Musicianship, in any form, requires a willingness to achieve perfection. Even an improv jazzist must keep this in mind when he is playing non-notated music to fit within a key and style of music (Thanks to Paul Felice for inspiring a lot of this). Anything less, and you are just kidding yourself. Am I saying it isn't ok to make mistakes? Hell no. But the purpose should be to use the mistakes and learn from them so that they don't happen repeatedly. Isn't that a daily life lesson, even outside of music?
Eight years ago, my short tone poem 'Cataclysm' which was scored for brass choir saw a performance by many talented University of Louisville music students and was conducted by my good friend Mark Kersting, who is a very talented musician by the way. It was the first performance of a personal composition I had ever experienced, and I enjoyed every moment of it. That being said, the performance was actually short of a disaster. Aside from missed notes galore, one player came in a measure early and half of the ensemble were following her cue notes. I don't think I need to tell you what happened next. Following the performance, I went straight to Mark and told him 'Not to worry, I actually liked the new version better and would consider having a call and response section that was created.' Now, let me be clear....it was clearly a 20th century piece and if you hadn't known what was written it would not have been obvious that something wasn't write because of the nature of the piece. However. it was NOT what I had written.
Ok, so let's be reasonable. Yes, it would have been unacceptable for me to thrash Mr. Kersting for a rough performance as he was doing me a favor and he has conducted and played some great music. And I will never be that kind of composer that is so conceited where if its not perfect it sucks. But I should have allowed myself to be concerned with the screw-up and I didn't. That's where I have changed over the years. The piece was clearly under rehearsed, and many of the musicians obviously had little to no appreciation to a fellow piece of music written by a colleague of theirs (is this an appropriate time to say "wait till I'm famous. That'll learn the bastards!"?). While Mr. Kersting put every amount of energy he had into conducting a great concert and I thank him for that, their attitudes in my opinion were nothing but unacceptable....especially as professional musicians. And in a way, it was kind of a slap in the face because had the piece been written by John Corigliano, Frank Ticheli, or even James Curnow you know it would have been a much better performance.
Anyway, it was 8 years ago so my anger towards it is non-existent. But it taught me a valuable lesson that if you want the best you have to expect the best and let people KNOW your expectations. Perhaps 8 years ago I didn't respect myself enough as a composer to have that kind of maturity in music, but now I've realized that it is MY music and should be performed how I want it....at least until after I die and can't do anything about it.