P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017


Joshua Bell – Classical Violinist. His life and career demonstrate the importance parents’ sensitivity to their children’s intellectual potential, and the role of skilled mentors in their development. Both his parents were psychologists – his father was a professor at Indiana University, Bloomington while his mother was a therapist in private practice who had a special interest in gifted children. Joshua was born in Bloomington in 1967. When he was four years old his mother observed him using rubber bands to pluck songs that she had played on the piano. His parents purchased a child–sized violin and started giving him lessons primarily through the violin teachers, Mimi Zweig and Josef Gingold, both in the Indiana University School of Music. He demonstrated exceptional talent at a young age, and made solo appearances with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra at seven years and The Philadelphia Orchestra (conducted by Riccardo Muti) at fourteen years. He has performed with major symphony orchestras in the United States, Europe and Asia. Bell’s many awards for classical music performance include the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize given by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. It is presented every few years to an outstanding classical music performer.

Bell provided the musical background for the 1998 movie, The Red Violin. Sony records released his album in the fall of 2007 based upon the musical score, The Red Violin Concerto (John Corigliano, composer). His performances on his 300 year old Stradivarius are noted for their singing and lush interpretations. Playing this instrument, he recorded an album entitled The Romance of the Violin (2003), which sold about 5,000,000 copies.

“Education is a central concern for Bell. He cites the inner–city youngsters he met in Boston–some had never seen a violin before and were completely captivated at meeting a performer–a few would hardly let him get away. Though he himself had been bored in kindergarten and was finally skipped to first grade –‘unheard of at the time in Bloomington’ – he is against promoting accomplishment in ways that might turn out expert technicians devoid of soul. He admires the Suzuki technique and uses some Suzuki books, but he would prefer that the method also teach children how to read notes.” (from Education Update Online ––joshuabell.htm)

Gifted students who are dedicated to developing their talents should closely study Joshua Bell’s life and career. They should also listen to some of his recordings. Here are outstanding examples from more than 50 CDs:

1. The Red Violin. Sony Classical, 1999.

2. Bruch, Mendelssohn, Mozart Violin Concertos. Decca Records, 2005.

3. Voice of the Violin. Sony Classical, 2006.

4. The Essential Joshua Bell. Sony Classical, 2007.

Web Site Links:

The Official Joshua Bell Site

Biography from Answers.com–bell?cat=entertainment

In regard to Bell’s accomplishments, teachers and parents would benefit from reading about studies of extraordinarily talented children. The following book reviews are included to illustrate the nature of these studies:

Musical Prodigies: Perilous Journeys, Remarkable Lives by Claude Kenneson (1998). Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon.

"My earliest musical memories are from the time when I was a baby and crawled under my dad's piano. While he played I remember lying there looking up at the struts and sounding board, and the sound would come down and envelope me. I loved being there under the piano while he practiced. . . ." (Bejun Mehta, p.336, from Musical Prodigies (1998) by Claude Kenneson).

The author makes clear throughout this fascinating examination of the development of musical prodigies that family environment interacting positively with the unfolding of the child's natural abilities are the most important factors in developing young, highly gifted musicians. But the individuals Kenneson discusses are beyond giftedness. They are so extraordinary as to defy current explanations from developmental and educational psychology. The early lives and precocious achievements of many of the great ones are discussed here –– Mozart, Paganini, Clara Schumann, Heifetz, Casals, Piatigorsky, Rubinstein, Gould, Argerich, Cliburn, du Pré, Yo–Yo Ma and many other concert artists of the violin, piano, cello, string bass and guitar. Precocious composers (e.g., Mozart, Samuel Barber), conductors (e.g., Pierino Gamba, Lorin Maazel) and a singer (Bejun Mehta) are also included.

