Thank you for your beautiful performance. I had to go to Holland again. I was with the 3 girls and we had to leave early.
We all were amazed! Thank so Much!
(Note: English is not this person's native language; extra credits for making that effort also!)
* * *
It does not need to be perfect
It makes me smile that I was able to move someone – whom I did not know before the encounter – enough that they took time afterwards to find me on the internet and respond, positively.
I am not perfect; far from it, I am a human being, we are inherently flawed. To think otherwise sets ourselves up for failure and an insane amount of pressure to live up to. It is interesting, that many people do not inherently try to be perfect either, this is something externally imposed on us from childhood.
What is interesting, is the recital Michael is mentioning in his email above was far from perfect. I missed some notes, I smudged some chords, and occasionally had a wobbly moment where my fingers slipped on the keys. However, despite all these blunders, a random stranger, whom might I add had no expectation of me, or my playing was moved enough by it to send me this message.
The key point to take away here is that Michael had no expectations for me. He was visiting the UK for a brief weekend trip with some friends, and the last item on the itinerary was to see St Botolph’s Church, the ruins next door destroyed during King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. It would be pure chance that they would stumble across, me, my recital, and my fetching blue suit.
They stayed they listened, they left; a few days later I received the above email.
Perfectionism causes problems
I have lost many students over the years because of my controversial opinion on this topic for discussion. If I dare utter the words “It does not have to be perfect”, I can feel the energy shift in the room as the parent sitting in my peripheral vision shuffles in their seat with discomfort. In some instances, they might even interject and contradict everything I have just said; from their perspective, perfection the only achievement worthy of recognition; poor child.
There was an awkward moment in a lesson where a student asked me “have you ever had a bad performance”, to which I simply replied “Of course, I am a musician! Let me know when you have a good one!”. This particular student loved the idea of perfection, however refused to accept that the pressure they put on themselves coupled with constant comparisons was causing them to not reach their full potential; to be honest, they never actually got started.
Given my status as a pianist and teacher, some adult learners put me on a pedestal. Flattering as it is to hear “Someday I wish I could play like you” or worst “I can’t wait until [child] can play like you”, this again is feeding into the notion that I am the pinnacle of piano playing, which I am not. I once said these words, and was corrected with, “ … don’t you mean, you wish to play the … music … like that”. The point to take away, the focus ought to be the music, not the person.
In fact, I have also upset many of my other teachers, who pedantically compare my playing to CD musicians, further chastising my efforts for not equating to Rachmaninoff himself. I am not a CD pianist or Rachmaninoff, and sorry to break it to you, I will never be, I am me. The one thing these situations all have in common is a problem with inadequacy that is then projected on to someone else, in this case, me.
The parent or teacher who will only accept perfection as worthy of praise projects their own insecurities onto the child or student; the student who idolises a teacher makes themselves unworthy and inadequate, both not true. A mantra I repeatedly tell my students is that “You are fine, completely and utterly the way you are, your achievements do not define you; learning is slow, enjoy the process”.
"It does not need to be perfect."
Dealing with perfectionism
Perfect is a superlative often used in hyperbole; below are some points I use daily during my practice and while dealing with students. In no particular order:
- Be realistic
Keep your feet on the ground; look at the world based on what is realistic, not what is idealistic. Perfection is an ideal, meaning it has no place in your actions. If you take time and focus on what is in front of you, you will achieve the best that you can achieve.
- Do not compare yourself
If you compare yourself to another human being, you must be willing to do what they did to get there. If you are not, then the comparison serves little more than a primer for negative thought patterns.
- Stop listening to unqualified people
This must sound so arrogant and self-absorbed, however, if you are reading this, you will understand that neither of those things are true. The saying “Everyone’s a critic”, has never been truer; people who have no place commenting or pontificating often are the people who speak the loudest and with the most point to prove. A hypothetical question to ponder: should you really listen to, or take advise from, a person who they themselves cannot carry out whatever feat they are commenting on?
Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball. A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.
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