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January 2015

Imperfections, mistakes, & the courage to overcome them

The power of a live performance is not in the perfection of the mechanics but rather in the sincerity, authenticity, and quality of the contribution in the moment. This is not to suggest that one does not need great content — or in the case of a musical performance, great talent — but intangibles are important too. With a live performance, just as in a live talk, imperfections will show themselves. But it's our imperfections that make us human, and it's one's humanity that connects with and engages an audience. When there is a genuine connection and honest, engagement with the audience, little imperfections are not noticed, or they at least do not get in the way of the message. A live musical performance can never be as perfect or as polished as the recording, but often the live performance is even better in spite of (or even because of) the minor imperfections.

Idina Menzel singing "Let it Go" live in Times Square on New Year's Eve

Just keep moving forward
You may have heard by now that the Tony Award-winning singer and actress Idina Menzel sang "Let it Go" live in New York City's Times Square on New Year's eve. Menzel was a bit pitching on this frigid night, but I thought her live performance was fine, though there is no denying that the last note, the climax to the song, was off. It was obvious to anyone watching live on TV, though from the amateur video I saw posted to YouTube, it's not obvious that the crowd really noticed or cared. Billboard writer Michele Amabile Angermiller reported for that "She [Menzel] may not have hit the big note, but she hit all the emotional ones. Young kids in the audience were all so joyful singing along with her."

In the days before social media, people who witness such a thing may have just shrugged their shoulders and forgot bout it. It's hardly news. Professional singers sometimes miss notes, just as professional football players sometimes drop easy passes. But this is 2015, so of course the twitterverse erupted in condemnation (and support) for the Broadway star who botched the final note of one of the year's most familiar songs. People can be cruel. But that is not the point of this story. The lesson here is in Menzel's response. Rather than get defensive, she just let it go (sorry) and pointed followers via a tweet (see original tweet below) to something she said in a recent interview months before the New Year's Eve show which sums up how she feels about perfectionism, mistakes, and moving forward. Her message is spot on and is applicable to just about anyone, certainly to performers or anyone else who has to present themselves in front of an audience. (Emphasis in the text is mine.)

"There are about 
3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time 
to realize that if I'm hitting 75 percent of them, 
I'm succeeding. Performing isn't only about
 the acrobatics and the high notes: It's staying in the moment, connecting with the audience 
in an authentic way, and making yourself 
real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that's how I try to approach my life. You can't get it all right all the time, but 
you can try your best. If you've done that, all 
that's left is to accept your shortcomings and have 
the courage to try to overcome them."