Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19

Is Australian David Helfgott a geniune savant, or does he just play piano better than we'd expect him to?
Helfgott is known for his piano playing, along with his psychological burden. As a youth, he showed genius potential in his musicianship, but by the time he was awarded scholarships to international music conservatories, he was also battling mental illness. By his 30's, he was institutionalized.
Eventually, he found the coping mechanisms that allowed him to return to society. He got a job playing piano at a wine bar in Perth, and from that ignominious perch, began dazzling everyone that could hear with his music again.

It's the kind of story that the movies love to tell (and the movie based on his life, Shine, would be nominated for 8 Academy Awards.) But there are music critics who feel he's been too mythologized by the movies; that beyond his on-stage tics and behaviors, his piano playing is only slightly better than ordinary. So are crowds gathering to listen to a genius? Or just to cheer on a man who they wouldn't expect to play piano at all? Is he being appreciated or exploited?
Undeniably, his story has brought to light the challenges of dealing with mental illness and trying to find a place in the world. In 1999, he played piano on the Silverchair track, "Emotion Sickness".

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