Abandoning Perfection? In Search of a Great Performance

Re-blogged from The Boston Herald-Read original post here


By Cynthia Woods, Music Director

Perfection is one of life’s great contradictions. From the time we begin to learn it’s held out in front of us as a sort of state of nirvana, the ultimate goal, the purest pursuit. Sure parents and friends say things like just do your best, we love you no matter what, but underneath, everyone knows, an A plus is better than an A, a score of 100 is better than 99.  And in our current culture where the objective, the quantifiable, dominates every learning process from standardized school tests, to audition score cards we have an almost religious belief in attaining 10 out of 10.

So we dig in, put our heads down and aim for that perfect moment and the glory that follows. And then it happens, betrayal.  After years of study, hours spent locked away in small rooms practicing till your head spins, you have it; that audition or performance where everything goes as planned; dead on intonation, flawless rhythm, exquisite phrasing, it’s the moment you dreamed of, trained for, where everyone will see and know, you’re worthy, you have it in you to be perfect. Smiling as you hit the last note, you look up, full of expectance, ready to see the gates open and welcome you to the land of special perfect people and that’s when it happens. Like a believer waking up the day after the end of the world to a breakfast of pancakes, your nightmare comes true. For instead of accolades, you’re greeted with restrained applause or worse yet, the bored judge, quietly nodding, and dismissing you with a sort of bored sniff. What?!?!  No! You’re sure there’s a mistake, indignation rises, you played by the rules, had an ace game, you deserve the prize.

And that’s when you come face to face with one of life’s great jokes, the quest to be great requires the pursuit of perfection, but in perfection one can sometimes find a sterile land, where art and expression struggle to thrive. Because music is at its most wondrous when it touches us, when it reflects the human condition; when it becomes a mirror for our human experience; an experience where we all know, perfection is noticeably absent. Does perfection keep us from connecting to our audience? Who do we cheer more, the player who plays the hardest or the player who plays the best? The answer seems obvious and yet the results can often surprise us, as we cross our fingers and joyfully bet on the underdog.

And so, for a brief moment there seems clarity, yes, that is it, that special X factor is found in abandoning perfection, sports, music, it doesn’t matter, the answer seems straight forward and clear, perfection is a false prophet and not to be trusted …until you hear your next Mozart Requiem or sit down to study a score of Beethoven’s 9 glory, and there it is again, sheer perfection, in all of its beauty and glory, beckoning you to its gates.

CSO performs Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, often described as one of the most “perfect”compositions ever written. Photography by Olivia Peterson.


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