We have all heard the famous quote of Beethoven, “To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable.” While this quote is remembered, it is rarely taken to heart.
Classical musicians are obsessed with perfection. We really are insane to spend hours of each and every day chasing an impossible goal. We all acknowledge that perfection is an unattainable goal, yet we still pursue it.
A colleague of mine regularly quoted his Russian teacher saying “play like recording!” which is exactly how most musicians strive to play. With our editing abilities, recordings, (as with the fashion industries’ photo-shopping) are becoming more and more ‘perfect’. On commercial recordings, we can rarely hear an out of tune note, a sound glitch or any other human error. The result is that we accustom ourselves to the sound of perfection as if it is an attainable goal. We then spend our practice and performance time mentally berating ourselves for not sounding like an edited recording-a computer generated sound. Not only is this unhealthy for our psyche, but it creates poor quality and unfeeling results.
Rewind time to before the advent of editing equipment, and we can recall what music really is. Music is expression. Expression of our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our lives, our humanity. Life is not perfect and if we were to express a computer perfect image we would be in the realm of science, not art. We would be expressing the cold and unfeeling reality of a machine. This is not the intention of art. People cannot relate to this and people are not emotionally moved by this kind of story.
This does not mean that we should not correct mistakes while practicing. Instead replace practicing critically, with making adjustments so that our sounds match our desired expression. Once we remove the unattainable goal, we are able to be calm, centered and positive. From there, we can simply express ourselves much as we would talk or sing. Then if the sound that came out of our instruments was not the one we imagined, we can figure out how to make it emulate our imagined expression through calm, thoughtful practice work.
Instead of chasing perfection, change the goal to self expression. This is entirely attainable and will lead to music unleashing its power to emotionally move its listeners and performers alike.