The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A nation of hidden talents: Singapore.

On Thursday of this week, my wife and I went to a strange kind of party, in Singapore. It was a kind of party I had never been to before.

It was held in someone's HDB flat. HDB stands for the Housing Development Board. It is the government provider of public housing to about 85% to 90 % of all Singaporeans. For those of you who have never been to Singapore, most people here live in apartments in towers of twelve or more stories (some are very much taller). So, this was a normal Singaporean home.

Most people sat on the floor, there being insufficient seating for the, perhaps, 30 or so people in attendance. For the first hour and a half, people mingled and talked, getting acquainted. But then, at about 8.30 pm, something unusual began to happen. One by one, the guests got up to stand to one side of the room, and sang.

I didn't expect much from this, for I had seen the Singapore Idol (a local version of the American Idol) and noted that, although they laboured under the belief that they could, most entrants to that show, could not sing well at all.

Yet, I was surprised. The evening passed in a mixture of classical, pop, rock and country songs sang with passion, love and attention. Some of the performers were nervous before an audience, showing both their youth and inexperience. But some were polished performers, very much at ease. Some of them irritated, somewhat, by preening and admiring themselves as they sang. I am not going to speculate on the cause of such behaviour. But others surprised in other ways: by just being damned good.

One girl, in particular, shone. She was of a delicate build - very, very skinny, in fact, and not at all tall. She introduced herself by saying she had "Never sung this song before" - at which everyone laughed a little, perhaps believing otherwise. Then she began. There emerged from her mouth the most assured, powerful, well-pitched and agile voice I have ever heard in live performance. Quite astonishing. The song she sang was a classical one. Clearly, she had practiced this song endlessly - despite her claim at the outset. The ecstatic applause she received was well-deserved.

There was a very tall man, too, who sang classically and rather well.

What I did note, however, was that those who sang particularly well, could only do so with classical music. They were unable to handle pop or rock. (That included the star singer described above - she was much less assured with a pop tune). Perhaps this is why none of them has ever appeared on Singapore Idol. There was one girl, however, who was comfortable with pop: the one who preened.

I learnt something sad, yet hopeful about this particular gathering of singers and musicians. They exist because they are outside the mainstream. They are unable to open the doors to the few opportunities that exist in Singapore for musical talent - and so, they come together regularly, to sing, at these "secret" soirees.

Singapore is a country that, historically, has had few outlets for creative or performance artists, to express their abilities. It has been a society focussed directly on activities that are more certain to produce an economic return. In this manner, it has been, for much of its history, a city without a thriving culture. In recent years, there has been some effort to change this, the government having recognized that, without a healthy culture, there is not a healthy city. The missing aspect of the arts, is something that diminishes the city's allure for foreigners - and locals alike. So, it has begun to encourage the growth of a local arts scene. Yet, there is much work to do and too few real opportunities for those who would follow an artistic career path of any kind. Quite simply, there is not enough work to make a living, for those who aspire to such a life.

Some of this group are, however, working together to launch two musicals, in Singapore, later this year. I wish them well.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, creatively gifted, gifted children, and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:06 PM 


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