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Geniuses: Ordinary and magical

The mathematician Mark Kac once tried to describe the extraordinary genius of the physicist Richard Feynman “There are two kinds of geniuses,” Kac wrote. “The ‘ordinary’ and the ‘magicians.’ An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. It is different with the magicians… the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible.”  

In the world of classical music we’ve all been the beneficiaries of the work of many geniuses—great performers, certainly, and especially those great composers whose works have been loved for generations and will be loved for endless generations to come. But here’s an interesting question: on that long list of musical geniuses, who would you classify as “ordinary” geniuses, and who would you consider the “magicians”? And not just “who,” but “why.” Something to think about…

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.