During the amount of time I have been contributing towards my recital repertoire, an interesting development has occurred: generally I used to care little about an absolute perfect performance note-wise, but I have been dwelling on accuracy so much, that the emotion behind the pieces has all but faded.
Do not get me wrong, I still believe that accuracy is important, but this constant drilling of passages without any imbued feeling has seemed to have a negative net impact. I remember the ending of my Brahms ballade would invoke such deep meaning, yet lately I feel so cold when I reach it’s last moments. I can only blame my focused efforts on perfection over understanding.
I realize that many can play pieces on a much stronger technical level than is currently capable of me, therefore I must offer an emotional performance. Fast fingers leave no lasting impression, yet a deeper connection that is felt the instant the notes are made audible will excuse any deficiencies.
That is why I say, who cares about the notes?
The best flaw to have, being a perfectionist.
My incessant need for perfection constantly constrains my willingness to perform and publish material. I always believe in having a perfect product before presenting it to the public, but the problem is, in music, no product is perfect.
In this age of superficial perfectionism, where modern recording techniques allow a piece to be spliced together, combined with listeners easy access to these recordings, the standard in reality becomes falsified, setting the precedent of an un-reachable level of perfection in a live art form. (I feel some similarities drawn between the current photoshop debacles involving physical beauty).
How can those of us affect by this need for perfection live in such a world? As a perfectionist myself, I will say that the standards are always set higher of my own accord than anyone else’s. What I have come to realize over time: I probably sound better than I think, but most likely focus on my flaws.
A performance reveals the understanding of a particular piece, not the performers value as a person. I believe that when we hear a piece live, we are witnessing a work in progress, no matter what stage it is in. Even if the notes are perfect, there seems to be a level beyond that is imperfect (phrasing, etc), and even if that is perfect, there is a level beyond that (connection to music) and even if that’s perfect…well, you get the idea.
I have found that perfection seems to be a rather relative term, as opposed to concrete. One’s polished piece is another’s first read-through. The best conclusion I have found is similar to my post on “The Zone,” Always strive to play the best in any possible situation.
Once freed of the daily stress of being a music student, I worry about keeping pressure on myself to continue my growth. As opposed to the regimented schedule of classical studies, I find myself seemingly lost in a world of possibilities. Do I really enjoy classical? Will my chops ever be up to par? Is my sight-reading strong enough to accompany?
I bring this up because recently my musical realm immediately expanded, while at the same time, my commitments all but disappeared. Simply put, when I don’t have someone pushing me, I tend to become overwhelmed in possibilities and rather passive in their implementation.
The only way to really insure growth is by being presented with new challenges on a regular basis. This can be accomplished by:
- Guidance from a teacher
The first two are easy enough to understand, and don’t require much thought as to how implement them. The third, on the other hand, can cause quite a bit of stress. Its intimidating to actually be the sole designer of your future outlook.
I could describe, in great detail, exactly how I plan my sessions, but it would be rather laborious, and since everyone has their own personal goals, they may not be of any help (although if anyone is curious, I am more than glad to share). What I can provide is the framework, or the system, which I describe in my older posts (the ‘tic’ method). My system has evolved since then, but the basic idea remains the same; specific and measured time spent in each category.
Early in my piano studies, I became obsessed with the idea of progress; I naively sought rapid, yet unstable growth. As I found myself fretting over whether I would be able play a passage or read a piece, the pressure mounted. At the time I was applying a quantity over quality method of practicing, which only made my progress seem minuscule compared to the time spent at the piano. I wish I knew about intelligent and measured practicing, it would have saved me quite a bit of meaningless stress.