Thursday, September 28, 2006

Good Enough Never Is

About ten years ago I was in the strange position of being able to invite Debbi Fields, the founder of Mrs. Field's Cookies, to the local university. It was when I worked at the university radio station, and during a time when there was a bit of fire damage, I was put in charge of organizing a fund raiser. Because the sister television station was airing a Mrs. Fields cooking show, hosted by Debbi herself, I thought it would be a great idea to have her talk at our fund-raising party, and serve desserts from her cookbook with dinner. Somehow it managed to work, and everything was a great success. We even duped Debbi Fields into thinking that we had a functional station, even though we all knew that it was a quagmire of dysfunction.

Her big motivational talk was about the idea of excellence, that "good enough never is." In walks of life and professions other than music, this is something of a revelation. In music the reality that "good enough never is" is something that practicing musicians face every day, with every note. It's not good enough to play well once--you have to be able to do it again, and you have to be able to do it on demand, not just when you feel like it. And no matter how well you play a piece, there are people who will play it better. No matter how much insight you have and how much structural knowledge you have, there are people who have more. Once you get beyond the age of 12 or so, there are always people who are younger than you, who can play as well as you can, or better. After a good concert, it's back to square one, back to getting the strength to play as well again. The response of an audience is short-lived, because the real excitement of music fades away as soon as the concert is over.

But then again, the idea that "good enough never is" keeps us fascinated with exploring the possibilities of nuance and bow changes, and it allows us to open our ears and try to hear more counterpoint, more voices, and more in the way of orchestration when we play in ensembles. It helps us to listen more closely to music that cannot be improved upon (like most of Bach's music, most of Mozart's music, most of Haydn's music, and most of Beethoven's music, to give a few examples) and learn to ride a stream of musical thought that goes far beyond just playing well or trying to write music that is meaningful.

I really got a kick out of meeting Debbi Fields. Now if she would just start making a line of vegan cookies, that would be really exciting. I'll be happy to let her know if they are good enough.

No comments: