I have never ever had a perfect performance. I’ve done some great, even remarkable concerts, but the truth is that something always goes sideways in a performance.
I often tell my choirs that live performance is the essence of humanity: beauty and expression tempered by human imperfection. Imperfection, to my mind, is the very essence of what it means to be human. We are, all of us, mortal, fallible, imperfect. Our performances are therefore no different. You could see that as a weakness. But I don’t. It’s the part that I love.
This can be difficult to come to terms with when you’re talking about a community choir performance. We should bang out those notes until they’re perfect! I don’t disagree with that, it’s just that I think that sometimes you have to pick your battles, and stake your ground. Sometimes you have to choose: correct, or mostly correct but expressive. It isn’t an easy choice, and even though I long ago decided in one direction, I still find myself second-guessing and defending my choice. But I shouldn’t.
The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: the imperfection brought by the humanity of the creator, which makes the finished product better. More human. This is what audiences react to, because it speaks directly to them. When we sing like we mean it, we pull people in. They don’t hear small mistakes, because they don’t matter…as long as we make them feel something.
Expressivity might not always be perfect. But it’s the point, the crux of what we do. We can sacrifice it on the altar of correctness, but I’d rather not. Perfection is for recordings…which is another post altogether.