Did you know that musicians make mistakes? No, I mean, the famous, great, incredible musicians make mistakes. They do!
I am reading a book written by Charles Rosen where he dedicates a chapter to stage performance. In it he unveils that some famous classical piano players make mistakes during concerts. Sometimes, if there’s a repeat in the music, they will repeat the mistake! That, for me, is unbelievable. In my mind you had to play perfect from A to Z, whichever pieces you chose. If not, you’re fired! Shame! Scandal! Etc. But I remember seeing a documentary on the great Horowitz during a performance in Russia. It had been a long awaited concert and the crowd was thick with people standing on stage, eyes wide, ears wide, face wide, everything very wide in order to receive the music that the master would produce. Oh, he did not disappoint. With his usual elegance and strength Horowitz played brilliantly. His touch was impeccable, his tone clear as a bell, his musicality infectious, his tempo stellar. Wait, not exactly stellar. There was a moment where he slowed down, almost fumbled and then got back on the horse. He noticed it too because he cringed. It was a fleeting moment, but it was there. I am not sure many people noticed it and it didn’t break the charm of the performance, but it was there. Horowitz had had a little lapse of memory, a fugitive instant of weakness. He had made a mistake. Good old Horowitz! To me, this passing failure transformed a giant into a human and made him even closer to my heart.
Apparently, according to Charles Rosen, those mistake are not exactly common, but they do happen. I just watched the movie “The coda” with Patrick Stewart and Katie Holmes. In it Patrick Stewart plays an aging piano player plagued by doubts. He says that playing a concert is like a high wire act: People are waiting for him to stumble and fall. I don’t agree with that statement, as I think people go to the concert for all sorts of reason that belong to them and that speculating on the matter is breaking your brain for no good reason. But, that’s another subject. What the movie describe is how to deal with the pressure. I won’t go into the details, this is not the purpose of this blog. Where I’m trying to go is that it reinforces the fact that performers makes mistakes and it’s ok.
In drums too. Even in well recorded, well engineered takes. You can hear sticks clicking, or cymbals that don’t shine, or a snare that’s way too loud all of the sudden, or a fill that goes nowhere. Maybe we don’t have as many of those little problems in modern recording since technology can erase or change almost everything, but if you listen carefully to an album that’s as recent as the 90’s, you might catch something deliciously odd about the drum part.
Still, my conclusion about this topic is always the same: and so what? Musicians do try to play flawlessly, it’s always the goal. You can be a beginner or a pro, that doesn’t matter, you will put your heart and soul into it because these kind of things matter to you. Whether you succeed or fail doesn’t matter as long as you’re keeping the moment alive, as long as you’re having fun, as long as the crowd doesn’t lose you. The rest, leave it to the stars.