How do you become a world class performer?
Learn from the best.
Last night my wife Sheilia and I went to Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre to see Harry Connick, Jr. perform. We went with excitement and the expectation of watching one of our favorite musical artists share his talents. We drove home truly energized. Not only were we entertained, but also informed and inspired to take on greater challenges. While watching the performance, I learned unexpected, valuable lessons that apply to my work and my life. And, I know without question, these lessons will help you, too.
Setting the Stage
The “Fabulous Fox” is our favorite place to see a show. The theatre is, itself, a work of art. The architecture (inside and out) reflects Egyptian and Moorish influences and incorporates amazing design and the execution of countless details that whisk you away to another time and place. The curved ceiling inside the theater looks like a clear sky at twilight, glowing an iridescent blue and accented with twinkling stars.
As you sit, waiting for the curtain to rise, you feel is as if the show has already begun.
The first notes were heartfelt cries from the trumpet section, followed by a drum solo that delivered impossible complexity without any visible effort. The stand up bass came next, followed by the other players of this eleven-piece ensemble. By the time Harry Connick, Jr. walked on stage, a full ten minutes had passed. And he had already delivered the first lesson of the evening.
Lesson 1: Surround yourself with great people.
Harry is a magnificent vocalist and piano player, and he could have delivered an entire show that showcased his abilities. Instead, he brought with him a host of players that were as good or better with their instruments than he is with his. These were absolutely the best players he could possibly find, in his words, “the best in the business.” What was also apparent, though, was that they are all good friends, sharing a mutual respect and joy for what they do.
How about you? Do you surround yourself with people who push you to become better? Do you attract talent and give them the credit (and the stage), even before you make your appearance?
Lesson 2: Stay humble, and keep your sense of humor.
I didn’t know until last night just how down to earth and personable Harry is. You get the sensethat celebrity and stardom have not changed him a bit. He spoke from his heart and expressed just how thankful and honored he is to be able to play his show, with such masterful musicians, at such a beautiful place, for this audience. And he meant it. He enjoyed himself from start to finish, improvising with the crowd and his band, moving and playing without restrictions, and laughing at himself along the way.
Are you having fun right now? Are you staying humble, even as you are rewarded by accomplishments and recognition?
Lesson 3: Remember your roots.
The show and album is called “Nola,” which is an abbreviation for “New Orleans, LA.” This production is Harry’s tribute to the music and history of his home town. It is also the story of how he learned his craft by frequenting jazz clubs throughout the French Quarter and around the city. He learned music from legendary players, many of whom are no longer living. Nola is also the story of how his beloved city, crippled by Hurricane Katrina, continues to rebuild and reclaim its greatness. Above all, he expressed (on multiple occasions) his thankfulness to us for our prayers, support, and donations to the city’s recovery effort.
Who do you need to thank today?
Lesson 4: Stay true to the basics of what got you there.
As Harry performed, I could tell that he was still doing what he loved to do. His focus was on playing his piano and singing from his very soul. He brought the same joy and intention to his music that, I’m certain, he had as a boy when first learning to play. Nothing was contrived or manufactured, and he didn’t try to be anything he wasn’t.
What are your foundational talents? What do you do better than anyone else? Are you doing it now?
Lesson 5: Constantly innovate and reinvent your performance.
Part of me really wanted to hear the hits – fantastic songs from previous albums. He played none of those. This show was a completely new undertaking from start to finish. It stayed true to his vision of bringing a “New Orleans experience” to the stage. The music was congruent with the set design (New Orleans backdrop, street lamps, and slow-turning fans suspended from the ceiling) and every element supported a singular idea. I found that I left not disappointed that he didn’t play some of my favorite songs, but truly respectful that he had the courage and class not to.
Are you stuck playing the “same old tunes?” What can you do to reinvent your performance and create something new?
As you take the stage today, and everyday, remember and apply these lessons. When you do, you will deliver a performance that is real, moving, soulful, and inspiring. And that is so important, because you never know who is in your audience. You never know who you will touch with an original idea, a heartfelt word, or an expression of your true talents. You don’t have to know the end result. Stay true to your tune. Play your music. Have fun. Then watch with excitement to see what happens next.
Swing it, baby. Swing it!