My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Working out life while working out

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Ask anyone who knows me and they'll agree without a second's hesitation - I've never been a big fan of exercising.  I have the discipline to practice piano hours every day and to learn piles and piles of music but when it comes to donning exercise clothes and actually doing something physical that doesn't just involve my fingers, well, it's quite a stretch for me in more ways than one.  But this past summer, I'm happy to say, I found an exercise DVD that I can actually do with some sort of consistency.  Now a pretty big expert on the routines, I recently found myself falling into a trap I often caution young musicians against - the quest for perfection.  

And yes, in case you haven't already picked up on this, I have a hard time not bringing music into every facet of my life.

So here I was in my sweatpants, oversized t-shirt, and tennis shoes, huffing and puffing, when I kept noticing something a bit off.  I'd actually noticed something previously because yes, I've done these workouts for some time but since I know the routines practically by heart now I've found myself paying more attention to details rather than just trying to make it through the exercises without ending up flat on the floor.  In this particular workout there is an instructor and two assistants who seem to do the majority of the hard work. In spite of all the jumping up and down, crunches, and military presses, there is constant babbling coming from the coach with some mini verbal interactions with her assistants from time to time. What I had noticed earlier that was confirmed with this most recent viewing, was that so much editing had been done to create the DVD that much of this banter becomes, upon careful listening, quite unintelligible.  One word from one take is followed by an abrupt pause and then an isolated word spoken by an assistant from a completely different take.  At first my reaction was, "Oh come on...why couldn't they get this right?"  (I know, so unlike the nice, supportive, positive-thinking Erica but keep in mind I was exercising at the time.)  Well, I quickly annoyed myself since in my normal clothes I am a big advocate for non-perfectionism so while continuing the workout I tried to steer my thinking and criticism in a different direction, one that ended up leading me into a series of questions that I attempted to answer while sweating profusely.

  • What was the problem with those little editing blips in the DVD?  Why did they bother me so much?  I think they bothered me because the errors made it impossible in spots to follow any dialogue that was supposed to be going on.  Classical music world parallel:  Sometimes too many imperfections can take away from the musical line of a piece.  It can pull the listener out of the magic of the moment and leave him feeling a bit stranded and confused.
  • Why were there so many editing issues?  It dawned on me that perhaps there was a great need to edit because these really in-shape women had a hard time themselves getting through the routines in a graceful manner.  Perhaps, like little old me, they found themselves collapsing on the floor every few minutes, gasping for air, groping for their water bottles, and swearing passionately.  In other words, perhaps they are human.  When I looked at it this way my attitude was instantly transformed.  It made me feel better about myself and where I was in regards to my physical stamina.  Classical music world parallel:  Hearing a live performance or watching a YouTube video of someone not-so-famous that actually makes mistakes always makes me breathe a sigh of relief because it brings me just a little bit closer to them.  It makes me feel like we're all in the same boat together.  So when I make mistakes during a performance, perhaps I can just say to myself, "Self, just think, you're making some other musician out there, amateur, student, professional, feel ok about themselves.  Yay!" 
  •  Had these blips always bothered me?  No, not at all.  It took about 4 or 5 months for me to even notice that something was amiss.  Keeping in mind I was exercising pretty religiously for those months, that means I had watched the DVD at least 64 times before I noticed anything and it wasn't until the 100th time or so that I was actually irked.  Classical music world parallel:  How often do we hear the same performance 64 times?  It would be difficult for me to even think of a recording that I've listened to with such regularity.  And live performances?  They're never the same twice.  So is it really likely that a few imperfections are going to ruin someone's listening experience? 
By the end of this little question and answer session with myself the exercise DVD was done and I realized that not only did I feel fantastic physically, I also felt exhilarated having pondered the whole perfectionism thing.  A bit nerdy, I realize.  But it was reassuring to know that it's not just musicians that deal with the issue and that find themselves having to cut and paste all over the place in a futile attempt to get a "perfect" product.  I found myself wondering what the exercise coach thought to herself while watching her DVD for the first time.  Was she sitting there like we musicians tend to when listening to our own recordings?  Beating herself up over her minute imperfections?  Probably.  She is, after all, human.  Just like us.  

So what would I say to her if I had the chance?

"Thank you for coming up with a routine that I can actually do, that I want to do, that is making me feel better and better every day.  Yeah, I noticed those funky places in the video where the dialogue is, well, interesting, but you know what?  It actually makes me smile now.  The most important thing to me is that!!!!  You did that for me.  Thank you."

Hmmm...I wonder what would the classical music world parallel to that be?

Any ideas?


  1. Hahaha, I'm pretty sure we follow the do the exact same workouts! I would think the classical equivalent is when the video will show you playing a certain spot, while the audio is you playing a different spot.

    I'm sure most non-musicians can't tell the difference, but it is so odd to me to see things like the very peaceful and contemplative head of a pianist while hearing crazy runs and jumps. Or a very passionate musician with a lot of body movements with the audio of a very slow and static movement.

  2. Ha ha ha, indeed, Geraldine. I usually close my eyes at those spots in movies or videos of performances because I have such a difficult time watching out-of-synch performances. At least it's made me very careful when I put my own videos together. Kind of agonizing to synch them up sometimes but very worth it!

    Thank you for reading! It's always wonderful to have you here.

    All the best,

  3. I think the classical music equivalent would be:
    Thank you, Erica, for being a brilliant musician who knows her stuff better than almost anyone, but who is incredibly encouraging to the young, less experience, amateurs such as myself who are striving to become better pianists. Thank you for embracing imperfection and the fact that perfection is unattainable. You inspire others with your music and just with your life in general, and it makes me want to play better; to be better.
    Thank you.


    1. Oh wow, Katie. That wasn't exactly the response I was expecting but I'm honored that you feel that way - thank you so very much!

      And even if the only thing people walk away with after reading my blog is that music isn't about perfection, I'll be a happy, happy person :-)

      Thank you again and happy practicing to you!

      All the best,