Kenneson, a music professor emeritus at the University of Alberta (Canada) attempts to make sense of these "miraculous" early achievements by describing his experiences in teaching two young children to play the cello –– Eric Wilson and Shauna Rolston. In the chapter entitled, "Reader's Guide," Kenneson discusses some of the common features of the prodigies he has taught and studied for his book, such as: early rapid development, intensive encounters with music in a family environment that supports musical accomplishment, the nurturing influence of families that rearrange their lives and work to foster their child's musical development, and the importance of using music in a playful manner during the early years. What is clear to this reviewer is that successful musical accomplishment at a young age (beginning at three or four years) requires intensive early exposure to musical performance, primarily through at least one parent who is a skilled musician. Additionally, music teachers other than the parent(s), come into the picture early in the young prodigy's musical life beginning at three to eight years. These teachers appear to be almost as important (or in later years, more important) than parental influences. The combined influences of parents and private music teachers produce a synergy effect in these precocious children's lives that advances their musical accomplishments to the highest possible levels.

Kenneson has done a great service to educators and parents by writing this excellent book. What positive use can they make of his pertinent descriptions and insightful conclusions? First, it is clear that numerous opportunities for the growth of these extraordinary children must be provided through schools of music, music teachers and music programs in public and private schools. Unfortunately, the public schools of America are currently ignoring their music education programs to the detriment of children who range from very capable to highly gifted to extraordinary accomplishment. In most cases, the burden must therefore fall on perceptive parents and teachers who are sensitive to musical ability at an early age, and to great music institutions such as Juilliard and the Curtis Institute.

For many years, this reviewer has been concerned with the role of children's sensibility levels in their mental development as expressed through heightened awareness and responsiveness to particular aspects of their environment such as tones, rhythms, melodies and musical performances. Clearly, musical prodigies have sensibility levels to musical sounds and rhythms that are far beyond those of average children. In addition, they are endowed with advanced sensori–motor abilities that enable them to use a violin bow or strike piano keys in a coordinated and rhythmical manner. Their accelerated cognitive development also leads to facility in reading music notations. Can children's interest in and responsiveness to music be enhanced by the proper types of exposure to music at a young age? From reading Musical Prodigies and other related works (described below), it appears that young children benefit from organized music programs. But the rare musical brilliance described by Kenneson is a different story –– unique types of mental development must also be present (as a result of the child's genetic, psychological and physiological makeup) to bring musical aptitude to the level of a prodigy.

Some other books that will help to illuminate the reader's understanding of musical prodigies are:

Developing Talent in Young People by Benjamin Bloom (1985, Ballantine Books) and Music Talks by Helen Epstein (1987, McGraw–Hill). Both of these books emphasize the role of music education during the child's formative years. Bloom's book (based on psychological studies and interviews) has several chapters on the lengthy and arduous music education of concert pianists. Epstein has interviews with many outstanding musicians such as Itzhak Perlman, Cho–Liang Lin, Midori and Yo–Yo Ma. She also describes the work of the violin teacher Dorothy DeLay (Juilliard School of Music) with violin prodigies.

Gifted Children: Myths and Realities by Ellen Winner (1996, Basic Books). The author provides detailed descriptions of children who have exceptional musical abilities, and she makes insightful statements about the nature of musical giftedness. She tells the story of one child who began playing the electric guitar at eight years. Another child began sight reading at age five and liked music theory and notation. He began composing music at seven years.

Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius by Peter F. Ostwald (1997, W.W. Norton & Co.). This highly eccentric pianist and expert on Bach clearly exhibited many positive and negative characteristics of his personality and musical accomplishment. Ostwald describes these characteristics in detail from Gould's early life as a musical prodigy to his later tragic years as a neurotic, isolated individual who suffered from severe hypochondria.

Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential by David Feldman (1986, Basic Books). The author discusses the psychological research concerned with the development of intellectual precocity. Many sections of this book concentrate on musical prodigies.

Isaac Stern: My First 79 Years by Isaac Stern, written with Chaim Potok (1999, Knopf). Here is the extraordinary life and professional career of this joyous, world–renowned musician. Stern's family immigrated from Russia to San Francisco where he began his accelerated progress and success on the violin starting at about eight years.

These books, in addition to the one by Kenneson, will provide teachers and parents of the gifted with an extraordinary story of musical prodigies. They should be read to understand the importance of skilled music teachers in these children's lives. 

                                                                    ☞☞ Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, October-November 2008 ☜☜