Jay Greenberg is 12 years old but already has written five full-length symphonies and is now enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music. Greenberg says that music just fills his head and he has to write it down to get it out. He doesn’t know where it comes from, but it comes fully written, playing like an orchestra within his head: “It’s as if the unconscious mind is giving orders at the speed of light,” he reports. “You know, I mean, so I just hear it as if it were a smooth performance of a work that is already written, when it isn’t” (“Prodigy, 12, compared to Mozart,” 2007).
But he’s not alone. He was preceded by Mozart (who played whole pieces of music at four and wrote his first composition at five), Mendelssohn (who wrote his first piece at age 11), and Camille Saint-Saëns (who at age 10 could play any of Mozart’s piano concertos from memory).
Where are Greenberg’s creations coming from? “It’s as if he’s looking at a picture of the score, and he’s just taking it from the picture, basically,” says Sam Zyman, a composer and Greenberg’s teacher at Juilliard. In fact, at around age two, Greenberg started drawing instruments. Before he knew what a cello was, he had drawn a picture of one and had written the name. His mother, who has no musical background, said, “He managed to draw a cello and ask for a cello, and wrote the word cello. And I was surprised, because neither of us has anything to do with string instruments. And I didn’t expect him to know what it [a cello] was.” At age three, he was drawing the notes for the cello performance (“Prodigy, 12, compared to Mozart,” 2007). He had not been taught how to draw notes, and certainly not how to create a cello performance, yet they came to him.
In 2007 she reported that “. . . he told us he often hears more than one new composition at a time. Multiple channels is what it’s been termed.” Says Greenberg, “. . . my brain is able to control two or three different musics at the same time—along with the channel of everyday life.” He doesn’t revise his compositions. They usually come out right the first time (“Prodigy, 12, compared to Mozart,” 2007).