Alma Deutsche gets her musical ideas when she’s about to go to sleep or when she’s waking up, but primarily “by skipping with this skipping rope,” she says. “I don’t actually skip but I wave it round like this and I tell stories in my mind. Very often a melody just springs into my head. And then I run back and write it down in my notebook,” she says. “You see it has to be just this kind of skipping rope, with shining tassels and sparkles. Other ropes don’t work at all.”
The child prodigy, who could play the piano at two, the violin at three and could read music before she could read words, swings the rope to help her think up the melodies that have already made her a world-famous composer and performer, and a favourite of musical giants such as Sir Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim.
“I used to use sticks but I didn’t want to wave them in someone’s eye,” Alma says. “I’d get into a terrible panic if I couldn’t find the right kind of stick, if it wasn’t ‘swing-ey’ enough.
A skipping rope was much nicer to swing around — I got more melodies and thought of more stories with it. I think it’s to do with the swinging movement and being outside, running around with the wind in my hair.”
Alma does not have a smart phone, a computer, or a TV. She reads 100 or more books a year, and she composed an opera at age 11 that opens in Vienna today.
On December 29 the full-length version of Cinderella, Alma’s first opera — composed when she was 10 — will have its world premiere in Vienna under the patronage of Zubin Mehta. It follows a chamber version performed by a string quintet without scenery in Israel in July. “This will be at a completely different level, with a full orchestra, costumes and sung in German,” she explains. At the moment she doesn’t speak German and is desperate to learn it, “so I can understand my own opera”.
Her opera protagonist is a Cinderella who is smart and who wrote a song. The Prince heard and loved the song and searches the kingdom for the girl who can correctly finish the musical phrase he sings.
She considers electronic media a waste of time and that TV ruins the mind. She also feels that it would interrupt her access to the music in her brain.
Alma is home-schooled. Her father has said that Alma had hoped she would learn to read on her first day at the local school and how frustrated she became. They quickly realised the limitations an ordinary school would impose on her immense gifts, but not just her abilities to play instruments, to sing and to compose.
“I learn here in one hour what would take five hours in school,” she says. She spends each morning practising violin or piano, listening to music or working on her compositions. She writes in notebooks or uses a Sibelius music software programme because it’s faster.
She paints, does ballet or goes to gym classes with other home-schooled children in the afternoons, leaving plenty of time to play, skip and twirl with her rope in the garden — the Deutschers have sensibly invested in bulk supplies of sparkly skipping ropes from Amazon.
Please enjoy her music for a few minutes.
Recently, James Taylor spoke about his need for “empty time.”
Every time I sit down and play, there’s a possibility that a chord change or a chord progression will become a song.
You get in a cage somewhere without any distractions. One of the things I found this time is that I actually need a week of defended empty time before lyrics really start to come through.
t used to be that I could find a place near my home, set up all my notebooks and recorders and my guitar, and work away from three hours before lunch and two hours after lunch, maybe take a long walk. Now I find I actually have to drive a couple of hours away from home and set up camp for a whole week, and after a couple of days, things start to flow.
Taylor says that a great deal gets done in “empty time.”
It turns the idea that smart people never get bored on its head. Maybe we all need some boredom.