Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 6
Barbara Kreader Skalinder
Perfectly managing imperfection
"Hope is not the conviction that
something will turn out well, but the
certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out."
- Vaclav Havel
and musical architecture. If I thought Olivia were having
issues due to lack of work or because she didn't know the
music, our conversation would have been easy. If I were
a therapist, I might also have some relevant insight. But I
am only "the scary person."
"So what spooks you," I ask?
"I want to play this music perfectly."
by Barbara Kreader Skalinder
am listening to seventeen-year-old Olivia play her
college audition pieces: a Chopin Ballade and a Bach
Prelude and Fugue. I am not her teacher; Olivia
has an outstanding mentor at a renowned music
school in our area. Olivia is playing for me because
she hopes that "playing for someone scary" will help
cure her of her jitters. While I don't think of myself as
scary, I am happy to oblige. Olivia and I are members
of the same church choir; I am an alto who hums along
and Olivia is Head Chorister of the trebles. I admire and
like this young woman.
Olivia is in the throes of music school auditions.
Quirky stumbles and stutters recently marred two of
her already completed auditions. Two more remain.
While Olivia wants to be a conductor, she is applying
to be a double piano/theory major at each school. She
is frustrated by her inability "to show them my true
musicality" due to the persistent slip-ups.
Olivia arrives for our after-choir-rehearsal meeting
at 9 p.m. looking exhausted from an already busy
day, week, month, and year. I encourage her to play
for me anyway. "Choose the piece you love most. Sit
for a moment and remember the first time you heard
it. Where were you? What drew you to the music?"
For five years I have watched Olivia grow as a
musician. When Olivia sings or conducts, she involves
her whole body in her music making; she performs
with exquisite sensitivity. In her piano playing, which I
have not heard before, I also experience power and fire.
In addition, Olivia works hard at whatever she does.
She knows every phrase of the Chopin and Bach well
and has listened to and practiced all of her teachers'
obviously well-thought-out directions for technical
precision, articulation, phrasing, tempo, dynamics,
I think for a moment and then say, "Oh my! Well, don't
expect to do that!"
She looks surprised. I, too, am a bit surprised by my
"Why not?" she demands.
"Because no one ever plays perfectly. We are human,
especially when we are playing in a situation where
we will either be accepted or rejected because of one
performance. Our best hope is to stay as connected to
the music as much as possible, to improvise our way out
of any musical detours, and to leave the stage with our
head held high."
"I should expect a mess-up here and there?"
"Within reason, yes. We sing together every Sunday.
Has the choir ever sung perfectly?"
"But we do sing extremely well, wouldn't you say?"
"Definitely. We are a well-known choir!"
"What do we do if a few notes or rhythms start to go
"We keep going until we get back on track. We keep our
minds on the music and try to keep singing expressively."
"Exactly. The only mistake we could ever make would
be to stop-to give up."