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  • Mark Brafield

How to be perfect. And Harry Potter.


I often work with musicians to overcome performance anxiety, and for a lot of classical musicians in particular, this centres around the fear of not being perfect, the fear of - heaven forbid - actually playing a wrong note. Or worse still, several wrong notes.

There are a range of strategies we can use to overcome this, but increasingly I look at the notion of what 'perfection' means, not just in music, but in life generally.

And once you start to look, there are lots of stories and myths that encourage us not to be perfect or, putting it psychologically, not to strive after what we are not meant to be.

The Navajo Indians are renowned for their beautiful quilts, but they are taught always to leave a flaw in the finished item for fear of enraging the gods by trying to be perfect.

I learned recently that the Irish have a similar folk belief, namely, that when you crochet, you weave a little bit of your soul into the embroidery, for which reason you should always leave an opening in the pattern in order to let your soul escape.

I particularly like this version as it equates perfection with somehow being inhuman. Readers of Harry Potter will recall that Voldemort seeks to make himself immortal by portioning out his soul into seven parts and concealing each part in a 'horcrux' that will survive the death of his body. As he divides his soul into progressively smaller proportions, so he loses more and more of his humanity. Perfect, inhuman and utterly terrible.

I have been to lots of concerts like that; perfect but soulless. And I have been to performances which have had the odd wrong note, but in which the music has soared and the humanity and soul of the performer has shone through. Guess which I prefer.


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