Skills and Talents. And Chopsticks.
by Drew Holmes
I have had the privilege the last few weeks of working with the fifth-grade brass players at High Plains School here in Loveland. It has been fun to help them begin to learn about their instruments and to see the “ah-ha!” moments as they have their first successes with developing the skill of music making. I am reminded of a skill I learned years ago during my first summer working in the Philadelphia Orchestra library.
I had just completed my Sophomore year of college and as part of fulfilling the requirements of my intended minor in Arts Administration I secured an internship working under Clint Nieweg, then Principal Librarian for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Anyone who knows Clint can attest to his love of food and dining out and sharing those culinary experiences with others. My first day on the job, Clint took me and then staff Librarian Stu Serio out to lunch at the Chinese restaurant down at 15th and Locust.
My culinary experiences were fairly limited at that point and I did not have much knowledge of Asian cuisine beyond the usual Americanized takeout that is so common these days. This food was authentic and as far as my memory goes, delicious. It had to be. Clint would never put up with anything less. However, the most notable part of lunch was not the food but rather this was when I learned how to eat with chopsticks.
After we were seated Clint announced that until I could effectively use chopsticks, I was not allowed to have a fork. Stu, with his fork firmly in hand, chuckled at me in a way that indicated he had likely been subjected to this rite of passage back on his first day as an intern. Clint showed me the proper technique, and, after some drops and fumbles, I managed to do it well enough to not go hungry that day.
There is a difference between a talent and a skill. Talent is an innate ability to do something (like making music) and affects the speed with which we become skilled at something. Skill is the ability to do something and can be learned over time. As musicians we must always remember that “I can’t do it” means “I can’t do it yet.” As I continue to assist at High Plains School my hope is to instill this mindset into the kids that talent is nice, but not necessary. The willingness to put in the time to learn the skill of making music is what will lead to success.
In the end, eating with chopsticks was not nearly as difficult a skill to learn as I had imagined. Today I feel a sense of pride at being able to use the proper utensils when dining at a restaurant that offers them and, in a way, feel like I am honoring the culture and cuisine by doing so. That was the first of many skills and mindset contexts Clint taught me and I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to learn from him. The foundational knowledge and experience I gained working for him laid the groundwork for everything that came after and set me on the path I am on today.
And it all started with chopsticks.