Imperfections, mistakes, & the courage to overcome them
January 09, 2015
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.
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 Billboard.com 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."
This is something I said in an interview a few months ago. pic.twitter.com/J63wLZJHnp— Idina Menzel (@idinamenzel) January 2, 2015
What a great example. When thinking about overcoming failure and "letting it go", I tend to think of this Michael Jordan quote: "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." But now I think I'm often going to come back to this one from Idina Menzel. Especially when talking about public speaking or performing. Thanks for the great article!
Posted by: David Folkerson | January 09, 2015 at 09:48 PM
I'm not sure that it is the courage to overcome your shortcomings. I think it is the ability to accept your shortcomings. Especially for a perfectionist. I am going to fall short sometimes. Am I able to accept that? Will I continue to move forward?
Posted by: Rondina Muncy | January 11, 2015 at 02:51 AM
Ummmm....whilst I appreciate the sentiment in Menzel's post, her math is somewhat off. A 2.5 hour musical is 9000 seconds long. If SHE were singing all 3 million notes, then she would be singing about 333 notes per second!!!!
If you add all the notes being played by the orchestra and all the cast, then I suspect you're getting close to the 3 million notes, but a single person, even a lead, is probably only singing a few thousand notes within a 2.5 hour musical.
Posted by: Adrian Burd | May 07, 2015 at 06:26 AM