Who owns ‘perfection’ now?

5th January 2016 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings | 4 comments

It’s hard to keep up with changing perceptions in the world of music. We classical musicians are used to being the butt of complaints that our concerts are off-putting because of their focus on accuracy and daunting accomplishment. Unfortunately there’s no way round it, because you can’t do justice to this complex music without a high degree of technical prowess. First you have to ‘catch the rabbit’ of instrumental mastery.

For decades now, we’ve been repeatedly told that one of the main reasons for pop’s success is that – by contrast – anyone can have a go at it. You can pick up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks and quite quickly become competent enough to play the chords or rhythms that dominate a lot of pop music. You can play in a band after only a short apprenticeship (or even with no apprenticeship at all, as some celebrity careers have proven). And yes, that short training period has been empowering for many who like music and wanted to perform, but were never in a position to grapple with daily practice.

I’ve grown used to hearing that classical music is boringly perfect while pop music is ‘free’. So I was surprised to read about the Spanish group Hinds in today’s Guardian. ‘Pop is about perfection. We’re the opposite….We get messages from girls – and boys – in their rooms, listening to our songs and just being free. They feel they can do it, too. They see us and see that it’s OK not to be perfect.’

Sorry, what –  pop is about perfection now? People are relieved to see an indie band whose shows ‘fizz with the highwire sense that they could collapse at any moment’?

Perhaps classical musicians should feel liberated. The mantle of tedious perfectionism has been cast over someone else. Let them see how it feels! We never saw ourselves as grim perfectionists anyway, and perhaps now we really don’t need to.


  1. peterv

    It is strange that in our society no one ever complains about sportsmen and women seeking perfection, nor about their years of dedicated practice to achieve it, nor about spectators being intimidated by seeing such perfection in action.

    • Susan Tomes

      I quite agree. I’ve always thought that because we all have bodies and we know what it’s like to run, jump and swim, people can easily imagine being top-class sportsmen, whereas they can’t imagine being a top musician because it involves learning and studying an instrument. But there are probably also societal factors involved in the glorification of sportsmen.

    • Susan Tomes

      Hi Julie, I was also surprised by his comments. In fact, if they want more diversity in orchestras, or in fact any future for orchestras at all, the government will have to reverse its cuts in music education and go back to providing instrumental tuition free of charge in schools.


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