The mysterious world of prodigies

Posted on: November 8, 2012

In the November 4 New York Times Sunday magazine, Andrew Solomon writes, “Drew Petersen didn’t speak until he was 3½, but his mother, Sue, never believed he was slow. When he was 18 months old, in 1994, she was reading to him and skipped a word, whereupon Drew reached over and pointed to the missing word on the page. … Sue, who learned piano as a child, taught Drew the basics on an old upright, and he became fascinated by sheet music. ‘He needed to decode it,’ Sue said. … When he began formal lessons at 5, his teacher said he could skip the first six months’ worth of material. Within the year, Drew was performing Beethoven sonatas at the recital hall at Carnegie Hall. … Prodigies are able to function at an advanced adult level in some domain before age 12. … Prodigiousness … looks from a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds; genius can be as bewildering and hazardous as a disability. Despite the past century’s breakthroughs in psychology and neuroscience, prodigiousness and genius are as little understood as autism. … Some prodigies seem to trade on a splinter skill—an ability in music that occupies their whole consciousness, leaving them virtually incompetent in all other areas. Others have a dazzling capacity for achievement in general and select music from among multitudinous gifts.”

Posted November 8, 2012