As musicians, we are always pursuing the perfect performance. We spend years honing our craft. We practice incessantly, sometimes for hours every day. We pay experienced teachers lots of money, hoping that they give us the skills to play that one scale perfectly or sing that beautifully placed high note.
I’m here to tell you that all of that will only take you so far. There are lots of people who can play technically proficient music that I don’t want to listen to, and there are lots of people with significant flaws in technique that I do want to listen to. For crying out loud, computers can play things more accurately than a human ever could. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna go to a concert played by computers.
So what do I look for in a performance or a composition? I want to feel something. Make me feel the thrill of love or the despair of abandonment, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or the sheer power of Niagara. Draw me in. Give me no chance to look away. Do this, and I promise you I will pay attention.
The ability to express these powerful emotions engages the listener. This is what separates a good artist from a great one. Ultimately, audiences will forgive a musician who plays wrong notes; they won’t forgive a musician who consistently fails to move them.
This is what I strove to do when I recorded the ballad that I wrote, The Hunter and His Love (Spotify, Amazon, and itunes). Did the musicians and I perform it 100% correctly? Nope. There will always be mistakes even if others don’t notice them. That’s not the most important question. Did you feel the darkness of a world where even the heroes can die? Did you feel the dark, personal tole paid by the heroes? That was what I was going for.
A good musician plays the right notes; a great musician feels the right notes. Sadly, students often miss this in their pursuit of musical mastery. Technique is not the end in-and-of-itself. Technique is what frees us to express ourselves exactly as we want, without the distractions of wrong notes and sloppy playing. And it is when we express ourselves clearly, honestly, and beautifully that people will stop to listen.