Adventure 14: The Importance of Skill

Nathan Milstein: "Paganiniana" 1968 (sorry for the typo in the slate)

Now here's an area of music where I'm a little out of my familiar territory. I played violin for one grueling year in elementary school and swore off it forever (much to the relief of my parents). Although I'm interested in violin music (as long as someone else is holding the fiddle) I've never really explored the repertoire for solo violin. I know a little bit about Paganini- he was a flamboyant showman who used pyrotechnic technique to dazzle audiences- and I know Nathan Milstein was a great violinist who performed into his 80s- but I can't call myself knowledgeable about this stuff at all.

But I can tell you that when I first saw this clip on EMI's Great Recordings of the Century DVD, my jaw was hanging on the floor. Ever since Andy Warhol made "ideas without skill" fashionable back in the 60s, it seems to me that popular culture has been playing a game of "skill limbo". How low can we go? How badly drawn can a cartoon be and still be considered a cartoon? How many drum machines and sequencers can we stack up to avoid having to learn a real instrument? How much plastic surgery does it take to make acting skills unnecessary? I really don't know the answers to those questions. Every day is a new horror.

But when I see someone who has both an idea AND skill, I'm reminded just how doggone powerful and dynamic a creative artist can be. I'm sick and tired of accepting "half a loaf". Speak to me with eloquence. Dazzle me with your skill. Communicate an important idea. I insist on "all of the above".