The Myth of Perfection

Not long ago, a musician friend and I were discussing various colleagues that we have both worked with in our city. I said I thought one particular player we both know was “cold’ or “clinical”. My friend, replied “Yes, but he never makes any mistakes.” This was hardly a ringing endorsement!!

Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous respect for this musician, but he doesn’t stir my soul at all. After all, making great music isn’t about how few mistakes one makes.

I remember a great recital by the pianist Artur Rubenstein, where he actually flubbed a few notes once or maybe twice. But oh, what great playing it was! He could really sing on the piano and he had such a beautiful full sound.

When I’m performing, I’m not concentrating on how few mistakes I make. I’m thinking about playing the phrases and the music itself.

Besides when I do make a mistake, and I have made many, I greet them as friends. You don’t improve or grow if you don’t make errors. Making music is a risky business. You are always trying to do more, and do it with less effort than before. Sometimes you are likely to miss the bar if you are pushing the envelope.

As professional musicians, we focus so much on staying accurate that sometimes I think we miss the forest for the trees. We can be unforgiving at the best of times, and worst of all with ourselves. I can remember a false entrance I made once that I was completely mortified I’d made. After the performance, absolutely nobody remembered it!

The great Chicago Symphony former principal trumpet Adolf Herseth once gave this priceless statement: “When you make a mistake, be proud of it. Put you horn down, stare at the conductor. Unless his ear is great, he won’t know. If he does, fine! A trumpeter’s life is risky, and you have to be able to take those risks. Great playing results when you face the risks. Don’t run from them. Rather than thinking you have problems in your playing elect to consider that certain areas aren’t perfected yet. Enjoy the journey of making those areas better.”

Avoiding risks is evading improvement and growth. Making no mistakes is a simple way to escape musical development.

Push the envelope everyday, and you will only get better!

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