Archive for September, 2007

How To Create Traffic Flow? Add A Photo Finish!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

When you invite more people to a party at your house than will comfortably (and quietly) fit inside, what can you do?

Lure them to the back yard with food and photos – that’s what!

The hostess who hired me for a 70th birthday party last Sunday afternoon did just that. Knowing all too well that her new, scaled-down house would quickly run out of space if all her guests showed up at once (which they did), she devised a triple whammy to keep them moving all the way out the back door.

1. Every chair light enough to be easily moved had been placed on the patio. If you wanted to sit – and the couch was always taken – you could see out the rear picture window where relief was waiting.

2. Food and beverages were also available outside (without wading through the crowd grazing around the dining room table.)

But the real draw was item number three:

3. A dozen or more group photos (from weddings in years gone by, and even from earlier parties) had been enlarged to poster size, and were creatively positioned around the back yard.

Sure, the chairs and food attracted a few folks. But you should have seen the crowds gathered around the various pictures! Since this was an event where everybody has known everyone else for decades, almost all of the invitees were in at least one of those photos. Some were in several. The attraction was irresistible. As word of mouth spread through the party, even more folks ventured out into the evening shade for a gander at the gallery. Meanwhile, inside, the back yard showcase served as a pressure valve, preventing the house from ever getting too loud or too crowded. Brilliant!

150 years ago, P.T. Barnum tried a variation on this idea at his Manhattan museum. After passing by the bearded lady and General Tom Thumb, his customers saw a sign advising, “This Way To The Egress.” They went through a door out into the sunshine – only then discovering that “egress” meant “exit.” (And – in true Barnum “There’s a sucker born every minute” fashion – there was no handle on the outside of that door to let them back in.)

A Good Solution For “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I entertained this past weekend at the reunion of a U.S. Army medical unit not unlike the M*A*S*H guys of film and TV fame. (I even spotted 1 Hawkeye, 2 Radars, and a possible “Hot Lips” in attendance.) Whatever lives these now-retired folks currently lead, they fell easily into the kind of salty, playful banter that could be politically incorrect elsewhere today. In fact, in many ways, it was as if they had gone back in time – a time when, say… firing up a cigarette in the middle of a crowd was common.

Which is exactly what they did. Anyone who smoked – and a half-dozen of them still did – felt no pressure to segregate themselves into a designated “smoking section,” exit the party for a few minutes, or suffer through a nicotine fit. They simply blazed up one Marlboro after another.

Which could have posed a problem for me. I’m allergic to cigarette smoke. Even a slight concentration of it passing under my nose causes my throat to constrict, making breathing difficult (and singing impossible.)

Fortunately, the same party planners who decided to let the 1950s Social Rules apply to smokers also made provision for the rest of us. They wisely selected as their venue the covered veranda of a country club. A series of strategically-placed ceiling fans prevented smoke build-up, and the evening breeze took care of the rest. Even smoke-a-phobics like me had nothing to complain about.

Because we had a roof over our heads, rain wouldn’t have ruined our evening. And – had the weather really turned inclement – we could have always gone indoors (well, we non-smokers could have.)

I for one don’t miss the “old days” when smokers were assumed to have the right to cloud the air the rest of us breathe. But I appreciated both the consideration and foresight of the reunion planners who made it possible for all of us to be together without anyone suffering adverse reactions.

Thanks, Hawkeye. Thanks, Radar. And Hot Lips, that was you, wasn’t it?

Enjoy Everyone You Can, While You Can

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Some families avoid full-scale reunions for the simple reason that various family members don’t get along. (“Mama wanted me to have that lava lamp!”)

Other clans, mine included, are handicapped by one or more of these difficulties:
* We have too many to fit into anything less than a convention center.
* We are so geographically spread out that it’s impossible to get us all together.
* Age (too young or too old to travel) or illness limits availability.

Our family’s solution has been to institute a series of mini-reunions uniting parts of the family – the theory being that seeing some of your kin socially is preferable to waiting futilely for everyone to get together, and is way better than gathering only at funerals.

To that end, a passel of Tanners, in-laws, and outlaws have passed through our house 3 times in the past few months. Only some relatives have been here for every event, but almost all made it to at least 1 gathering. Last weekend, a video link via laptop actually helped bring some of our absentees right into the party.

Naturally, jillions of photos are taken during these get-togethers. Like many of you, I don’t enjoy posing, but treasure the resulting family pictures. How precious these images really are hit me today when I looked at a 5-generations group shot from only four years ago. 3 from that time have since died. But – thanks to the many photos from our mini-reunions – their memories remain clear and sweet.

The lessons: get together with who you can, when you can, while you can. Take lots of pictures. (And don’t sweat the lava lamp.)

Encounters In Cross-Cultural Confusion

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Bulletin to all brides: never assume that terms such as “bridal shower,” “rehearsal dinner,” “toast,” and “reception” mean the same to you as they do to others. And by “others,” I specifically refer to (1.) your family, (2.) your groom and his family, (3.) your wedding party, (4.) your guests, or (5.) your vendors.

