The Perfection of Imperfection
Posted on 02/26/2021 by
Mary Flint: America’s Most Promising Science Fiction Writer
Author Masterminds Charter Member
As a musician, I spend hours a day learning and practicing a piece of music with the ultimate goal of reaching perfection. But what, the question could be asked, is this perfection? Some may say it is the complete and whole repetition of what is written on the pages of the piece, not a wrong note sounded, every dynamic and marking followed completely and without mistake. The instructions, often written with Adagio or Allegro’s words, to dictate the tempo, or how fast or slow the music should be played, must be followed without deviation. But I ask, is this perfection giving music its ethereal beauty?
To play a piece perfectly, as I have described, would undoubtedly be beautiful, or happy, sad, or angry, whatever instruction is noted on the score. But to make a piece beautiful is not why I, as a musician, strive for perfection. Because speaking frankly, never playing a wrong note hardly ever happens for me, even with hundreds of hours of practice behind me.
Yes, the music would be correct if every instruction indicated on the score were followed precisely. Everyone who performed a piece would always perform it the same way. It would be correct, but would it be perfect? All we have to dictate how the piece should sound is what is written on the page. Still, we will never know how Beethoven played his Pathetique Sonata or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. Perfection for those pieces would be how they sounded in the composer’s mind when they were written. But that is music only they could hear.
Even with modern composers who have recorded their own works for us to hear, perfection could only be achieved in replicating exactly every detail in the recording, assuming the composers even liked them. I’m sure they made mistakes when they performed as well. How could we, the audience, know if the recordings are perfect?
Not even instruments are the same. Two violins may look alike in every detail, perfect, you could say, but their sounds would be different. Perhaps not noticeably so, but every instrument has a different voice, just like a person. As if it was hard enough to find perfection, one would have to also find the exact instrument the composer wanted when they wrote the piece.
So, is this perfection? Would music performed in such a manner be able to reach people’s hearts and touch and inspire their souls?
No. Only beauty can do that.
Beauty, I believe, comes from the emotions, stories, and experiences that are poured into the notes. The reason I strive for perfection per se, is so that I do not hinder the beauty I am trying to portray in the music. The audience will not be able to read my mind. They will not know where the sadness, happiness, or anger portrayed in the music comes from, but that is not the point. I am providing them with the means to imagine where they come from. That is what makes a musician. That is what turns music into art—the ability to bring the audience into the music.
Writing is no different. As writers, we can see our stories almost, or even as vividly as what we see with our physical eyes. But we only have words to describe the scenes we see before us. Readers, no matter how eloquent the writing, will always see something different than the writer. Whether it be the scenery or a character. We could memorize an entire thesaurus, but we will still have only words to convey such a massive and vivid image. Even poetry and philosophy are interpreted differently by different people.
But that isn’t the point.
Words, written with elegance and prose, allow the reader to enter into the stories and visions we so vividly see, and allow them to experience it for themselves, and perhaps even heal a broken heart, or bring hope to the discouraged. Our job as writers is to use words, like musicians use notes, to allow our audiences into our stories, worlds, and minds, to travel miles without taking a single step.
That, to me, is true, imperfect perfection.
The Perfection of Imperfection was first published with Readers and Writers Book Club: https://readersandwritersbookclub.com.