Who cares about the notes?

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?

It amazes me how much time can be spent on what turns out to be only approximately three minutes, after what feels like hours spent practicing. 

That being said, I am delighted to share this work in progress: My performance of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22: No.4 from the NASM recital at Bloomsburg University, from fall 2013.

Being a Perfectionist Musician

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. 

Insuring Musical Growth

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: 

  1. Work/school
  2. Guidance from a teacher
  3. Ourselves

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.  

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