Accentuate the Negative

On Sunday afternoon I made my solo debut with the South County Chorus as part of the Hinesburg Artist Series.  We performed Beethoven’s Mass in C Major, as well as assorted choral and solo pieces, and it was a huge success.  In the first half of the program I performed one of my go-to arias, “A te o cara,” to huge applause and a standing ovation.  The other soloists were excellent as well, and our blend in the Beethoven was amazing, especially considering that we had only been all together for one other day of rehearsal.  The place was almost full, and the audience was raving about everything after the show.  And yet…

I screwed up a couple of notes.  Really not a major thing.  I had one entrance in which the alto soloist sings a descending line starting on a C# and then I follow her, descending but starting from a D.  And I came in on the C# instead.  I don’t know why.  I had never missed that note before, and it was not a difficult entrance.  Within a half a measure I was back on track and singing the right stuff again, and it’s possible that nobody noticed except for me and possibly the conductor.  So why is that all I was thinking about for the rest of the night?

Perhaps it is just the plight of the musical artist to always be striving for perfection, even after the performance has come and gone.  Honestly, perfection is not attainable, and I know that, because people react differently to different interpretations of music, so perfection to one person is not the same as perfection to the guy in the next row.  But interpretation aside, it should be possible to at least sing all the right notes, right?

If a baseball player could hit the ball half of the time, he would be lauded and praised by everyone out there as one of the greatest of all time, and he would make millions.  If a singer could sing the right notes half the time, they would be at karaoke night with their other drunk friends.    A singer can’t even sing at 90% accuracy, or 95%.  We have to be on, 100% of the time.  And almost nobody ever really is.  Even the greatest singers of all time crack once in a while, or mess up a few words, or make a wrong entrance.  It happens.  The joy of live performance.  But it doesn’t change the expectation that we should be 100% correct all the time.

So is it just in our singer DNA to focus on what went wrong, rather than reveling in the glory of our triumphs?  I was 99% awesome on Sunday, but even today I am kicking myself for that one entrance.  Is this just a necessary thing so that I can continue to improve?  If I didn’t have the extreme drive to be perfect, would I ever get any better?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am just obsessing over something stupid for no reason.  But even if that’s true, I hope it makes me better anyway.

Posted in Singing.


  1. I was also 98% awesome at our band’s performance on Sunday afternoon, but I couldn’t stop apologizing for the 2% I felt like I f-ed up that I felt like ruined our whole performance.

    I am overly hard on myself over my music, and maybe that’s not a bad thing, as we all strive to be the best… But it’s definitely something that every singer must go through… Right? 😉

  2. YES It is part of our DNA. Like everything we do -drinking water for example we occasionally miss our mouth. I sang the national anthem at UVM hockey for 35 years and messed up twice and I still remember both times like it was yesterday.But I’m comfortable that the other 500 plus renditions were really good. I continue to force myself to acknowledge the mistakes in concerts (I call them Gremlins) BUT really work to not obsess on them and focus on the performance and the big picture. Having just finished listening to the CD I can insist that you (as the song says) “accentuate the positive 99% and ELIMINATE the negative” 1%. The blend, balance between the solo quartet, chorus & orch is outstanding, OUTSTANDING, OUTSTANDING.!!!!! at the gathering after the concert there were lots of true confessions about personal mistakes But in the context of the concert inconsequential. So glad to have met you and worked with you. RUFUS

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