Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Perfection Rant

I have ranted about perfectionism before, but I recently experienced a problem with it that I hadn't thought about before.

I coach a song, a theatrical scene, or a speech in 4 stages:

The body, where we learn the best use of the vocal mechanism. For songs, that stage also includes the pitches, rhythms, and harmonies. 

The mind, where we pay attention to the words, the sentence structure, all the literary aspects of the piece.

The emotions, where we apply our own interpretation of the meaning of the piece.

Finally, all the aspects of performance - involving the audience, use of gesture, body movement, etc.

We had reached the third stage with a Gluck song. I was emotionally drawn into it, completely involved as an audience member, when the singer stopped, then repeated the last phrase he'd sung. For the 1st time in more than 30 years of teaching, I let out an expletive. "What the f . . . are you doing?"  

"I didn't like that last run," he said. "I can do it better."

When I told someone later about this incident, he said, "The effect was like someone answering their phone halfway through intercourse."

Exactly. The singer interrupted a creative, emotional experience with self-criticism that belonged way back in stage one. That's where we work on the mechanics, using all the knowledge we've acquired, working out the kinks, getting as close to perfect as we can. It's work that is meant to be self-centered.

But our emotions are responses to something other than self. In this case, to the emotional meaning of the song, to memories, to audience, to the creative impulse. 

Nothing excites me more than a beginning student who says, during stage three, "I lost myself."    

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