Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Gergiev's toothpick

The Russian conductor Valery Gergiev sometimes conducts with a toothpick. The sight of him conducting dramatic large-scale works with this small, common-place item is extremely incongruous.

On watching him conduct, sharp toothpick in hand, a couple of seasoned professional musicians were heard to comment, ‘you better pay attention!’ Others he has conducted have noticed his ‘in the moment’ eye contact and facial expressions and how the slightest flutter of his fingers can be of incredible significance. Critics write about the detailed and brilliant sound he can coax out of an orchestra armed only with a toothpick. He certainly has everyone’s attention!

The rumour is that Gergiev started using a toothpick to conduct because his movements whilst conducting were so violent that he frequently lost his grip on the baton and it would go flying into the audience or the orchestra. Whatever the initial reason, the use of his trademark toothpick has since paid great dividends, enabling him to achieve outstanding performances with his orchestras.

Why is this?

By making his musicians concentrate upon the movement of such a small item he is sharpening perceptions and encouraging the thorough exploration of those moment-to-moment details that if tugged at and brought into clearer view will make the difference between a good performance and a truly great one.

The next time you have a gritty problem that refuses to budge take a perceptual toothpick to it. Sharpen your awareness of its details and explore them minutely. Define those small actions that will most effectively enable you to access the roots of the problem and tease out the best ways to resolve it.

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