They say that confession is good for the soul. Well, today I come before you guilty of an act of arrogant hubris. Friends, I humbly beg your gracious forgiveness.
A few days ago I was writing about a friend’s struggle to find her own voice as she was interpreting a Scarlatti sonata. She was seeking to play the music with a sound and style that sounded “correct” and still rang true to her musical sensibilities. Well, sometimes I need to be more careful about the pronouncements I assert so confidently. Just sooner had I so pompously advised my friend to blissfully follow her own musical instincts and to let go of her concern about being “correct,” in less than 48 hours I found myself in the throes of an almost identical quandary.
As I have shared here previously, I am performing a series of Chopin programs over the next few months in celebration of the composer’s bicentennial celebration. I love the music, it has been immensely satisfying to prepare, and I enjoy playing it very much. So far so good, but over the past few days I have fallen into a new creative crisis, and of course it is all of my own making. You see, on this program I am playing a set of Mazurkas that have become an absolute thorn in my side. These little dances are technically among the easiest bits of music that I am playing on this particular program and I have played them successfully for a long time. However, now I have started questioning everything about my approach to their fundamental rhythm, sound, and shape. A short while ago I caught myself actually asking myself the damning question, “Is that right?” I could have lived with “Is that the way I want the phrase to sound?” or even, “Maybe I should hear this differently?” But no, I was trying to be correct, which means I was really saying that I was afraid to be wrong.
Today I will spare you the narrative of my internal debate about the interpretive details that prompted my crisis of confidence. It is enough to say that in the process of making creative work happen, this question of being correct tends to show up with regularity. I suppose that my initial idea in challenging the need to be right was not to negate the question itself so much as to challenge our dependence upon the approval of external authorities. For a long time I have recognized that part of the maturation process as musicians, or just becoming a grown-up, is learning to trust ourselves as we live life and do our work. My own recent crisis of confidence is a solemn reminder that this business of learning to be bold in our choices comes at the price of doing it wrong, and probably failing often before we land on the solution that rings with the resonance of truth. Today I am praying for the courage to risk failing more often than I did yesterday, at least it will be more fun than worrying about being right.