I do not believe striving for perfection is a trap, or something negative in any way. It is fully embedded and encouraged in our beliefs and in our craft. “Be ye therefore perfect…” (Matthew 5:48) is an admonition of Christ. Elder Holland helped us contextualize and contemporize that in his conference address “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually” (October 2017). This is the perfect advice for musicians at every level. But it takes time.
Pablo Casals, the great cellist, was asked by someone who found out he was still practicing several hours a day well into his 80’s, “Why are you still practicing? Surely after a lifetime of practicing and performing you already know all you need to know.” Casals answered, “Because I’m seeing some real progress.” That is how we should measure our daily, weekly, and semester-long success.
Every musician can set a daily goal to be just a little better—by a measurable and achievable amount. Don’t worry so much about what others are doing, or what you thought you should be doing by now. Rather, just nibble off that daily bite of achievable better-ness. Joseph Smith said he felt like a rough stone rolling, that little by little as he rolled along, the protruding pieces that were out of round were getting smoothed off and polished so that he was becoming a round, smooth ball. That perfectly describes how musicians should face their daily practice.
I strongly urge you all to read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, and Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. These will help you understand high-level success in a better way. But if you give up on pursuing excellence you will never achieve what you should or could, not just in music, but in life. No one ever became all they dream of by settling for whatever happens. Never settle, but for heaven’s sake, cut yourself some slack, and give yourself time, maybe even like Casals into your 80’s, to get there. -Kory Katseanas