Virtuoso Music


In this Active Minds program, we'll be awe-struck by the brilliance of such legendary musicians as pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein, violinist Hilary Hahn and – surprise! – a gathering of five incomparable bluegrass players. A virtuoso is more than someone who can play (or sing) a bunch of notes really fast. In a beautiful piano piece by Franz Liszt, we'll observe, close-up, how even a slow, dreamy work can prove a challenge. Other virtuosos will be showcased, from a shy boy of 10 to the uninhibited wizardry of the Indian sitar master, Ravi Shankar, as he dazzles the crowd at a rock festival.


We adore people of extraordinary abilities, be they high-flying ballet dancers or high-flying trapeze aerialists. We are amazed at the ability of a basketball player to toss a ball 40 feet straight into the net. In the music world, there are dozens of instrumental and vocal artists who can toss off endless waves of notes with seeming effortlessness. But such expertise doesn't come easily. Hours and hours of practice, mostly begun early in life, are necessary, along with a desire to be better than anyone else. And, let's not forget, an innate talent that lies beyond the mere repetition of scales and arpeggios is necessary. Anyone who's taken piano lessons or violin lessons know how playing even the simplest piece requires months of preparation, of training the fingers to behave, of practicing everyday, while loving every minute. Nothing comes easily, or quickly. When Ravi Shankar first appeared before his guru at the start of his long journey to conquer the multi-string sitar, he was instructed to sit each day and merely hold the instrument properly (no easy task on its own), and was told that he couldn't play a note until a year had passed. Discipline and dedication are crucial in the process of becoming a virtuoso. But above all, what is essential – and present in every instance – is an undying love for doing whatever is needed to succeed. How many times has NBA star Steph Curry sunk a long three-point shot in a game? Each time, you can see the joy he felt as he ran down the court to play defense. That is why every virtuoso does what he or she does: For the joy of achieving what others can only imagine.

Exploration Questions

  • Who was Niccolo Paganini and why was he thought in league with the Devil?
  • Why were so many composers inspired to write endless variations on someone else's tune?

Reflective Questions

  • If you could become a virtuoso in any field, which would you choose?
  • There are oodles of pre-teen virtuosos – are these talented wiz-kids being robbed of childhood?
  • Do you prefer virtuosic music over more subtle styles, such as introspective ballads?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Lahee, Henry C. Famous Violinists of Today and Yesterday (Esprios Classics). Blurb Publishing. 2021. 198 pages. Around 100 years ago, Lahee released similarly titled thumbnails of outstanding musicians of his day (the turn of the 20th Century), including a fascinating examination of opera singers of the early 1900s. This look at violinists of that era will delight fans of musical nostalgia.
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