Perfection is impossible. That doesn’t mean we should give up on it. But we should have a clear idea of just what we’re striving for.Peter Lovett wrote:I suppose what I am saying in a long-winded way is that my practice sessions are not a search for perfection as I doubt that at my age I will ever be able to achieve that but they are a search for being a musician. I could not embrace the "play it 5 times perfectly then move on" school of thought (didn't Sor or was it Tarrega play something 50 times without a mistake before he moved on) because there is no guarantee that the 6th time will fall apart. Nor am I practicing as though its a performance. Its not, there are times I am going to play something over and over to get a muscle-memory because its new. Thats not a performance, but musically, well yes, that is what I am trying for.
When I was young, I got interested in making my own telescope. (Alas, I never did it.) Reading about grinding and polishing a mirror for a reflector telescope, I encountered something called the “one-fourth wave rule.” It states that if an optical surface is polished to be accurate within one-fourth of a wavelength of light, then for practical purposes it’s perfect. In sum, it’s a threshold. Once you’re there, you needn’t push for anything more. To do so invokes the law of diminishing returns.
This is a good idea for musicians. Of course we need to refine our playing. But we also need our own version of the one-fourth wave rule. There’s a threshold that, once we reach it, then we’re by any reasonable standard playing as though perfect. In fact, beavering away past this threshold is self-defeating. First, extreme perfectionism is a black hole, destroying all that fall into it. Second, perfection pushed too far enervates all that makes a performance alive. I’ve noticed that my favorite players—Julian Bream in his prime, for example—aren’t the cleanest. Great playing always embraces the element of chance. Not everything can be planned, nor should it be. Smart performing artists learn to live with uncertainty.
I’m not arguing that we toss perfection in the bin. Nor is this an excuse for sloppy playing. Rather, we need a definition of perfection that comprises more than marksmanship. Like everything we work at in music, perfection is a evolving goal. The more we explore it, the more interesting it becomes.
South Euclid, OH