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Toothpick baton

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Anyone every conducted with a "toothpick"?

I noticed this exhibition on a video of the Georg Solti 100th Anniversary Concert

with conductor Valery Gergiev.

Did he come straight from the dining table to the podium?

 

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Why not a sewing needle?  The guy's showing weakness that he has to upgrade to a toothpick!  What's this musical world coming to?   :)

 

Or a freshly picked nose hair, since that way the conductor would never worry about forgetting or losing his baton.  After all, toothpicks and pins get embedded in the smallest crevices and are lost until we are scrambling for change at the bus stop.  THEN we find them.

 

And what a challenge for the world famous Mormon Tabernacle, from Wikipedia:

 

It is the last sentence that is of importance:

 

Acoustics[edit]

Built at a time before electronics and audio amplifiers, the Tabernacle was constructed with remarkable acousticqualities(http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMF1X2_Salt_Lake_Tabernacle_Salt_Lake_City_Utah) so the entire congregation could hear sermons given there. The roof was constructed in a three-dimensional ellipse with the pulpit at one focus of the ellipse. The elliptical concept came from church president Brigham Young, who reportedly said that the design was inspired by "the best sounding board in the world ... the roof of my mouth."[13] The elliptical design causes a large portion of the sound from the pulpit end of the building to be concentrated and projected to the focus at the opposite end of the building. Furthermore, the roof rests on sandstone piers around the outside, without any interior supports that would impede the sound waves.

Several years after the initial construction was completed, Truman O. Angell was brought in to further improve the building's acoustics, and was responsible for adding the gallery (balcony) in 1870 that resolved the outstanding acoustical issues. The building has an international reputation as one of the most acoustically perfect buildings in the world; it is common for LDS missionary tour guides to demonstrate the acoustic properties of the Tabernacle by dropping a pin on the pulpit or tearing a newspaper there, which can be heard throughout the building.[14]

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Please let’s not forget that the word is about the great maestro who is one of the leading living conductors  – no matter whether he conducts with a baton, a toothpick, or just by waggling his fingers.

 

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Well, IMO, it IS curious if he does it regularly.  After all. the idea of a baton, I thought, was to be seen better.  If it can't be seen why bother. Plenty of conductors conduct without.  I don't remember if Gergiev used a regular baton or conducted without one, in the past.

 

My first impression is that he'd be doing it to make some point, be funny, or draw attention to himself.  Given that he may be a great conductor, it wouldn't make any difference what he did. If he really thinks he gets a better or different result with a toothpick, I'd say he's either incredibly sensitive to varying results, or he's fooling himself.  Either way, the result is probably about the same to the listener.

 

But there is the matter of the audience, too, isn't there?

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"It is a conductor's duty to cross the line, to take risks. Our duty is to the public, not the critics. If you want to please the critics, then you shouldn't conduct at all."

Valery Gergiev

 

Ed Vulliamy, writer for the Guardian and Observer in his article on the occasion of LSO season opening 2009 at London’s Barbican, wrote:

“So many batons have flown from Gergiev's hand into audiences and orchestras over the years that he now conducts with a toothpick, or with an inimitable flutter of the fingers.”

Truth or not, fluttering fingers and toothpick baton became Gergiev’s trademark – of course together with his Russian repertoire.

Some like it and some not so much… :) 

 

BTW, there is one author who in his creative thinking training courses even uses an example of Gergiev’s toothpick as a method for solving problems and increasing concentration and creativity. http://www.tallistraining.co.uk/gergiev's_toothpick.htm 

I’m going to work on that in the future.  :D 

 

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Let's say that he is a danger with a baton because it flies out of his hands; particularly if it happens often.  Yes, I have seen this and it is indeed frightening to see a baton heading your way.   A good reason not to use one?  Certainly.  In fact, OSHA might even insist on a safety strap.

 

If so, however, I find it interesting that he feels the need to have something—ANYTHING—in his hand.  Because, at least in my opinion, the difference to an orchestral player whether there is a toothpick or nothing is negligible.

 

If that's his idea of taking chances, I'd think him silly.  I admire him if he's willing to take musical chances.  And he's right, in the long run, that the duty is to the audience more than the critics, though it sounds cliched.  

