It used to kind of irk me when someone would say I’m “gifted”.
From a young age, I’ve been musically inclined. When I was a toddler, I’d make a whole drum set on the kitchen floor out of pots and pans. I’d stretch a rubber band across the little wooden posts at the top of our kitchen chairs and pluck out a melody like a bass guitar. As I got older, I’d pick up instruments for the first time and “just play” them. I suspect a lot of musicians have similar stories because musicians tend to be musically inclined people – the same way some people are mathematically inclined, others physically, or others in multiple disciplines.
As I got older and got better, picking saxophone as my main instrument, I started noticing a recurring theme when I’d play. People started saying things like, “you’re so gifted” or “what a gift [to be able to play like that].” I knew they were just trying to be complimentary, but the term “gifted” literally implied I’d been handed the ability to play well. That didn’t sit well with me. Sure, I had a musical inclination, but I’ve actually worked (and continue to work) countless hours to sound pretty good. It made me feel like no matter how hard I worked, some people would always see it as a “gift.” I assure you, no one handed me the ability to play well!
Somewhere along the way, a couple of things occurred to me and have allowed me to reframe this phrase:
Firstly, some people are not musically inclined. I’ve come to learn that to non-musical people, music can seem like nothing less than magic. That’s amazing! What’s normal to me is magic to someone else! That also makes me feel a little better for struggling with fields that seem so natural to other people (ahem: maths).
Secondly, I’ve been encouraged to do well. This is likely the biggest reason I still work on music today! My family has always been very encouraging and supportive with my musical endeavors. My friends, my mentors, collaborators, fans, patrons – you name it – I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of support from people in my life who are positioned to encourage me and genuinely want me to do well. The same would have been true if I were an athelete or scientist.
Not everyone has that.
That’s the real gift! (sorry for the cliche)
The rest is just practice.