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Archive for April, 2011

Impulse, Excellence, and Leaps of Faith

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on April 23, 2011

Thursday afternoon, on a combination of instinct and impulse, I decided to take a giant leap… backward.  Sort of.

I was in the midst of doing a partial rewrite of an upcoming review column in Genii Magazine when an interesting status update flashed across the Facebook page:  “In need of an accompanist (piano) tonight, Monday and Tuesday.”

Heidi Bevill, Production/Stage Manager for the Shuler Hensley Awards

Heidi Bevill, Production/Stage Manager for the Shuler Hensley Awards

The author of that status was a person I have known since 1991.  Heidi Bevill was playing Hope Harcourt in a high school production of Anything Goes in Starkville, Mississippi that spring when the pianist quit.  I was a student at Mississippi State at the time and was taking piano and voice courses for my own enrichment.  I was asked to come to the next rehearsal, which I did, and I played the remaining rehearsals and the show.  Heidi was later in my physics class when I student taught at SHS, and later played Amanda to my Elyot in a college production of Private Lives.  She also performed in a musical I wrote in college, BankNote$.

So – on a lark, I checked with Heidi to see what was going on.  Turns out that the Shuler Hensley Awards are coming up on Tuesday and they were in immediate need of an experienced musical theater accompanist who could jump in at the last minute to play scenes for the nominated productions: Hairspray, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Les Miserables, Oklahoma, and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  The big event is Tuesday night at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.  (These awards, named for a Tony and Olivier Award winning Marietta native, recognize excellence in high school musical theater in Georgia.)

I checked the calendar.  It could work.  I’ve got a show Saturday, but they aren’t rehearsing that day.  I’m preparing to fly to New York next Wednesday for a convention, but this event would be over Tuesday night and… what the heck!  I decided to suddenly jump back in time about 20 years and sit in a pit for a musical theater production. (What’s more, I decided to do it under fire, at the last minute, in front of a theater full of people!)

So, I went to rehearsal last night.  I got the music at 4pm for a 5pm rehearsal which I managed to stumble through, essentially sight-reading the scores.  I’m familiar with all the shows and have worked on productions of some of them, but generally as an actor, not a pianist.   Today I’ve been working like crazy (particularly on the Sondheim!) and I’ll rehearse with the orchestra on Monday.  Cue-to-cue Monday night, dress on Tuesday.  Show Tuesday night.  Oh, by the way, turns out the awards are recorded for television and will be broadcast later this summer.  No pressure, eh?

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

Last year's awards at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. This year is also sold out.

I decided to take this challenge for lots of reasons.  Reconnecting with old friends and colleagues.  Meeting exceptionally talented new people.  Working in a great venue.  But most of all, I think it’s important – even critical – to exercise your full range of talents.  As I wrote in  my last post, your unique combination of talents and experiences holds your key to new ideas and new ways to overcome challenges.

As a speaker and entertainer, I don’t always have the opportunity or need to sit at a piano and rip out “A Weekend in the Country.”  My mentalism performances never feature the dance break from “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.”  My keynotes don’t feature any would-be French revolutionary anthems.  But the experience of collaborating to create live performances at a high level of quality always affects the way you think about your own individual performance.  The same is true for high achievers in any field or industry; they want to learn from others who achieve greatness.  High achievers revel in the experience of excellence, and generally prefer to take an active role rather than being a passive observer.

What “back burner” skill have you been sitting on?  Why not exercise it?  It doesn’t have to be in quite the high-pressure situation that I’ve gotten myself into this week, but the excitement and energy that come from taking on an unusual challenge always bleed over into your more usual work.

Think of something you haven’t done in a long time, and go find a way to do it again.  Think about the experience.  Look for ways to apply what you learn.  Take a leap backward, and you may just find yourself taking a giant leap forward as a result.

(Note:  Photos copyright Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and Edward Zeltser.)

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Your Hidden Skills

Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on April 11, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to perform a skill I didn’t even know I had until a few months ago.

I was at home after a conference where my presentation had included a performance of a staggering mathematical demonstration using an array of numbers which combine in a series of surprising ways.  I use this impressive demonstration of memory and lightning calculation to illustrate and emphasize a few key points depending on which keynote I’m delivering, and it is always a topic of conversation among the attendees afterwards.

Anyway, I had returned to  Atlanta and was playing the piano – one of my favorite ways to relax.  The piece I was playing that day was Robert Schumann‘s Romance in F#, Opus 28 No. 2, to which I was introduced by my college piano professor Dr. Geraldine Collins.  (Incidentally, I owe Dr. Collins much love and gratitude for using this piece to help me learn to appreciate the subtleties of tone and dynamics at the piano.)  The Romance in F# is a wonderful piece of music, and as I played it my mind drifted back to the recent speaking engagement.  I discovered that afternoon that I could perform the required calculations to present the mathematical demonstration… while simultaneously playing the Schumann.

“This,” I thought, “is the nugget of something special.”

Atlanta Magician and Mentalist Joe M. Turner performs his "Schumann Square" in Nashville.

Atlanta Magician and Mentalist Joe M. Turner performs his "Schumann Square" in Nashville.

Last week I had the opportunity to put this in front of an audience for the first time, while performing on a magic cabaret show at a Nashville theater.  While I’m still working on the overall staging, I can tell already that this could become a signature piece.  (If you’re in the Nashville area, you’ll get another chance to see this unusual performance piece on May 3; keep an eye on my Facebook page for details.)

One reason I have always liked my number grid presentation (even sans piano!) is that I often use it to talk about combining our skills and resources in different ways to achieve our goals.  When we face change or challenge, we may have to call upon multiple skills and experiences to reach our desired goal.  It may mean a team has to change to combine skills and talents differently, but it can also mean that an individual has to combine his or her own capabilities in ways they’ve never imagined.

Even though I don’t know you, I am convinced that you have amazing skills and capabilities that you don’t even know about.  They lie hidden in each of us, buried beneath layers of negative self-talk and false preconceptions about the nature of creativity.  Why am I so certain?  Because nobody else on earth has the specific combination of skills, experiences, and observations that you have.  Every person is, in the most meaningful senses, a “diverse” individual.  Even people who share common experiences perceive those occurrences as individuals and bring their own interpretations to what they have seen and heard.

Because nobody has precisely the same skill-set and experience-set that you have, nobody can replicate the combinations that you can produce.

When is the last time you tried combining two seemingly unrelated skills?  Did you have an interest as a teenager that you could try combining with what you do now?  How does your hobby inform your professional life, and vice versa?

Experiment with combining your interests and skills in unexpected ways.  You may discover the nugget of something special, too!

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