When Mistakes Make Memories

On November 19, 2013, in Advice, News, by Magnolia Guitar

Army Sgt. Keith Clark was assigned to sound taps on the bugle at the funeral of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963. He was the best of the best and worked well under pressure. He had, in fact, performed taps flawlessly for President Kennedy just two weeks before and was most likely to be called upon for the funeral.

The funeral was the conclusion of days of television coverage. Sgt. Clark had been waiting in the cold for his moment. When all was silent, he began.

Just six notes in he missed a note. Upon reflection, many people felt it sounded like a sob and it’s stark realism of the moment reflected the emotions of an entire country. But to Clark, it was mistake.

America, however, was sympathetic. “Anybody is bound to make a tiny mistake in front of millions upon millions of people,” wrote 9-year-old Ohio boy named Eddie Hunter to the Army Sargeant.

Upon Clark’s passing in 2002, one of his daughters commented that had he nailed taps that day, he might have been utterly forgotten to history.

It’s often these “mistakes” that make the lasting memories. They remind us we’re human. They unite us together in a shared moment that can never be recreated.

Singer-songwriter René Moffatt, whom I got this original story from, said “In music we always say that the heart you put into your performance overrides any technical proficiency. The ‘missed note’ on taps makes an already emotional song even more so.”

It’s for this reason that I don’t even try to strive for perfection, whatever that means. I don’t hope for perfection from my students. All we can hope for–dream for–is a sincere performance that will touch people in an emotional way. And when that’s your goal, of course you’re going to work hard to achieve it. But you’re also going to make a ‘tiny mistake’ now and again in front of a million people or just one person. And you’ll feel good about it not because it’s perfect, but because it’s real.

Read more in Michael E. Ruane’s Washington Post article here.

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