Finding Beauty in Imperfection
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Finding Beauty in Imperfection

After twelve years of "perfect" piano lessons, I finally learned that it's okay to make mistakes.

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Finding Beauty in Imperfection
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One of my earliest memories is from when I was five years old, begging my parents to let me learn how to play the piano. The moment I started lessons, I fell in love with the feel of the keys against my fingers, the way playing felt like flying. At first, I attacked each piece with gusto, always excited to learn new songs. But as the years went by, I found that the passion I'd once had for the instrument began to wane. Practicing began to feel like work, and I resented the hours I spent at the piano, uselessly tinkering away at pieces I would learn the notes to but never play perfectly. I felt like I would never be as good as my teachers, my peers; every note felt too loud, too bold, wrong in every sense. I let playing slip. For years, I got through each piece 'satisfactorily'- learning the notes, being able to play them shakily, and then forgetting them as soon as I'd put the song to rest. The magic of the music seemed to be gone. I wanted to give up the piano, because I knew I could never play beautifully enough, gracefully enough, perfectly enough.

But then I discovered Clair de Lune.

Perhaps seeing my dwindling energy, my teacher allowed me to choose a song to learn myself instead of picking one for me. I did some research, looking for something outside the box of classical and baroque music that I was used to- and I stumbled upon the impressionist Debussy and his most well-known piece, Clair de Lune. I listened to it once, fell in love with the rolling arpeggios and chords that rang with color, and immediately went to the mall and bought myself the sheet music. It was going to be a challenge, but I wanted to be able to play this piece– this work of art, a painting made by the strokes of ivory and ebony keys– perfectly.

But despite my newfound vigor at the piano, perfection would once again be my downfall. When I practiced, the chords that were supposed to be light and air sounded like they had lead weights attached to them when played by my hand. The melodies didn't seem soft and sweet to my ear– because they weren't exactly like the ones I'd heard, I thought they sounded brazen and heavy and awkward.

I stopped practicing, angry with myself that I just couldn't do it 'right'. Parts that I had looked at with excitement a few weeks earlier suddenly became a challenge, and I lost the motivation to make it to the end. I could tell that my teacher was noticing a decrease in the quality of my playing as the song went on, but she didn't say anything. I felt burned out, believing that I would never be able to play the song properly and perfectly.

One day during my practice, I was so frustrated with a certain melody that I searched the song on Spotify to see how it should be properly played. This version was done by a different pianist than the one I'd originally found, but I figured that they were all the same. The beginning of the song was just as I had heard it before. But when it came to the second section, suddenly the pianist began to charge ahead, taking the descending chords faster than I'd ever heard them done before. He rolled his notes and danced through the arpeggios in a new and different way… and it surprised me. This couldn't be right. I clicked on another version, and another, and to my shock, every one of the pianists played the song with different styles, emotions, and tempos.

How could this be right? I wondered. If all of them were taking different approaches, how could you play it perfectly, exactly the way it was supposed to be done? Looking at the music, complete with Claude Debussy's original indications, it finally hit me. The composer had purposely left room for interpretation and freedom to feel yourself in the music. The directions were vague– things such as very expressively and slowing to the end. There weren't even pedal markings! It was up to each pianist to change the pedal however often he or she felt was appropriate.

Suddenly I realized: all this time spent on trying to achieve "perfection" had been wasted. In this piece, and in life, there is no such thing as 'perfect'. Everybody approaches things with a style that is unique, beautiful, and right in its own way. To do something 'perfectly'– such as playing the piano– the manner doesn't have to be correct. It just has to be yours. And I would never have learned that if it weren't for Clair de Lune.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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