Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The pursuit of perfection

For the past two weeks, I’ve been completely caught up in trying to reach the goal of perfection. The process has been revealing as well incredibly frustrating. I’ve also been trying to use the experience as a springboard to improving my writing. Let me explain...

For the past five years, I’ve been concentrating my musical time playing trumpet. I should tell you that I wasn’t trained as a trumpeter. I went through university as a French hornist. The reason I switched was that I wanted to play jazz in a big band with some friends. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and over time, I’ve learned how to navigate my way through a gig rather well. I even take the occasional solo. I also have an R&B band down in the NY area that gigs whenever I can make it down. The trumpet playing has all been rather fun.

My beloved horn, however, has been languishing in a corner of my studio the whole time, looking at me rather reproachfully on occasion — especially when I’m on my way out the door with the trumpetary interloper.

Then a house concert was arranged for a dear friend’s visit and I offered to play a couple of movements of one of the Mozart Horn Concerti. Easy, I thought to myself. I can work that up in a week or so. Wrongo. I’ve been plowing away on the horn for at least an hour and a half every day for the past two weeks and I’ve yet to play either movement perfectly. In classical music, you can’t get away with even one cacked note. The only thing that cuts it is perfection. To say the least, it’s been a humbling experience.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to move ahead (when I can find the time) on a new novel, a sequel to one of the novels I have coming out next fall.

I’m one of those oddballs in the writing game who actually prefers editing to writing that first draft. Maybe it’s my musical background, but I love that aspect of polishing something over and over until it’s perfect. However, my recent horn experiences have shown me that I’m selling my writing really short, too.

Like everyone, I try to send a manuscript out in the best possible shape I can. I really do want it to be perfect. Like everyone else, if I look at that same “perfect” manuscript a few months later, I find it’s not so perfect after all. I’m not talking about missed typos. I’m talking about missed boats, facets of the story that I completely hadn’t noticed, things that could have been done far better if I’d taken more time, been less easily satisfied.

So I’ve put myself on notice. Only the best will be good enough from here on in. I know that I can do it if I just dig deeper, try harder.

As for the horn gig, wish me luck on Friday night. My goal is to play twelve minutes of music perfectly. I figure another 100 run-throughs of each movement might get me there. Trouble is I only have four days.

Excuse me, my horn is calling...

2 comments:

hannah Dennison said...

Rick, your post struck a chord (pardon the pun), I too have a musical background (piano, flute, celtic harp). I haven't played the piano for ten years but believed I'd be able to pick it up quickly because of all that computer keyboard typing. I couldn't be more wrong - or more frustrated. Good luck with your gig on Friday. I know you'll do it - because you are a perfectionist!

Rick Blechta said...

When I first read your comment, Hannah, I thought you said "percussionist" and I was all set to be highly indignant!

;)

Q: How can you tell if a drummer's stool is level?
A: The drool comes out of both sides of his mouth.