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.