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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What You and I Can Learn from Classical Music's Hottest Act

The hottest, hippest act in Classical Music today, the group that has folks literally dancing in the aisles is a group of Steinway piano playing siblings from Utah, The 5 Browns. Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan not only play together professionally right now, they have the distinction of being the only family to attend Julliard simultaneously. Last weekend visited my husband's store (Steinway Piano Gallery of St. Louis), played a mini-concert, and then on Saturday gave a concert at Powell Hall. Above is a photo of them at Ted Drewes Custard because NO trip to St. Louis is complete without going to Ted Drewes. (And yes, that is Ted Drewes, not Nancy Drew's.)

How exciting are these kids? Well, an estimated one-third of their audience at any given concert has seldom if ever attended a classical music concert, and another one-third is college-age or younger.

In short, they are a phenomena. And anytime in life you get to observe ONE superstar--much less five of them at once--I think you should take notes. So here's what I learned, and do me a favor, don't dismiss this stuff as self-evident. The road to success is littered with waylaid travelers who confused self-evident with REALLY important.

The 5 Browns' Rules for Success (as observed by Joanna Campbell Slan, close up and personal):

1. Live with enthusiasm. Imbue all you do with energy. These five are thrilled about being able to do what they love for a living--and they'll gladly tell you so. Are you happy? Do you show it? All of us authors are living the dream. So we need to stop moaning and act like it!

2. Show interest in other people. Ever notice how some authors talk only about themselves and their books? Hmm? These five sensations were on a book signing tour, yet they peppered me with questions about my work. Earlier this year I sat between two men at dinner during a writers conference. They went on and on about their books, and never once asked me about mine. (Note to the man who sat on my right at that fateful repast: Sir, the acquisition of an English accent does NOT entitle a person to wantonly disregard commonly recognized table manners. Either your mother was raised in a barn--as you obviously were--or she's rolling around in her grave in shame!) Making other people feel important is not only good manners, it's also very smart business.

3. Make your work accessible. The Browns introduced each piece they played with a bit about the composer and how that particular composition influenced what we hear today. If you're an author, why not tell your readers about YOUR influences, be they other authors or popular culture? Spread a little credit around and educate your audiences. Let them feel like they just got "the inside scoop." That's why we read gossip magazines, right?

4. Talk to the small fry. Desirae, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Ryan purposefully stopped to take questions, both at our store and at Powell, taking care to call on the kids who raised their hands. When one little girl pipped, "Were you ever in your school's talent contest?" All five burst out laughing in remembrance as they assured her that indeed they had!

5. Dress up, but don't be overdressed. The Browns wear cocktail attire the first half of their performance and casual wear the second. "We want to seem approachable," said Desirae. And they do. We've never had a performer wear Converse high-tops in our store before. Trust me, Gregory's footwear spoke volumes to the kids who came to see the Browns. It said, "Yep, you can be YOU and still make music." They were nicely groomed, trendy without being crass, and flat out adorable.

6. Sign anything for anyone. From the stage, the Browns offered to sign "any stuff you have." I've seen authors who'll only sign books purchased that day at that event. Is that you? How do you suppose that makes you look? What does it say about you? When that person goes home and talks about you, what will she say? (If you can't answer that affirmatively, better check a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People out of the library.)

7. Tell people you WANT to come back. It's flattering to THEM, and it lodges a little reminder in their brains: Must have these folks back. When? Hmm. Be sure to tell the bookseller or conference director you'd like to return.

8. Laugh. Be joyous. Gregory ( the oldest brother) introduced Prokofiev's Toccata, op. 11 which he described as sounding like the chase scene from The French Connection. As if on cue, a siren blared in the distance. He got the giggles as did most of the 2400 audience members in Powell Hall. Stage performers know the importance of "jumping the footlights," bridging that gap between those on stage and those in the seats. It's an intimacy all audiences crave. How can YOU jump the footlights and get emotionally close to your readers?

9. Give 'em your phone number. And then be response. We've already heard from Greg, telling us how much fun they had and asking for copies of photos we took. He gave us his email, but we also have all their phone numbers.

Look, I don't know if I'll ever get to be on Martha Stewart's show or Jay Leno's or even watch Zac Posen's fashion show, much less be an important personage there. All of which The 5 Browns have done. Yet to hear them talk about it, they are still marveling at their good fortune. And that's exactly the way I want to act. I want to give my best, to love what I do, and keep marveling at my good fortune. I have the feeling it's the secret to success. From the other side of the pianos, it sure looks it.

10. Put energy in all you do. Here, enjoy this--
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