Seeds of ideas and Liszt twists

I was in England three months ago.

The farm where I had been staying looked like this:

I was there last week and this is what has grown in the intervening time:

It is the first time the farm has grown corn in five years. It is vibrant.

Without pushing a metaphor too far, the success of the planting had me thinking about changes coaches make to their pre-season and within season plans.

A conversation about Franz Liszt on Classic FM focused my thoughts about innovation and variation.

The theme of the discussion was ‘how do you transform convention?’.


  • Intensified and extended his practice sessions (“a conscious rebuilding
    of an already impressive facility” 1828-1832)
  • Appeared alone on stage in solo recitals
  • Was the first to position the piano at right angles to the stage so the audience could see him in profile
  • Opened the lid of the piano to project sound
  • Was the first to enter from the wings onto the stage
  • Performed from memory
  • Played the entire keyboard repertory including his own music

The changes to his concert performances, according to Heinrich Heine, brought about ‘Lisztomania’ (which was the subject of a Ken Russell film in 1975). One contemporary observer noted that his playing style (and that of Chopin) was “distinguished by the invention of new passages and difficulties, and consequently the introduction of new effects”.

Alan Davison’s (2001) PhD thesis provides a comprehensive account of Franz’s pianism. He notes:

Like no other musician before him, except perhaps Beethoven, Liszt was the subject of a staggering number of images from the time he was a child prodigy [ … ] to his death [ … ] The images employed all major visual media of the nineteenth century: photography, oil painting, oil miniature, pastel, drawing [ … ] watercolour, silhouette, wood engraving, steel plate engraving, lithography, sculpture, relief [ … ] and caricature. (2001:4)

Alan provides a counter to what he regards as the mythology about Liszt as a pianist. He notes “Liszt left no comprehensive account of his technical approach to piano playing in his own words” (2001:233). One of his pupils, Amy Fay, wrote of his technique:

Liszt has an inconceivable lightness, swiftness and smoothness of execution [ … ] when he was playing scales or passages, his fingers seemed to lie across the keys in a slanting sort of way, and to execute these rapid passages almost without any perceptible motion. (2001:241)

Alan concludes with the assessment:

Liszt’s genius, however, remains undiminished within a revised model of the history of nineteenth-century pianism in which the development of a lasting and comprehensive physical approach to technique, including arm-weight, is credited to later pianists. Apart from his playing and teaching, one of Liszt’s greatest contributions to the piano lies in the fact that he “was the first composer in history to understand fully the musical significance—dramatic and emotional as well as aural—of new techniques of execution.” Liszt’s achievements seem all the more astonishing when placed in their proper context. (2001:245)

Which brings me back to thinking about the energy in seeds of ideas and individual adaptation. For me, it is an attempt to extend my understanding of performance and how we might account for transformation of conventional wisdom.

This will lead me I believe, through another Classic FM prompt, to contemplate John Barry’s ‘beyondness’.


Share, Exchange, (Re)Create

One of my colleagues at the University of Canberra, Peter Copeman, has introduced me to the concept of Ganma from the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land.


describes a situation in which a river of water from the sea (western knowledge) and a river of water from the land (Aboriginal knowledge) mutually engulf each other upon flowing into a common lagoon and becoming one. (Timothy Pyrch & Maria Castillo, 2001:380)

As the waters mix, “foam is created at the surface so that lines of foam mark the process of Ganma … the foam represents a new kind of knowledge”. In this sense of the word, “Ganma is a place where knowledge is (re)created”. (Timothy Pyrch & Maria Castillo, 2001:380)

Dr Marika, a Yolngu leader has observed:

Water like knowledge has memory. When two different waters meet to create Ganma, they diffuse into each other, but they do not forget who they are or where they come from.

In October, I am participating in a Knowledge Exchange conference in Dublin (HPX 2017). To my delight Waterville is to the south west of the conference venue … and the National Acquatic Centre is not far away. The hosts, the Institute of Sport, have since 2013 sought to:

to create and stage compelling knowledge exchange events in order to create a debate on current concepts of world class practice while building relationships in order to enhance multi-disciplinary teamwork in the field.

Conference presenters in 2017 are coming from all over the world to exchange and share.

Two posts this week have connected Arnhem Land and Dublin for me.

The first is by Leigh Blackall. He discussed a decision to install a new content management system (CMS) in his university. His post starts with this observation:

the process for selecting that new CMS was appalling, and the process for implementing it has been just as disappointing. Through the now typical pseudo-consultation events of cafe-style workshops where people with varying levels of ability and experience gather around butchers’ paper, getting a “facilitated” 5 minutes in a noisy room to try to channel through a scribe any competing idea into coherent hand written sentences, that are then randomly selected to create single keywords to stick on a wall, all in some strange gesture toward crowd sourced, sticky-note wisdom.

He concludes with this summary:

What I’ve witnessed in the new CMS is a massive refocusing on a single point, at the expense of all other concerns to do with teaching and learning. Many new people have been employed centrally, overwhelmingly configured to develop that managerial dashboard. This redistribution of resources ultimately comes at the expense of teachers badly in need of employment certainty and more agency in what they do – the time to understand what they’re doing.

All of which brought me to reflect on how organisations can be like water with a sensitivity to difference and an understanding of what can be co- and re-created.

The second post was titled The New Class of Digital Leaders. In it Pierre Peladeau, Mathias Herzog, and Olaf Acker discuss how organisations are addressing digital transformation. They point out:

When it comes to implementing a digital strategy, the new class of chief digital officers (CDOs) often encounter several key obstacles upon assuming their role: ad hoc digital initiatives spread throughout a large organization, lacking central oversight; a traditional culture that resists change; a gap in the talent required; and legacy systems and structures that threaten to derail their ambitions.

The Ganma concept has a great deal to offer these organisations as an epistemological foundation for engaging with the meeting of different experiences. It provides a fascinating opportunity for an ecological balance in leading and following in organisations that can aspire to share, exchange and re-create.

Photo Credits

Rock painting Near 7 Spears (C Steele, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Desmond, Arnhem Land (Rusty Stewart, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Paying Forward


Last week, I wrote about Brendan Farrell.

His idea of “paying a bit forward” struck a powerful chord with me.

The hay convoy he organised and others supported went to a part of Australia that has experienced eleven years of drought in the last fourteen years.

Bourke has experienced a lot of drought.

Many years ago, when I lived in North Wales, I became very aware of the stress hill farmers experienced at a time of low (or no) market value for their sheep. There was great concern for their welfare but limited structural opportunities to make the situation better.

I think paying forward is the way we support people in these circumstances.

When I wrote my post about Brendan, I did not know that Catherine Ryan Hyde had written the novel Pay It Forward. Or that the book had become a film in 2000 (with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt). There is a Pay It Forward Movement too.

A 2012 report from Catalyst, High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward indicates some of the long term impact of kindness. The report notes that ‘high-potentials who are paying it forward today recognize that others once took a risk on them and gave them their chance—and now it’s their turn’.

The goals of the Pay It Forward movement are:

  • To encourage all of us to embrace the incredible power of giving.
  • To show each other that we care and that there is love, hope and magic all around us.
  • To know that we may be only one person in this world, but to one person, at one time, we are the world.

Photo Credit

Bourke Sunset (Tim J Keegan, CC BY-SA 2.0)