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Nature / Nurture / Talent
June 21, 2010 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Vanessa Mae Nicholson is one of Britain’s most successful young musicians. A classical violinist and former child prodigy who self-describes her crossover style as "violin techno-acoustic fusion," her fans praise her modern creativity and frenetic, lightning-fast riffs. But is her talent learned or genetic? Documentary from BBC1 in 2008: Vanessa Mae - The Making of Me: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

About The Making of Me
This 2008 series of three 60-minute BBC1 documentaries analyzed 3 famous people who wanted to understand more about their own natures through scientific tests.
* Doctor Who actor John Barrowman, who asked scientists to determine why he is gay. DailyMotion: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
* Olympic Silver Medalist Colin Jackson / Article / Video (The only one I could find online)

About Vanessa-Mae
Mae is the youngest person ever to attend the Royal College of Music, and to record the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos. She is also the fastest-selling classical artist ever. But her critics have been quite harsh: accusing her of musical 'incompetence', calling her "a nymphet fiddler in a see-through swimsuit” and likening her to a child prostitute.

* Extensive article archive from one of her fan sites
* Vanessa-Mae is the violinist classical-music lovers love to argue about.
* Vanessa-Mae’s journey from prodigy to performer
* On wise women


Her Music
* Toccata et Fugue in D Minor: Video / Live
* The Devil’s Trill: Video
* Cotton Eye Joe: Live
* Storm: Video (sound isn’t quite synchronized with image) / Live
* I Can (Can You): Live
* Destiny: Video / Live
* Classical Gas: Live
* Red Hot: Video / Live (The video is practically seizure-inducing.)
* Reflection (from Mulan)
* I Feel Love: Video
* I’m a Doun For Lack of Johnnie: Video / Live
* Contradanza
* Raaga’s Dance (composed by AR Rahman)
posted by zarq (18 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some of the words in this post contain multiple video links. Have fun exploring. :)
posted by zarq at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2010


When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I discovered Vanessa Mae and set about trying to buy all of her CDs. I remember going into a music store and asking the crusty guy behind the counter where her CDs were. He commented, "You've got good taste in women, kid."
posted by GammaGoblin at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2010


Wow zarq, you're just out of hand with these phenomenal music posts! Amazing stuff. Thanks!

I would say, however, that the "lightening" link looks like every "society of the future!" concert scene from any bad sci-fi movie.
posted by lattiboy at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2010


Thanks. :)

I would say, however, that the "lightening" link looks like every "society of the future!" concert scene from any bad sci-fi movie.

Definitely! Her music also seems to be used for a lot of AMV and futuristic-clip mashup videos on YT. :D
posted by zarq at 8:10 AM on June 21, 2010


OD'd on The Violin Player back in '95, and I wonder if it'd be a bit too smooth for my tastes at this point, but definitely worth a revisit to find out. Thanks, zarq.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2010


I remember Vanessa Mae! I had a cassette of her music (that's how old I am!) Love this post.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:42 AM on June 21, 2010


But is her talent learned or genetic?

Really, that's the most interesting question?
posted by kenko at 8:46 AM on June 21, 2010


I'm gonna just say it as an argument from authority (or as my personal opinion in the following context), but a lifetime as a serious musician (classical, rock, country, jazz, Hindustani), and 25 years of hanging out in music departments and band rehearsals and a hundred other contexts around very talented musicians and more than a few virtuosos, and a deep familiarity with the literatures on both the cognitive and sociological side of the talent debate has me convinced that distinctive individual genetic endowments for music account for a very modest, if not trivial, portion of what we think of as musical "talent." Growing up with a ton of music on the stereo matters much more than whether your parents or grandparents were good musicians, except to the extent that their experience socializes a young child into listening closely and making sound creatively at an early, early age.

That we deny the majority of children the right to express their musicality, which is an innate, species specific capacity of our species no less than (and very closely intertwined with) language on the basis of a sorting by "talent" in the modern western-influenced world of music education is an appalling violation of children's inherent right to develop as musical beings, as much as speaking and reading ones.

If anyone cares, two places to start exploring this critique are *Songs in their heads,* by music education scholar Patricia Sheehan Campbell, and *A Commonsense view of all music,* by the great British musical anthropologist John Blacking.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:46 AM on June 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


Sorry for the redundancy; an innate capacity of the species, yes, and species specific up to a significant (but as yet unmapped) point.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:48 AM on June 21, 2010


Really, that's the most interesting question?

Out of curiosity, what would you have rather they asked? :)
posted by zarq at 8:53 AM on June 21, 2010


Really, that's the most interesting question?
Maybe not the most interesting, but it'd definitely be in my top five. It would be fascinating to know to what extent our genes shape our potential to appreciate or make music. My impression of the musicians I've known is that most of it is practice; there are undoubtedly plenty of people with the potential to be great (or even good), but aren't because they lack the passion, dedication or resources to expose themselves to musical influences and put in the necessary hours of practice. However, I've also met a handful of people who really do try but, even given a decent amount of effort, never really get anywhere. And I find it hard to believe that, given the same training from a young age, I'd have the same level of skill as Vanessa Mae, any more than training would've given the the same aptitude of [insert famous athlete here]. Some people do just seem to pick up certain skills more easily than everyone else. Hard to say whether this is nature or nurture; like most other complex traits it's probably a mixture of both, and a big, well-designed study would be needed to tease them apart. Hopefully the linked programme has some information!

fourcheesemac - thanks for the recommendations, I'll try to find those.

As a side note, the BBC's listing of these programmes is here. Unfortunately they're not available on iPlayer at the moment, but they look interesting enough to put effort into finding them.
posted by metaBugs at 9:37 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


That "nymphet fiddler" article is something else.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:42 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


But her critics have been quite harsh: accusing her of musical 'incompetence', calling her "a nymphet fiddler in a see-through swimsuit” and likening her to a child prostitute.

Stay classy, classical music establishment.
posted by Caduceus at 9:54 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


All I know about Vanessa Mae is that for a long period of time she failed to make payment to my mate's dad for the custom violin he built for her. Didn't exactly enamour me of her. Still, she is easier on the eye than Nigel Kennedy so she wins that non-contest.
posted by longbaugh at 10:14 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think her music is fun. Some of it, like Classical Gas Reggae, is fun because its so kitsch and WTF.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:16 PM on June 21, 2010


isn't she Singaporean? Also she is to classical music as Kenny G is to jazz.
posted by awfurby at 3:34 PM on June 21, 2010


Awfurby, she was born in Singapore, but moved to the UK when she was 4 and grew up there. She's a British citizen. I believe her mother is Chinese and her father is Thai -- the Wikipedia link above probably has more.
posted by zarq at 5:48 AM on June 22, 2010


That "nymphet fiddler" article is something else

Yeah, it was brutal. Yet at the end, he grudgingly refers to Nicholson as "proficient."

Wikipedia mentions that a German tv show host once called her a "fiddling lolita." I couldn't find a site with the clip, so didn't mention it.
posted by zarq at 6:01 AM on June 22, 2010


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