In the late 18th century, two child musical prodigies took Europe by storm as they performed for royal courts from Vienna to London. Audiences were amazed by the uncanny instrumental talent of the young siblings. One of these musicians, of course, was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He grew up to become one of the great composers of all time, with the support and encouragement of his father. The other was Marie Anne Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl.” She grew up to become a wife and mother, as was socially expected of her. No music she wrote has survived.
200 years later, another child prodigy, Terri Lyne Carrington, was able to take advantage of opportunities not available to the forgotten Nannerl and build a successful career in music. Now she pays it forward: she recently founded the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music to help address gender disparities in the historically male-dominated jazz world. As Carrington says, “It’s up to both men and women to do this work, and anybody that really cares about the music and cares about humanity will see the value in making it more equitable.”
She’s right. Anyone who is interested in the development of art and culture ought to support expanding the conversation to include as many voices as possible. How many great symphonies would have been written by Nannerl Mozart, had she been able to develop her talents further?
Classical philosophers like Aristotle argued that the goal of humanity was eudaimonia, usually translated as “human flourishing.” But if we truly value our own flourishing, then we must also value that of others, for it enriches our own lives. Our eudaimonia is intractably social. When some groups are marginalized, when their creative potentialities are suppressed and their talents are artificially constrained, we all lose out.
We are lucky that, unlike Nannerl, Terri Lyne Carrington grew up in a time and place where she was able to fully develop her skills. But as she says, it is up to all of us to work to improve upon those gains. Those of us who believe in human flourishing must work together to dismantle oppressive structures and create a more vibrant and artistic future, a world where no Mozart is left behind.