26 November 2011

This boy "downloads music from his mind"

This "60 Minutes" segment (text here) aired several years ago; it features Jay "Bluejay" Greenberg, a musical prodigy who was 12 years old when the program was filmed (his current biography is here).
"We are talking about a prodigy of the level of the greatest prodigies in history when it comes to composition," says Sam Zyman, a composer. "I am talking about the likes of Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and Saint-Sans." Zyman teaches music theory to Jay at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he's been teaching for 18 years.

"This is an absolute fact. This is objective. This is not a subjective opinion," says Zyman. "Jay could be sitting here, and he could be composing right now. He could finish a piano sonata before our eyes in probably 25 minutes. And it would be a great piece."

How is it possible? Jay told Pelley he doesn't know where the music comes from, but it comes fully written -- playing like an orchestra in his head.
"It's as if the unconscious mind is giving orders at the speed of light," says Jay. "You know, I mean, so I just hear it as if it were a smooth performance of a work that is already written, when it isn't...
Jay writes things he can't even play, and he says he wants to perfect his piano playing, even though he doesn't need the piano, or any instrument, to compose... Talented composers might write five or six symphonies in a lifetime. But Jay has written five at the age of 12. 
There is a bit of "hype" in the presentation, both from the parents and from the producers, but there is no doubt that this young man is a true prodigy, and as the text suggests, as I watched the video I couldn't help thinking back to the movie "Amadeus."

The word isn't used in the video or webpages, but I presume Jay Greenberg has a form of autism, which means that his brain is just like yours and mine... except for a couple extra or aberrant connections that just happen to result in previously-unwritten symphonic music playing in his head.  It's a mind-boggling concept.  Clearly he has a family situation that predisposed him to this manifestation of his capabilities, but one wonders how many other children there are in the world who experience this and can't express it.

Via Reddit.


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    LOL (literally).

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  3. Am I raining on the parade to ask whether the music he composes is any good? The little snatches we hear in the video don't really tell us much. What kind of critical reception has he gotten, other than "Wow, and he's only 12 years old"?

    I mean, if one is going to say he's another Mozart, there ought to be some consideration of the quality of the music, no?

    --Swift Loris

  4. What seems to be coming out of our increasing awareness of the brain's variations and complexity is that people on the autism spectrum might have gifts we don't yet appreciate.

  5. Just have to stop by here to say it's completely inaccurate to say that an autistic individual's brain is identical to a neurotypical one except for abilities such as these. After all, autism isn't diagnosed by signs of prodigious ability, but by behavior patterns reflecting how autistic brains operate very differently in lots of ways--most distinctively, their abilities in perceiving others' emotional states are markedly below average.

    Not to say they shouldn't be cherished both as people and as social contributors, but we might as well be accurate in discussing brain similarities and differences.

  6. I just had a listen to the Quintet for Strings on his debut CD, and it's pretty good. If I hadn't known, I would have slotted it straight in with the works of late-19th-century or neo-Romantic composers such as Shostakovitch, Enescu, or even early Schönberg.
    Although this repertoire is certainly not my favourite, what impresses me is his ability to develop thematic material organically -- the hardest compositional feat to achieve in my mind. Most good musicians could compose a decent enough theme if they had to, but the task of bridging the episodic musical gaps between 'statements' of thematic material (the mortar between the bricks, as it were) often has modern composers degenerate into boring, pointless note-spinning. With Jay, it's all one solid musical edifice without a single dull moment, and the three movements I heard each possessed an individual, unique character that was maintained throughout. I'd say they're right about him, and he'll be producing truly great music one day.

    P.S. The real litmus test of a great composer is the fugue, and I see he's already trying his hand at those.


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