Violin Prodigy Elli Choi: The Nature vs Nurture Debate

I don’t mind kicking around the nature vs nurture debate, but after watching a video of Elli Choi playing violin, it feels like a waste of time. I believe environment and practice is important, but the genetic component is simply undeniable.

It’s true Elli exists in an environment conducive to greatness. She attends good schools, has wildly dedicated parents and access to incredible teachers at a top music program. While her environment is somewhat unusual and enviable, it isn’t completely unique.

There’s been talk on the BAVs group this week about talent. The group mentions Outliers: The Story of Successby Malcolm Gladwell (based on research by K. Anders Ericsson) and his assertion that the best players are simply practicing longer. Maybe so… But according to Elli’s interview on the Bonnie Hunt Show (just before she played Sarasate’s Introduction et tarantella at age 7), she practices about 1-2 hours per day. Let’s try the math: starting about age 3 = no more than 4 years x 365 days x 2 hours per day = 2920 hours of practice. (Even double the practice time, as she is reported to do in preparation for a performance and you have 5840 hours.) I’d wager there are lesser talents logging in longer hours.

Elli’s mother is a Berlin-educated concert pianist, but that fact could be placed on both sides of the debate. The pitiful remnants of information I’ve retained from college Biology classes leaves me at a loss to provide any factual data to support my claim that Elli is genetically “gifted”… Just watch the videos.

I think having the debate of nature vs nurture (or what makes a violin prodigy) is like arguing whether it’s hydrogen or oxygen that makes water. You simply can’t have one without the other. (If you’re thirsty for water, anyway.)


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