Perfection – Not Required, And Not Possible, Anyway

It’s been a little over a year since my harp teacher baptized me into a life filled with new possibilities with the words “You do not have to play perfectly to be worthy to play.” The end-of-semester concerts I attended last month gave me many opportunities to observe performers playing imperfectly, while still creating beautiful music that the audience appreciated and enjoyed.

Voice students forgot words in the middle of their songs, and recovered by vocalizing to the tune until the lyrics reappeared in their brains. Guitar students played unplanned chords and missed strings with their fingers, but kept on playing with only their momentary wider eyes registering their surprise. Piano students lived through finger fumbles and memory slips. The Big Band ensemble had at least one enthusiastic player who, like me with my one-note solo in the recorder ensemble concert, started a number one measure before everyone else. The opera chorus missed some harmonizing pitches.  At one of the professional concerts I attended, a player did not get started with the rest of the ensemble. The group did a “do over” and started the piece again.

None of these “mistakes” diminished my enjoyment of the performances or the music. Hearing such beautiful music still filled me up. I was not any less appreciative, and I did not enjoy the concerts any less because the performances were not “note perfect.” If anything, witnessing the quiet courage and grace of the performers as they managed the unplanned moments of their performances made me feel more connected to them.

As my teacher told me so many months ago, making music is a human enterprise. We human beings are so rarely perfect in anything we do. We try our hardest to play our best, yet our fingers find different strings than the ones we know we are supposed to pluck. Our memories momentarily forget all knowledge of the piece we’ve played dozens of times before.  Our task is not to play perfectly – it is to connect with our audience and share our love for the music and the instrument we play. And for that, perfection is not required.

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20 thoughts on “Perfection – Not Required, And Not Possible, Anyway

  1. What a beautiful post!
    I had the joy of listening to a lovely concert in which a friend of my son had won the privilege of playing a Haydn piano concerto with the big city philharmonic. Knowing music, I noticed the moment his brain took a vacation in the middle of that piece, and knowing him, I recognized the fear that clouded his face. I could FEEL the professional musicians listening and mentally finding the spot where he improvised to regain the piece. They literally rewrote a beautiful piece of music, to make a teen pianist look and sound magnificent to an unsuspecting audience.
    THAT was the real music, that afternoon, and I wish I could attend that exact same concert again, but something that truly alive must grow and improve, must never stay the same, right?

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    1. I read somewhere that a good musician will allow others to shine. They’re not trying to show off, they will give others the space they need. That’s exactly what these musicians did – awesome! They could’ve stopped and blamed the pianist, but they continued supporting him and made this an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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      1. My son also plays piano and I taught him that as an accompanist, his #1 job is to make the soloist sound as good as he possibly can:
        1. If the soloist is lost, it’s your job to find him.
        2. If he quits, you keep going and make everyone think it’s a rest.
        3. If he begins to leave the stage, you play a final chord, gesture toward him, and begin clapping.
        I’m so thankful for my young friend’s sake, that these fine musicians were of the same mindset, and of great enough skills to corporately do exactly that.

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      2. Yes, I know. It is about making people happy with music. It is not about perfection. In fact, I’ve heard pros play a piece totally differently from others, so who’s to say what perfection even is?

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      3. And they remained in service to the music, making sure that this piece was shared with the audience that day. That’s been the most amazing thing to me about playing in ensembles…it really becomes about the music, and not about the individuals who are making it. Yet without each individual’s contribution, the music would not happen. Magic!

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    2. Those moments of magic cannot be repeated, I suspect. But how wonderful to witness this community of musicians responding to support the pianist as well as to keep all who were listening connected to the joy of Music.

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      1. I’m sure their eyes grew larger as they played and wracked their brains for a note or two they recongized coming from any part. It was a complicated piece and he was only 16, quite a prodigy with so little experience, yet. Probably they were thinking, “Where will this kid land?!” I bless them for having such skill that they all could find him and stick with him to the end. Perhaps the conductor was mouthing measure numbers? 🙂

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  2. Love to the music is the most important; not that to be a listener or a player. Both share a love for music.

    I love to peek to Your music chamber. The photo is cool.

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    1. Thanks, Matti – the photo was taken at a harp camp I attended several years ago. I loved seeing all the harps in the room together. My practice room has only one harp, and nothing so grand as those big pedal harps.

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  3. Perfection is boring … do you stare longer at the perfect blossom or the anomaly? Forever struggling to achieve perfection is a sure cure for happiness.

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    1. “Forever struggling to achieve perfection is a sure cure for happiness.” That’s wonderful! I’m taping your words on my music stand, Cheryl. Such a great reminder that I play music because it makes me happy, so why would I want to mess that up?!?

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