Musical Prodigies and Childhood Performance: Child's Play

This book examines the phenomenon of child musicians in Western culture, examining the stereotypes associated with child musicians, in terms both of musical repertoire and performance strategies, and also their function in our understandings of what childhood is. Histories of performance abound with accounts of little ones delighting audiences, with their lisping speech and dimpled flesh juxtaposed charmingly with precocious skill. Child musicians are prized for their ability to suggest emotional maturity together with innocence and purity, with musical technique the more dazzling as it emerges from a tiny body. Drawing on the methods of performance studies scholars, musicologists, and social historians, this book considers case studies from several historical moments and in various genres of classical and popular music, including WA Mozart, Michael Jackson, Clara Wieck, and Gladys Knight. The role of nostalgia in representations of children is particularly crucial; child musicians are overwhelmingly associated with 'old-fashioned' (and, very often, patriotic) repertoire and technique, so that the performing child is simultaneously a sentimental reminder of the past and a symbol of immanence and the future. Also central to a consideration of child musicians is the paradox of labor vs. play, and the extent to which child performers can be identified as workers. The slippages between playing, playacting, performing, and working are of acute significance both to our consideration of child performers and to our contested understandings of the nature of childhood itself. Examining closely the musical languages and styles associated with child performers, this book will make an important contribution to research in childhood studies, performance studies, and music pedagogy.
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