances.

Too, I'm sure they are often adding pieces to their repertoire.
The great pianists or even lesser ones may only have one or two recital programs and a fairly small number of concertos to play during a typical season. So I don't think many spend much time "maintaining" a huge amount of repertoire.

This is not to say they don't have to spend a huge amount of time preparing the works for each season and learning new repertoire. After many years they have a large number pieces they have played in the past and can resurrect as needed. I think there's probably a huge difference between their active repertoire vs. a list of pieces they have learned during their lifetime. And I don't think any of them are devoting their daily practice to maintain pieces not in their active repertoire.