There is a popular quote from Beethoven that goes,
“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”
I certainly agree that passion must be an an integral part of great music-making. However, I think there’s something even more important. Here’s what I would say:
To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without focus is inexcusable.
If passionate music-making is a part of our rehearsal, then it will necessarily show up in our performances. However, the greatest obstacle to successful performance is a lack of consistent focus. Just a couple of unfocused singers in an ensemble can lead to the train wrecks, little or big, that undermine truly excellent music.
Ours is a distracted age; if we don’t practice focus, we can’t expect it in performance. Focus is a mental muscle we must exercise and build in order to use it consistently in performance.
Beethoven is right about passion, of course. But if our ensemble lacks focus, all the passion in the world won’t prevent them from making the silly mistakes that render the passion moot.
In the end, as I try to remind my students, the hardest part of a choral performance isn’t physical – it’s mental.