Talent Matters

Most of us who are artists have the idea that talent (that indefinable something that allows us to be really good at an activity without much effort) is important. If you look around, though, it seems less true than it was in the past that this ingredient is crucial to having a career. I can think of quite a few people who can barely sing who are raking in big dollars.

The main reason for this is what you would expect — greed. Corporate Kingdoms are built on what sells. (Those profit margins are important). The people running things in the entertainment industry are mostly men. Many of them are “business men” who do not, themselves, claim to be artistic or even knowledgeable about the arts. Some of them learn on the job, but not all. They tend to invest in things because they “like them” and if they have enough money, that is often enough to give them the power to make artistic decisions based on nothing but their own taste or lack thereof.

If you take a look at our NYC network TV stations, the actors who have leads in many of the shows look so much alike in the various series that it can be hard to tell them apart. Even the news broadcasters (especially the women) could be cover models on Glamour or Vogue. The pop singing stars are all attractive people and many of them go into fashion, fragrance, or cosmetics as a “side line”. Think of all the “celebrity perfumes”. What, we could ask, does that have to do with being talented as a singer or actress? Only money, folks, only money. Back in the 60s, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles weren’t peddling perfumes and clothing lines. Before that, no one was buying Dinah Shore’s wrinkle cream or Frank Sinatra’s brand of shoes. “Merchandizing” hadn’t yet been invented.

It’s not that there are no talented people out there or that all the “beautiful people” aren’t talented, it’s just that a “corporate mentality” isn’t interested in anything too outside the box. Too risky. Everything is “trending”. If it’s popular, then it’s good. If it’s what everyone else is doing, then others should do that same thing, too.  : [

The other side of this little observation is to note that sometimes people get chosen to do things for reasons that do not make sense but are expedient.

Decades ago, I  had to play the piano while singing for a local TV station in upstate NY. The crew had arrived “on location” of a jazz festival at which I was to sing with a band. I was alone at the venue, waiting for others to arrive. I am hardly a good pianist, let alone a jazz pianist, but the TV news people wanted footage for the evening program and I knew the event needed the publicity, so I talked it up and then sat at the piano, pulled out my sheet music, played for myself while I sang, and tried to look super confident. It was absolutely embarrassing, but I got through the song and the 20 seconds that made it on air that night was a good thing. Certainly, anyone who knew jazz would have asked, “Where in the world did they get her?” and been justified in their incredulity, but there I was! It would have been far worse, though, if I had had any delusions that I should have been there playing for myself and singing. I least I knew better. Sadly, some people don’t.

Those of us who teach must recognize talent when we find it. Talent has to matter. We must also be brave enough to kindly counsel those who are not talented but think they are to “look deeper” and reevaluate their opinion. We can’t determine what goes on out there in the entertainment industry, plus and minus, but we can certainly give individuals who are naturally gifted a boost and guide those with lesser capacities to work hard and develop until they become more skilled.


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