The perception of perfection

Many musicians strive for perfection. Yet what exactly is perfection? Does it even exist?

A while ago, one of my collegues brought to my attention a recording of the Prokofiev sonata by a Dutch flutist. She was very excited about it, so I had a listen. Whilst hearing even the very first notes my carefully ingrained convictions made themselves heard in my mind; the sound has too much of a rasp, that’s a lot of freedom granted here, not exactly the perfection that we strive for nowadays. Then why was my colleague so delighted? I decided to listen again, though now to the music only, rather than the voices of my former tutors in my head. I became more excited by the second. This might even be the best recording of this sonata I had ever heard!

What is perfection? Many aspire it, yet what exactly is it? Who decides something is perfect? In a way a score played by a computer is perfection. The notes are played correctly, the rhythms, and perhaps even the dynamics, are flawless. However, usually this is not what we are looking for.

I believe that perfection is extremely personal. It can be very useful to draw a mental image of what it is you’d like to pursue. This creates focus. All that does not fit in this image to accomplish your objective could then be considered imperfect. Yet this only applies to you, it’s your personal idea of perfection.

Thus, perfection is no more than a subjective and personal perspective. Modern playing techniques for the flute by many are not considered perfect. When I’m teaching workshops I often notice how people struggle to let go of their own notions of perfection, which makes it hard to experiment.

Modern playing techniques can actually contribute to achieving perfection. In the film Jungle Book for example, the flute often creates wind tones. They actually add to the scenes, even though this same sound generally doesn’t fit into the perfect image of the classical flute.

Of this I am convinced: either perfection does not exist or it is omnipresent. Perfection is extremely personal and relies on a moment, depending on how you look at something. Wouldn’t it be perfect to merely observe and work from this experience? To merely watch what happens and see how this can be used, and to just enjoy this particular perfection!

Translation: Elise Bikker


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