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  • Writer's pictureBrent Mead

Take a Step

I'm a person that is consumed with excellence. I love self-help and self-improvement books. I'm a fan of the NFL partly because I enjoy watching the sport, but I equally love hearing stories about people striving for excellence, getting better, and overcoming obstacles. I love the Olympics mostly to hear stories of people achieving their dreams. One reason why I love music is it's a field centered on continuous growth. Common refrains in music circles include "you can always get better" or "there's always room for growth." To a fault, I've absorbed this philosophy.

Composer Thomas Duffy wrote a piece for band to illustrate this pursuit of excellence titled, "A+: A "Precise" Prelude and An "Excellent" March." The opening prelude offers contrasting precise and imprecise ideas in the brass and woodwinds, respectively, that mimics a group warming up. After the prelude, there is a repeated march in which the composer instructs the performers to play 99% correctly in the second time through the repeat. Performers are instructed to miss two notes, which, according to Duffy's math, leads the band to play 99.6% correctly. 99% is considered excellent in most fields. Duffy's composition highlights the chase of perfection in music because this 99% correct performance is shocking.

Both my job as an educator and performer is to seek excellence. I meditate on this often: "What can I improve?" This comes out in everything I do. I love to cook & recently bought a smoker. It's been years since I've had access to a smoker but it's been so much fun to have a new cooking tool. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the food I cook better by reading articles, watching professional chefs, and spending time on YouTube listening to people talk about cooking. If my wife and I could eat more, I'd probably smoke pork butt, ribs, or brisket every few days because I can't wait to try and perfect this process. After every meal I cook, I ask my wife how she likes it and if there's anything she'd change about each dish. I'm a little obsessed with improvement & excellence.

So why does this matter? What's the point?

I think that our society is keen on pointing out mistakes, especially in others. We seem to have come to a point that mistakes are equal to failure, and I'll fight that movement forever. Lately, people have been policing each other on what we say, do, and how we act. We seem to feel this call to improve as a personal attack. I hope we can urge each other to bring less harm, love more, and be better while still viewing ourselves & others as people while everchanging ideas, beliefs, and emotions. What we have done in the past has less bearing on what our future looks like compared to how we perceive our mistakes & learn from our past. We all have shortcomings and will continue to have them. Of course, we hope to correct some but let's help each other remember that our shortcomings or mistakes don't define us nor do they dictate our future.

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