 

BTW, do we know if he always uses a toothpick? 

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Seriously though...my conducting has been restricted to flapping in a classroom and organizing a group of 11 year old boys at a Christmas concert one year (long time ago)...and I have only ever used my hands...

 

But...maybe holding a baton isn't comfortable for him (carpal tunnel?) and he doesn't like his fingers waggling?  Maybe this is a compromise for him? 

 

Someone (not me) could always e-mail him and ask...

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In almost every topic on MN, I come to the conclusion that the old saw I learned it Sociology 101 is useful:  Institutions only last as long as they are useful.  Or, they last until something better comes along.  

 

The baton has been around a long time, and most conductors use them.  So there must be some merit.  I only remember a couple of conductors of note who didn't use one.  Stowkowski and, of lesser note, Izler Solomon.  I'm sure there must have been others.

 

I played under Solomon, and his conducting was adequate.  But he had an interesting habit that when he really got going both arms would arc wildly, in unison, and at the bottom of the beat his hands would be about a foot behind his back.  No kidding, an arc from eye-level in front around to a foot behind the back!  I believe people had pointed out to him that the bottom of his beat was actually behind his back.  The beat, if we assume it is of any importance at all should be at least above the music stand. And you think he would have realized what he was doing when this happened:  One time he came down so hard on the edge of his music stand that had to stop conducting.  He stood there in horrible pain for quite a while.

 

It's just a thought, but one thing about a baton is it makes the two hands very different, so that the other hand takes on a different role and becomes more important than it would be otherwise.  The hand with the baton sort of a taskmaster and the left more coaxing and supportive.

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Back in the seventies, Gergiev was an assistant at the Kirov Opera under Yuri Temirkanov, another very fine conductor who does not use a baton. I do not know if Gergiev adopted Temirkanov's style, or if it's a Russian thing. Choral conductors often don't use a stick, so I am wondering if this might be a compromise Gergiev developed for opera: orchestra (precise beat) and singers on stage (broad beat). Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Philadelphia Orchestra) sometimes conducts with baton, sometimes without--and he was principally trained in choral conducting.

 

I read this interesting take on Gergiev's toothpick:

 

The rumour is that Gergiev started using a toothpick to conduct because his movements whilst conducting were so violent that he was in the habit of losing his grip on the baton and it would go flying into the audience or the orchestra. Whatever the initial reason, however, use of his trademark toothpick has since paid great dividends in terms of his ability to get the best out of his orchestras.

 

Why is this? By making his musicians concentrate upon such a small item perhaps he is helping them sharpen their perception and thoroughly explore 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.

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It's just a thought, but one thing about a baton is it makes the two hands very different, so that the other hand takes on a different role and becomes more important than it would be otherwise.  The hand with the baton sort of a taskmaster and the left more coaxing and supportive.

 

 

karajan-o.gif

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That's classic!  Thanks Romberg

 

I wonder what it meant.  If it had been in the "Our Gang" comedies, it would have meant: "A little more spiccato in the cadenza, if you please."    :)  (See if anyone remembers that!  I think I'm the only one.) 

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...  But he had an interesting habit that when he really got going both arms would arc wildly, in unison, and at the bottom of the beat his hands would be about a foot behind his back.    

 

 

You mean like this?  :D

 

bernstein5.gif

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BTW, if anyone has a clue how to find it, there was an episode of the Our Gang series where (I'm pretty sure it was) Spanky who is upstairs begrudgingly practicing his violin, but he wants to go outside and play.  (That was a cliche which lasted well into my days as a student.  But today, of course, kids don't go out to play, sadly.  The streets and yards are empty even in the glorious summer.)

 

Well, Spanky goes and gets a record and puts it on a Victrola.  It begins to play the Mendelssohn.  Then the camera shows the mother downstairs listening, smiling that it sounds so lovely. Meanwhile, Spanky climbs out the window.

 

Then the mother is shown again.  And as the recording of Heifetz (or some obviously great violinist) wafts down to her, she frowns a little. And she yells up, "A little more spiccato on the cadenza, Dear."    

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Well...I tried to search for a YouTube clip...but I couldn't manage to narrow it down enough...

 

Sounds adorable though!

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