The Stranglehold of Piping Perfection
“Perfection is the enemy of the good.” —Voltaire
Modern times have squeezed just about every drop of time we might have to devote to, well, just about anything. Often, we are pressed for time to do everything whether it is one’s job, one’s hobbies, or one’s family life and activities. There is also high pressure to perform well or perfectly at all of it, which is an impossible thing to do. So, I guess it is no surprise that many of us become stressed out by the notion of perfection.
Pipers and drummers are so focussed on perfection it has become a source of mass neurosis. Voltaire’s quote is almost a truism. After all, (and it’s true whether you believe it or not) bagpipe competition is set up to punish imperfection. It is the very nature of the format. I dare say that punishment for imperfection overshadows rewards for the same in a typical piping contest, band or solo. The result? Neurotic attention to detail and oftentimes overanalyzed activity bearing the fruit of paralysis and stagnation. And truly, very little that is good.
How many times has your pipe band rubbed raw your 3 to 5 minute performance on the competition field? How often have you drilled your solo piping material ad nauseum? How much do you really improve though such obsession? Whatever the answer to that, it is important to realize that “perfection” is a myth. We all know what the word perfection means but, there really is no such thing when it comes to creative endeavors. You need to laugh at the very idea as it keeps you from moving forward. Mistakes and/or failure are an inseparable part of any worthwhile effort. Failure counts as much as any success.
Piping is full of details and complicated notions to keep straight. It is easy to doubt yourself and second guess what you know. But you know what is just as good as knowing what you’re doing? Pretending to know what you’re doing and just doing it. Take a moment to think about that and how it relates to the way you approach your own music making. In this idea is the permission to push aside your own prejudices and preconceived notions and move forward.
Doing makes you right. Lots of talk is bandied about in piping about what’s right and wrong. The implication is that somehow someone else will always know the right way to perfection. You can brush aside the “folding-chair judging” and other commentary about your or anyone else’s bagpiping or performance. Being fully engaged in the work to perform and develop your own music and bagpipe playing is what makes you “right.” It is more worthwhile and closer to any idea of “perfect” than any commentary or so-called advice from the Highland peanut gallery.
It’s important to make the distinction, perfection is not the same as development. When you work toward improving yourself as a musician and as a performer or competitor, it is not about striving to be perfect. It is about realizing your potential and working for it, and that work reaps its own rewards. It is the engine that drives musical progress and artistry, and are the things that break the stranglehold that notions of perfection—be they internal or external—can place on us.