DLand - Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree

Sunday was a good day - a full day. I've always had this thing for things happening in threes. And three specific things came together to strike a chord. First I started off my day by reading some of my new novel _Tokyo Suckerpunch_ by Isaac Adamson. I had bought it on Saturday while visiting Rich and Gabrielle and have been barely able to put it down. Towards the beginning of this excellent novel (it's like an Asian Michael Malone story - a thumbs up from me) our hero, Billy Chaka, visits a prisoner - Hideaki Kawabata - who is serving a life sentence for trying to blow up an airport in Japan as part of a political movement in the late 70's. Chaka says \"he was a guy who didn't recognize his own gift. His genius for fire was so innate it must have been genetic. But because this talent came so easy, he didn't value it.\" Basically Kawabata turns to a political movement that wasn't really for him and ruined his life. So says our hero, Chaka:

\"... I wondered how many stunted geniuses there were in the world, slaving away at pursuits they considered worthwhile, ignoring their latent talents. I thought of the late Emperor Hirohito lying on his deathbed, correctly identifying a new strain of cherry tree by a blossom brought to him from the imperial court outside. In almost his final moment he revealed that, though born a supreme leader and godhead, in his heart of hearts he yearned to be a simple botanist, passing the days studying the beautiful specimens offered from nature's bounty. Of course, it was too late, both for Emperor Hirohito and Kawabata.\"

So I start to ponder how many people don't really know or appreciate their true talents. What some find so easy others struggle at. My father has always seemed this way to me. He is a man of many talents, a truly great person, but in so many ways it seems he has wanted to do things with his life that were not possible. I would like to believe in re-incarnation for my father's sake so that in his next life, perhaps he would be an engineer or an architect or a scientist. But in this life, I count myself lucky to have an amazing father.

So, after reading many pages of this excellent novel, I took a break to browse the web. My first stop is always CNN. It's my way of making sure we're not at war and that all the countries on the globe are still accounted for, since I don't watch the news on TV or read paper media like magazines or newspapers. One article in particular struck my fancy. It was part 2 of a 10 part series that interviews musicians to get a flavor of their lives and careers. Sunday was the day to interview Carter Brey, Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic since 1996. This 46-year-old man has played cello since he was 12 and has become one of the few, lucky classical musicians to make a very prestigious career for himself - particularly in cello. The entire article is here:


For those who never knew, I used to play cello in junior high and high school. I was extremely lucky to be able to learn from Janet Kriner, principal cellist for the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra. She is an amazingly patient, kind and talented woman and I owe much of my technical knowledge and appreciation of music to her. So this article on the life and thoughts of Carter Brey was one that peaked my interests. Towards the end of the interview, the topic of genius and talent comes up. Below is an excerpt (with credit to Beth Nissen the interviewer for CNN):

In your opinion, who were -- or are -- the masters of your instrument?

The most unbelievable cello playing that I've heard to date was Rostropovich in the '60s, when he was at the height of his technical powers. I sort of doubt the world will ever see anything like that again -- you're talking about a genius-level talent for music. I've seen him sit down at the piano in a master class, and produce, from memory, complex accompaniments from orchestral scores.

Is that kind of genius always innate, inborn?

Oh, yes -- you can't learn that. I'm sure he was born with it. Of course, it has to be fostered.

Do you know the Mark Twain story "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven?" This character, Captain Stormfield, dies and goes to heaven, and when he arrives there, he says, "I want to see Napoleon! I want to see the greatest military genius that ever lived!" And the people in heaven look sort of embarrassed, and say, "Well, we can take you to meet Napoleon -- but he's shining the boots of the person who actually was the world's greatest military genius. He happens to have been a tinsmith from Pennsylvania who never had a chance to go to a military academy -- so he never even knew he was a great military genius. He was born with that capacity -- and only here in heaven do we actually know who these people are."

What you see when you look at this orchestra are very talented people who were lucky enough to have their talent discovered and nurtured.

So I thought about this on top of the frustrations of the Emperor and Kawabata. It has made me wonder about my family and friends and what their talents are - both discovered and under-rated. I had always wondered if I could played professionally any instrument that I played as a child (and there were many). And then I wonder if that opportunity would make me enjoy the instrument more. My mother told me that Confuscious says: "If you love your job, you will never work another day in your life." I suspect the Emperor worked many days in his life as did Kawabata. I suppose retiring is the opportunity to do what you really do love to do without fear.

But the greatest thing I did all day was go to the Blacksmith Guild and see Peter Ross give a demo. Ross is one of Colonial Williamsburg's master blacksmiths. CW has a program much like colonial times where you start your journey as an apprentice, work to journeyman and then possibly master. All of the work there are reproductions of Colonial tools and ornamentations. Ross came to the smithy with several projects to cover, such as spreading metal for making spatulas, spoons and ladles. He also made a door handle and latch (or at least the space for the latch). It was really fascinating to watch him work. He really did make the metal look like stiff clay. They have very similar movements when you hit them, actually.

Ross visiting the smithy was like a famous writer coming to do a book signing or talk at a writer's convention. The horse barn was full of twenty men and women who idolized him, his craft and his occupation. He took it pretty well, I thought. What amazed me most about Ross was his attitude towards his abilities and time spent learning. He brought a very research-oriented aspect to the group and the day. It really appealed to me. But I'm a nerd at heart (this diary being exhibit A).

And after filling my brain with all of his knowledge, I went to the table where the raffle items sat. Every month the guild does "Iron in the Hat", where each person brings one of more items to donate and then members buy raffle tickets to win the items. Some are more of a prize than others. I won Scott's leather jacket which didn't fit him anymore and Jeremy got a cheese-cutter which is very cute. But one thing stuck out on the table. There was a book called "Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree". In addition to this books title, it's also the first line of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called "the Village Blacksmith". You can read the entire poem at this site:


I read the first stanza there in the books introduction. But I went home and read the rest of the poem. The poem and the visit with Peter Ross said a lot about talent, skill and genius as well. I think that Peter Ross really is lucky to have a unique and rewarding career. And I think that others could learn from his attitude towards the art form. But I don't know if we are able to fully say what is genius, talent or an awful lot of practice.

But I would like to think that everyone could find their own spreading chestnut tree to set up shop and do what they love. I'm not sure where my tree is yet, but I think I'll know it when I see it.