What makes a child prodigy?
The name Amira Willighagen may not be a household name for you, but you have probably heard her work. The video shown below was when she made her debut at just nine years old singing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” and literally stunned the judges and audience. It leads us to ask the question, what makes a child prodigy? Is it heredity? Is it hard work? Or is it simply ‘different wiring?’
Let’s first understand what a prodigy is. A prodigy is defined as one, at an early age, who develops one or more skills at a level far beyond their age. According Blake Madden, “Prodigies typically excel in areas of math, science, music and competitive games”. All of these disciplines require strict parameters with a repetitive nature.
There is definitely one thing in common among child prodigies: they have to love what they are doing. Sure, we hear stories about kids who are pushed by their parents to accomplish something, maybe even to the extent that it seems like work or at the extreme, abusive. For a child to succeed in their respective discipline, they still have to love what they are doing.
The argument continues that it’s not necessarily an innate talent. Rather, it’s simply a ton of hard work and dedication. Prodigies, more than likely, are also deficient in other areas because of their focus on one or two things that makes them great. Many have emotional deficiencies or struggle with A.D.D. or O.C.D.. They want to be great, they want to succeed and they spend countless hours pressing towards those goals at the expense of other experiences or strengths.
Parents and surroundings can certainly be a driving factor. Whether it is leadership from their family or simply an internal desire, these kids have a gift to want to be the best. So the real difference becomes timing and when these kids started the process of becoming great. It’s obviously more impressive to adults when you see a nine-year old rip out an opera classic that rivals the best on-stage performances or a seven-year old that plays the piano as well as the most accomplished touring pianists. This leads us to the ultimate combination of innate-talent and timing. When did those desires to master something really kick in? The younger the child, the more impressive the result might be.
There was a study of violinists done at the Berlin Academy of Music, and the suggestion was that “no experts showed up” without the rigorous hard work and time put in to their discipline. That being said, the more innately talented the player was, with the same amount of time dedicated, the further they exceeded the less innately talented players with the same amount of time put in. Herein lies the timing of younger prodigies and why we might see them at a younger age.
Choosing your discipline at a young age might be difficult but more than likely it is influenced by your surroundings.
Amira is no different. She is quoted as saying, “My brother Vincent plays the violin, and I also wanted to do something… So I thought, I’m going to sing… and then I heard opera songs, which I found very beautiful and that’s what I started singing.”
She loves what she is doing.