Everyone has a different definition of perfection and it holds different weights within different people’s priorities. For some, perfectionism is pointless, but for others there is no point in doing anything if it’s not perfect, and we will do whatever it takes in order to achieve this invisible standard. An exhausting mindset which is all too common within the classical music industry, highlighted blatantly when 100% of my music psychology class raised their hands in answer to the question “who here is a perfectionist?”.
This dangerous word has been thrown around a lot throughout my musical upbringing, with concepts such as ‘practice makes perfect’ and the notorious 10,000-hour rule always hovering just below the surface of my consciousness. Neither are not as definitively black and white as they sound, and are therefore potentially damaging for those unable to strive for anything less than the unattainable standard of perfection.
The blurred lines are revealed when we examine the subjectivity of the term ‘perfection’ within classical music. A pianist may present a recital having accumulated the golden 10,000 hours of practice. They may be note, rhythm and articulation perfect, but play a Chopin Nocturne with all the expression and sensitivity of an inanimate object. Can this performance really be classed as perfect with the absence of such an integral musical principal? Of course not. Now perfection is irrelevant, as the question becomes “what is more important, musical mechanics or musical meaning?” Personally, it’s a question that is a constant internal conflict, adjudicated by my biased perfectionistic reflexes.
Is perfectionism something a person is born with or is it nurtured primarily by external influences? As I have progressed through classical music training, perfection has certainly been an ever-increasing shadow. With everyone fighting to be the best, competitiveness and perfectionism permanently pollute the air of Conservatoires – and not just between peers. In fact, I often feel more pressure from the glaring judgement of professors, those incessant expectations, and the omnipresent sense of never having proven myself good enough to be studying here. Despite this, in today’s musical climate, I don’t believe studying classical music at a Conservatoire is a viable option for anyone without the unquestioning dedication, tirelessness and borderline obsessive mindset of a true perfectionist.
However, none of this is to say that perfectionistic personality traits are intrinsically negative and a detriment to one’s life, in fact quite the opposite. If managed effectively, perfectionism can be a force for excellence, ambition and passion.
I must control my perfectionism, not the other way round.