Practising – Excellence versus Perfectionism – Part II

…Continued from Part I

When music breaks your heart

But now, I’ve read this book and realise that perhaps I’m not done. Or rather, I realise what it was that I was done with—and what it was was not music.

Concealed in all the careful tutelage of the conservatory system is an almost heartless contempt for the many who can never sustain such standards once they’ve graduated. This system is all about super stars and even more toxically, it’s about perfectionism and conformity. What isn’t destroyed by the conservatory system is put to the torch by the marketplace, which in my case was what I like to call the “Orchestral-Industrial Complex”.

In Kurtz’s Practicing, he once again reflects my journey back to music from the well-intentioned but highly destructive schooling that most musicians undergo. Like mine, his return isn’t a return to the audiences and certainly not the “music industry”, but to the soul of music itself. Practicing is about the musician’s journey back to his first love of music—the quasi-erotic sense of connection that is the essence of music.

As I play the theme of ‘Weeping Willow’ one last time, all my fantasies of success and all the flaws in my character rise again to the surface, my ambition and despair, concentrated in my fingertips. Each impulse, each need and doubt, clamours for expression, a little tyrant demanding its own way. And with each note these urgent demands collide with the limitations of my hands, my instrument, and my imagination. It is the same thing every day, the same as it always was. Yet everything has changed.

Practicing reminds me of other times when I reconnected with that original love of music. Several years ago, I spent the summer playing only the recorder. The recorder has a primordial charm about it—it was the first instrument I played and the instrument on which I learn to read music. It’s also the instrument on which I first learned about Renaissance and other ancient music, and that’s what I spent the summer playing.

For a time, my road back to the clarinet only consisted of music that made me feel good. Instead of great works from the clarinet repertoire or, God forbid, scales, I play Danny Boy. 


More recently, a fusion has taken place as I have learned Danny Boy in all twelve major keys. Playing music and practising music are intimately connected.

Continued…