In Search of Perfection

Practice makes... you better. 

Perfection is in the ear (or eye) of the beholder; I've been searching for it most of my life. In rare musical instances, I've felt like I've come close to it - but nope - it is elusive. For me, perfection has been impossible to find. 

I've never considered any of my recording sessions or live shows to be perfect. Some, of course, have turned out better than others. There have been recording sessions that I've spent way too many hours on, and on others - one pass and done. The funny thing is, the more time you spend on a musical performance doesn't necessarily make it better. My experiences have taught me that you usually destroy a wonderfully spontaneous idea by beating it into the ground when chasing flawlessness.

Back in the nineties, I was in a band called the Swamp Honkys (yep, that was our name) that would meet once a week to write and rehearse our tunes. Being we were in a home studio, we would record these rehearsals. These musical gatherings were eventually dubbed 'The Martini Rehearsals' for obvious reasons. Perfection be damned! We found out over the months and years that our performances that we casually recorded at these martini rehearsals were usually always better than when we went into the high-end studio to officially and 'perfectly' record our songs for release. 
The infamous Swamp HonkysNow I'm not saying that having an abundant supply of martinis while recording is a good idea because it is not. You will waste precious time and money if working under the influence. But... for the first hour or two BEFORE any impairment kicked in, we were having so much fun that we created tracks and tracks of fine and funky music with seemingly little effort. These rehearsals were always loosey-goosey with lots of laughs and unstifled creativity. Regarding musical input - our rule was: try anything at any time - if you'd crash and burn, no harm done. The results of this atmosphere was pretty amazing. We found grooves and solos that were hard, if not impossible to recreate later. 

Scene change 

My days of performing with John Denver were eye-opening to me. 

JD was very confident and at home on stage. His years of experience clearly showed with his folksy demeanor and upbeat interactions with the audience. One night we were in the middle of a show which featured a prominent symphony orchestra. Things were going well - John, the band, conductor, and symphony were all humming along in good form until... 
John Denver | Photo Credit: Mary LedfordJohn had changed keys for certain songs over the years as his voice matured. Many vocalists, over time, lower song keys to make it easier for them to sing the hits they recorded years earlier. This particular song we were about to perform had a powerful entrance. We all would enter in at full volume starting on the first note. John and the band fired up in one key, the symphony in another. It sounded like a train crashing. I remember seeing the hair of the folks in the front row blow back for a second or two (maybe this did not happen, but it should have!). So obviously, the song screeched to a HARD STOP. The conductor looked a little pale and befuddled. And what did John do? He was quite hysterical - in a good way. John laughed himself teary-eyed. Then the band started laughing, the symphony cracked a few smiles, and the conductor began to laugh too. The crowd enjoyed the whole spectacle. John made the audience feel like we were all in this together. After conferring with the Maestro, we performed the song in the key that the orchestra's music was scored. The second take sounded lovely. I guarantee most, if not all, of the people in the venue still remember that major fail moment with a smile. I know I do. 

It'd not be a good idea for you to plan or fake a train wreck in your show, but IF one happens - let it be a moment that doesn't ruin your night.

So take it from me, a recovering perfectionist: 

Let your mind and music wander. Feel free to go up to or over the edge on occasion. Yes - absolutely practice, play, perform, create. Go a little easier on yourself - and remember to laugh, even when things are not turning out as you'd like. Maybe then, perfection will find you.