a small rant about “better”

As a classically trained cellist, I’ve spent over a decade of my life performing for peers and teachers with the aim of receiving feedback. In college, we call this time “studio class.” It is actually an amazing model of what we should strive for in artistic communities: everyone brings in a piece of work and everyone offers feedback on the work. Give and take.

However as we do this work, I think we should continually strive to refine our language just as we refine our work. As musicians, we often bring in the same piece week after week in preparation for a performance, and one piece of feedback that I wish that we would leave behind: it’s better.


What is better? What does “better” mean? Better indicates a hierarchy of sounds, and a hierarchy of ideas. Is there actually such a thing? How we receive sound depends on our day, our own personal experience, the performer’s day, their experience, their energy level… so to say that today’s performance is “better” than last week’s seems bizarre.

Maybe what we mean is that today’s performance more closely represented the performance I (the listener) wanted to hear. It represented what we had in our heads (whether that be the inflection, or the intonation, or the notes). Today it matched more closely with what we wanted, BUT does that make it better?