Ancient wisdom gives us the story of the three fates; the women who spin and manipulate finite pieces of string that represent the length and course of our lives. They remind us that our lives are finite, fragile, and connected, and that we have to do with them what we can, while we are able.
Our musical lives are finite, fragile, and connected. Some people reveal extraordinary ability very early, and it blows our collective cultural minds when they do. There is something that tells us that singing like Jackie Evancho is not "natural" (though we can hear very clearly that singing is the most natural thing in the world for her). At the same time we have the collective fear that the beauty of her voice and the natural quality of her musicianship won't last. I'm reminded of Menuhin who played the violin like an angel as a child, and spent his adult life trying to figure out how he did it. We think of what happens to child pop stars like Michael Jackson, or child actresses like Lindsay Lohan, and see the toll that life in the public eye can take on take, and we look at (and listen to) this angelic kid, and only hope that her strings don't get tangled in the quagmire of life in the public eye. But people will want to hear her. People already want to hear her, and I imagine she enjoys the attention. What 10-year-old girl wouldn't?
Before I got distracted by Jackie's singing, this post was going to be about the tendons in my bow arm, the ones that are starting to wear out from overuse, or perhaps from practicing down-bow staccato. Now that I can finally "do" the stroke, my body is telling me that it is something I should not do. There is a great deal of music that I want to play (most of it doesn't use down-bow staccato), but I know now that my time to play is finite, and the chance to play it depends on the way I take care of my vital playing parts. I know this at 51. If I started playing the fiddle seriously at the age of 20, would my tendons have gotten to this point at 40? If I continued playing fiddle after the age of 11 (which is when I stopped), and if I became a soloist of some kind, would my physical trajectory have remained the same? Has my professional relationship with the viola (violists usually don't play much down-bow staccato) given my tendons more time?
The human voice is an instrument, and when that instrument is a particularly good one, it has to be cared for like a rare Italian fiddle. I trust that Jackie, with help from her family, is taking care of her voice. You can keep a fiddle in a case in order to keep it safe. Playing it with incorrect technique (within limits) will not damage it physically, though playing it with incorrect technique might, at some point in the future, make the instrument impossible to play. An Italian fiddle can last for centuries, and when parts wear out, they can be replaced. This is not the case with a voice, or an arm, or the person that uses them.