Mistakes (Will) Happen

The memory slip and flubbing of notes is common in music performance. When it does take place, we put the blame on ourselves. You were only practicing it perfectly the morning of. How could you have blanked? It must have been because you did not visualize the structure of the piece enough. There had to be some detail in preparation that you underestimated.

But what if we could not prepare for these moments, even if we had everything under control? What if a part of performance was randomness and that we were applying unwarranted guilt all along?

In Black Swan, Nassim Taleb makes this point in particular. He notes that “[i]f you work in a randomness-laden profession, as we see, you are likely to suffer burnout effects from the constant second-guessing of your past actions in terms of what played out subsequently”. Take a musical performance where a mistake occurs which had not shown itself in practice or previous play-throughs. Constant second-guessing is, as mentioned, a dime a dozen.

What Taleb finds as a way to combat this crippling worry is to make accidents seem inevitable: “A more appropriate solution is to make the event appear more unavoidable. Hey, it was bound to take place and it seems futile to agonize over it”.

The profundity here lies in what is to be accepted beforehand: that the act of musical performance is a “randomness-laden profession”. One can prepare only so much and once on the stage anything could happen, especially something contrary to what you did beforehand.

I think we tell ourselves this but our minds find it hard to take in. It seems like a cop out to putting in the necessary work so that a flub would never happen again. And when a slip occurs once again? Back to the shed and it continues ad infinitum.

Could this be the vicious cycle that leads to breakdowns and burnouts?


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