Skill and Talent

My birthmom, Sherry, and my half-sister, Rebecca, have been visiting this week. As part of a birthday/sort-of-Mother’s Day present, I bought Sherry a one-hour piano lesson with my piano teacher, Deborah. Sherry has played some piano on and off (mostly off) over the years, but has never studied it seriously with a teacher. I suspect she is like many adults who dabbled in piano as a child, weren’t able to (or didn’t want to) pursue it seriously, and now regret all of the missed years of practicing, learning, and cultivating the art of piano-playing.

Sherry’s a little different, though, I think. Now that she's become involved in a church, and with the children's music program, she's started trying to play again. For most of her life, she has dreamed of studying piano and playing well, but she never had much opportunity for it. So now she's taking advantage of the opportunities she's finding through the church.

Now, my birthmother has a beautiful touch on the piano, an innate sense for playing. She is at a beginner level, but when she plays, I can’t help but think to myself, “If her natural musical ability were nurtured, it would easily break through the barrier to her long-held dreams and grow into something infinitely special.” In other words, she has talent. She lacks skills (for now), but she has talent.

I told her that she's talented (and so did Deborah). I don’t know if Sherry believed either of us. But it’s true. When “talent” came up in the conversation, Sherry said something like, “Yeah, I guess I’m talented enough to read the notes.”

No. You’re smart enough to read the notes. Your ability to read them is a skill. Not a talent. Anyone can learn to read notes, if they work hard enough. Skills are teachable, even though the learning comes more easily to some than to others. For a lucky few, however, accumulation of skills—however long that takes—will nurture an innate talent. Talent can’t be taught. It can be encouraged, nurtured, and guided, but I don’t think it can be taught.

We all have our God-given talents and abilities. I know I have a gift for music—even though my own skills aren’t near where I’d like them to be—and Sherry has the same gift. She somehow passed it down to me, even though we never spoke or even met until 29 years after she gave me up for adoption. I’m so thankful that my family was able to recognize my own love for piano and provide lessons for me from a young age. The ability to play has brought me so much joy over the years.

So I’m hoping Sherry will experience that joy, too—that she’ll continue practicing and growing as a pianist and won’t be discouraged at how difficult the learning stages of playing—or at how those “learning stages” never, ever end. It’s funny how much she and I are alike in some ways. I think we both expect piano to be easy (a sign that she is aware of her own natural abilities). And we both get frustrated that we have to, you know, practice and work hard in order to reach the goal of being “good” at piano. (Imagine that!)

As she continues to work to gain the skills, though, she will find that she’s “good.” Because she has a never-nurtured seed of musical talent that’s just waiting to germinate and grow. I hope my little gift of a piano lesson, and Deborah’s honest encouragement and advice, have helped to nudge my birhtmother further toward the surface, toward a place that—after all this time—she and her talent can truly begin to flourish.


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