A fantastic bit of programming on MN Public Radio are the broadcasts of live opera performances aired on Sunday afternoons. Unfortunately, it is not often that I find myself in a place listening to the radio on a Sunday afternoon. This past Sunday, however, I found myself driving down Highway 55 listening to a beautiful opera. Which opera was it? I do not know. Who was the singer? I can not remember. Composer? Not a clue. What I do remember occurred about ten minutes into my drive; the sound of a cough echoing over the quiet song. I smiled. Not because it was funny, but because I could picture in my head a middle aged man sitting about 10 rows back, trying to hold in a cough and in a moment of weakens, allowing the disturbance to fly out. Why was I so taken by this imperfection in the recording? It has taken a few days, but I believe I have come to a semi-satisfactory explanation. I believe it was in the imperfection that I found a deep connection listening to the music, not in the perfect pitch of the singers.
This realization brought back a similar memory from my childhood. In seventh grade a friend copied for me a recording of the musical Les Miserables. As an adult, I remember one bit of the recording so vividly, as if I am listening to it now. The tape was made from a CD of a live performance of the original cast. During one of the songs sung by the young Cosette, there is a loud crash, as if a large 2x4 fell from the rafters onto the stage. The young singer wavered, but only for a moment then continued singing. Moments later, a member of the audience coughs a few times and is silenced by what I can only assume would be a cough drop. After nearly 13 years, these mistakes are the sounds I remember most clearly.
What is it about these mishaps that creates the lasting memories? For that split second when the error occurs, I felt the recording had new life. It was not a radio station number, or a bit of plastic tape but a three dimensional being with. In music, we all strive towards perfection. Few of us ever reach virtuoso status. But when we hear something slightly off, I feel that it makes the performance more human, establishes a bond between the music and the listener, more accurately reflecting life with all its imperfections. These disturbances in the musical world are what I will now be looking for a little more closely. Not to point out errors and assert my own superiority, but to find the human element in the live performance.
In closing I challance you to listen for the sneeze, watch for the wrong bowing and find the perfection in the imperfect.