Broader Minded Beat: Why Mozart Was an Underachiever, and Other Thoughts About Talent

This originally appeared in the second edition of the Broader Minded Beat newsletter (May 9, 2014).

Hello Broader Minded Thinkers!

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the subject of talent. For example, what IS talent? How do we as educators, parents, mentors, students, and learners identify and leverage talent? Perhaps most importantly, how much does what we like to call “talent” really matter?

Certain people seem to be set apart by their extraordinary talent. Consider the intricate perfection of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or the transcendent, passionate brilliance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. We tend to view the creators of these masterpieces as almost separate beings, set apart from the pack by their mysterious, otherworldly gifts.

Further, we tend to see that level of artistry and mastery as unattainable for all but those who have been naturally blessed—appointed by the gods of creativity to anoint the world with their artistic contributions.

Take, for example, one of the true giants of classical music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose name is nearly synonymous with musical genius. Young Wolfgang began studying music at age three and composed his first pieces, for piano and violin, at age five; he was performing publicly as a pianist and violinist by age eight.

Hailed across Europe as a child prodigy, he and his sister performed extensively for heads of state and other members of the social elite. He went on to compose some of the most enduring and beloved operas, concertos, and symphonies in the vast Western music repertoire, amassing a staggering body of work before the age of 35. Yet, several recent music scholars consider him a late bloomer. Wait, what? Why? More on that to come.


Shannon Kelly, Director of Advocacy, May 9, 2014. © National Association for Music Education (