Perfectionism and Music

Today is not the first time I pondered about this topic.  While practicing the piano this morning I would repeatedly run through specific measures so that my note and dynamics execution would be as it is written on the page.  Every note, its numerical value, its dynamic designation, any tie, slur, holds, staccatos, trills, turns, sharps, flats, naturals, etc.  I’m working on two separate Mozart sonatas right now, and they need to be as close to perfect as possible.

The last nine words from the previous paragraph pose a conundrum for me.  How do I work to not be a perfectionist in my daily life when certain aspects of my life require me to be one?  Is there a difference between perfectionism and perfectly executing a specific activity?  This, I struggle.

I don’t believe that any musician is not a perfectionist.  I could be wrong, and if I am then that person must live life in total harmony.  Very cool.

We tell ourselves that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’, that ‘perfect’ is what is.  So does that mean that musical masterpieces are imperfectly written?  Did master composers play music imperfectly?  I wonder what the Masters did when they made a ‘mistake’.  Did they call it a mistake? Did they need to practice more and more to get it right, or did musical genius come naturally to rectify the situation?  These musical geniuses had to be perfectionists.  But perhaps their perfectionistic quality is just the thing that created much of their angst and internal turmoil.

We wouldn’t listen to music that we enjoy if it wasn’t perfectly executed.  So I ask myself, do I want to play imperfectly in front of other people?  The answer to that question has, for 95% of my life, always been NO, I do not.

If my count is not correct, if my note execution is not correct, if my rests are not correct, if my dynamics are not correct, then I am playing incorrectly. I don’t like the way that sounds because it tells me that if I am playing incorrectly, then I am playing imperfectly. Therefore I need to play as perfectly as possible in order for the piece to be ‘perfect’.

In my adult years I became aware of the fact that I tend to view everything and every situation as an ‘if-then’ scenario. That works great for math/geometry Theorem’s and Proof’s and due to its inherent logical sense, I see no reason to add ‘but’ into that string of factual logic outside of the arithmetic world. There are no ‘buts’ in music, ‘but’ is a non-issue. A ‘but’ is either a known or unknown variable that does not exist in music. One knows what is supposed to be played, one knows how it is to be played. If I am playing to the count of 4/4, then I need to count quarter notes as 1, eighth notes as 1/2 of 1, sixteenth notes as 1/2 of 1/2 which of course is 1/4, and so on. There is no guesswork as to how the music should be played. It’s all printed in black and white. Notes on a page… either it is or it isn’t, period.

If your head is spinning right now, then welcome to my quandary. I want to play perfectly, but I don’t want the necessity for perfection to infiltrate my daily life. What to do? All of this is such a tangled web that I still wrestle with. I’ve improved in both practices throughout the years, however there is still more work that needs to be done.

Where’s the mat?