Musical Perfection

Practice makes perfect is a misnomer. Or mis-phrase. Or however we are supposed to explain it. But I know you know what I mean. You're smart like that. You're perceptive, too. See that? My imperfect command of the English language (despite being raised by a writer with a Masters in English), created something slightly more human than proper grammar. Humans aren't perfect. And practicing until we achieve perfection is certainly a nice throw away phrase for any teacher less inclined to look for more real life approaches to music education. But, it's not enough to just say it without examination. Practice makes perfect implies we know how to practice correctly and that we know what perfection is. The quality of our practice sessions certainly makes a difference, as does whether we have various approaches to learning music that allow us to break it down into parts, giving each part the clarity it needs to build a stronger structure to the whole. I've touched on this in my book, in videos, and probably in another blog. Moving on.

What about knowing what perfection is? Well, I for one, don't. I have my own versions of perfection in a relative sense. And any version of it is most certainly subjective and relative to any and every one of us. My wife, for instance, is perfection to me. Try not to vomit. It's not just her looks, charm, brains, and talent; it's that for me, she's perfect. Sorry to sap it up with this example, but I think it's a useful one since love and relationships are not so dissimilar from the arts. All are quite personal and deeply based in how our own lens sees, and heart feels the world. I don't guess we can achieve perfection without having an effectively agreed upon idea of what it is. And it sounds like there are likely to be 7 billion ideas of what it is. I guess we're screwed. Or not. Let's give it a shot.

I looked up the word "perfection" and here's the book definition:

Perfection: the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

As free as possible. Now it's just getting more complicated. How do we decide if we've come as close as possible to our goal? I'm no quitter! I'm inclined to get beyond "as close as possible" and fully achieve my goal. Crap. Why did I even bring this up? It's just a waste of time. We're not getting anywhere. I'm going to go write a song about not finding perfection. Or maybe about my own perception of perfection. Or maybe about my imperfection. Or I'll just reflect on knowing that there's still a lot for me to learn about my own view of the world. Or... oh, hey. Our search for perfection, our understanding of it, our feelings of it when we're in love, these are the "perfections" of art and music, of creativity. Imperfection is itself, perfection.

At least I feel like this bares more discussion now. I told you I'm no quitter. And I can say quite comfortably that my own on-going efforts at improving my skills and developing some semblance of the sublime in my guitar playing or songwriting or what-have-you, keeps me from ever getting bored. My life reaches an ever-higher level as I constantly aspire to my own best. It's never good enough. Ever. But it is good, even great, maybe even outstanding.

Turning this passion for one's work and drive for personal besting into an obsession is quite dangerous. Some of the arc of my book, The Outback Musician's Survival Guide, demonstrates the damage done by obsession. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Philadelphia for Indie Author Con. One of the keynote speakers, Daniel Lerner, reflected on the difference between obsessive passion and harmonized passion. The former is a great way to be miserable and make everyone around you equally or more so. The latter is a healthy drive that can fuel an ever-reaching exploration of life and the self, through and within your passion. I'm not going to smash my guitar if the show wasn't perfect. In fact, my idea of a "perfect" show is a "near-perfect" one. I'm not sure what I'd do if everything landed exactly where I intended it to on stage. That's boring. I love when I play a run and it slides me into some unknown territory and works. That's a beautiful moment. I want my music to reflect the imperfect human being who's constantly searching and screwing up and learning and improvising his way through life in an ever-changing world. That's the human that I am. How can I expect people to relate to a glossy production with every note placed just so, with no authentic emotion behind it? Life is imperfect. Let our music and art reflect this. Two of our great female R & B stars told the record labels to stick their over-produced album and image ideas up their pocketbook. Beyonce went into the studio with the intention of letting the music happen with as much authenticity as possible. Hoarse vocal run? Cool! Worked for Aretha. I applaud this. I'm not saying quality production should be thrown out. But turning off the autotune might be a nice first step to maintaining our human connections to our music. Alicia Keys decided to push for #nomakeup to stop covering up. Right on.

Our imperfections are what make music and the arts so perfect for us. Our relationships with our own imperfections are what make perfection in music and the arts so subjective and personal. Here's to an imperfect world. Folks like me would be out of a job if everything was just so. Folks like you, too. Whatever you do, your job involves being human and connecting to others. Whether you consider yourself creative or not, you are. Conversation is improv. The lilting of your voice is music. The fist bump is emotional interaction. Please go connect creatively in everything you do. I feel we could use creative connections more than ever these days. As an adaptable animal we've never been so challenged as we are now. Our own creations are beginning to dominate our lives with algorithms and "like" buttons. I feel strongly that it's crucial we all seek more access to our own consciousness through the arts and other tools. I hope that this may include everyone finding their creative outlet and awakening in themselves a stronger sense of our innate connections to each other. What do you say? Up for a true Renaissance? An authentic Enlightenment? I'm down.

Peace, Phil

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