Recently I have noticed an increasing number of young musicians, and when I say young, I mean between the ages of 10 and 16, who are consistently dissatisfied with their "imperfect" abilities at their instruments. Usually these imperfections are technical ones...they miss a shift here, have an intonation problem there, miss that scale going up...and sometimes, but not usually, they are frustrated by musical imperfections. It is this quest for technical perfection that concerns me most because I do think that this quest for the perfect performance can go too far and I also think it is unrealistic, at least for most of us mere mortals. Don't get me wrong. I am all for working hard, working slowly, learning things carefully from the moment you start a new piece, paying careful attention to the score, and building up fast pieces slowly, but I also believe that once you've built your foundation and then built a strong, stable structure, you should feel free to let go a bit, and enjoy what you have created.
So why all this desire for note-perfectness? Why does everything have to be exactly like it was in the practice room? Perhaps some of this has to do with the fact that many recordings that kids listen to today come from recording studios where things appear to be note perfect, sound perfect, intonation perfect, you-name-it-perfect. Personally, I don't care for those recordings and I don't tend to listen them very often. When I do listen to recordings, they are usually of live performances because I need to hear the breathing, the little (or not so little) mistakes here and there, the thrill of the cheers and the applause...to me that's all part of the music making. Perhaps if our young musical friends today only listened to live performances of the repertoire they were playing, they would be more forgiving of themselves and begin to focus on something more important than nailing every note.
You might ask, is this really that important? And I answer with a resounding, "YES!" If we want audiences to be excited by classical music, if young people want their peers to be intrigued by what they are doing, their passion for music and for performing needs to be infectious when they perform. I could be wrong, and please correct me if you disagree, but I don't think audiences really go to performances to hear a perfect performance - they go for an experience of hearing great music, of being transported...so if they go and instead see a young person simply disappointed in themselves, that can be a terrible downer. Not a great concert experience, that's for sure.
So young musicians out there, it's fine to be a perfectionist in the practice room. Go ahead...shake your head, stomp your feet, sigh, grimace, scream, pull out your hair, do what it takes to get it right...
but then be an actor and an artist the minute you step on stage...smile, create, listen, and love what you do!
Enough of my lecture :-) Now go and practice, just take it easy on those studio recordings.