Plan to state your expectations in each of these areas clearly, and to re-state them frequently (and forcefully), so as to avoid confusion. It’s your wedding, but without your constant input, misunderstandings can occur that will take control of the direction and tone of the event away from you (and you’ll never get it back.)

This is especially true at weddings with cross-cultural, or “Old World” components. For example:

* South Africans offer toasts at the reception – not the rehearsal dinner. But just one such “toast” can last 15 minutes! (Are you okay with that?)

* Aussie “toasts” are occasionally R-rated. (Is your Mom okay with that?)

* Costa Ricans consider any party which ends before dawn to have bombed.

* Poles expect breakfast at the end of the party (see sentence above.)

* Most Europeans consider it rude to be addressed by their first name until they have invited you to do so.

* Southern Italian fathers dance the First Dance with the bride. The groom cuts in.

* Japanese guests won’t go through the buffet line until all guests of higher social status have served themselves first. If the bride isn’t hungry, those expensive truffles go untouched. (And your Dad will not be okay with that!)

Because of the potential for confusion at cross-cultural weddings, I advise you and your groom-to-be to attend at least one reception representing each of your backgrounds. Discuss at length which of the traditions you observed there are important to you, and which – if any – you wish to avoid. Include your families in these talks. If nothing else, you can thus be forewarned of what your new in-laws may be expecting. And you can use these opportunities to let everyone involved in the wedding know that – at your wedding, you won’t look kindly on “surprises” – no matter how they do things “in the old country.”

Hiring A Band? Always Try For “Close Musical Encounters Of The Third Kind”

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

The World Wide Web has totally changed the experience of picking bands for your next big event. With the instant availability of video and audio downloads, photos, song lists, and references on-line, it’s hardly ever necessary anymore to hire a group sight unseen (or “sound unheard” – if such a term exists.) Party planners in Detroit getting ready for that big summer convention in Vegas are only a few mouse clicks away from promo material on dozens of groups who are potentially perfect for them. Add to this the fact that the information is yours for the asking 24/7, and you could conclude that it is now feasible to sort through, negotiate with, and even contract a band – without ever once leaving your home PC. Indeed, it happens every day.

But it shouldn’t.

Internet sites are great for helping you cull out the groups which won’t meet your needs, but ultimately, there is still nothing better – before you make your final decision – than seeing and hearing a band yourself. That’s why – if the party’s success is on your shoulders – you should make every effort to check them out in person.

Why?

Because a demo doesn’t tell you how long a band takes between numbers, or how loudly they play during the dinner hour. Only with your own eyes can you see if they seem sullen or bored, or if they’re happy to be with you. The wrong musicians can ruin a party that has been months in the planning and has cost tens of thousands of dollars. If nothing else, having seen your band can reassure you that they are truly a good fit for your event.

So – if it is humanly and financially possible – check them out, personally.

Further, try to see them under conditions similar to those you anticipate at your party. If yours is going to be a lively crowd, avoid conducting your inspection during the cocktail hour of another event. Instead, come at a time when your guys can cut loose a bit. If your partiers are “a little bit Country and a little bit Rock ‘n Roll,” you may even want to show up on two separate occasions.

Is it more trouble for you? Obviously. Will it be worth it in the end? Most Assuredly!

I love the World Wide Web. It has made it possible for me to share these thoughts with you. But it hasn’t changed the fact that there are still three main ways to hire a band: 1.) You can get them “blind” through an intermediary. 2.) You can rely on their promo. Or 3.) You can see for yourself if they’re right for you.

Avoid UFOs (Unexpectedly Flaky Organists) – have a close encounter of the third kind. (You will be so glad.)

Attention Groomsmen: Turn OFF The TV!

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Let me be perfectly clear: televised sports have no place at formal events.

If you want to host a “Superbowl-Watching Party,” that’s fine – it’s a casual gathering. But at formal events, and especially weddings, the centers of everyone’s attention are the guests of honor. I don’t care who’s playing on the boob tube, or how important you think this game is. (Indeed, if it’s that important, stay home and watch it. Just don’t come to a wedding or other celebration and ignore the honorees!)

This weekend, my band played at a wedding reception for a family that had spent an entire year, and tens of thousands of dollars, creating a magical and memorable evening. No effort and no expense were spared in making this union of two delightful young people a night which could be enjoyed by every single guest, regardless of age. The comfort and pleasure of everyone invited had been taken into account, from the moment of their arrival, to the spectacular departure of the bride and groom by Venetian gondola. Every detail was meticulously planned, and nothing was overlooked.

Except the television set in the bar of the venue.

And what was on that TV? A football game. Was it a play-off between two arch-rivals? Was it an once-in-a-lifetime meeting of two future Hall of Famers? No! It might as well have been Red Neck Tech vs. Slippery Rock State. But that didn’t matter – it was a game! And soon, the groomsmen and several other macho lunkheads had abandoned their fair ladies for the testosterone-tinged ambience of the bar.

Of course, the party sank like the Titanic. By the time the Father-of-the-bride became aware of the situation and pulled the plug on the TV, nothing could be done to regain the lost momentum of the evening.

Fortunately for you, as you plan your reception, this tragedy is preventable. Instruct your venue to disconnect the tube, and threaten your groomsmen with their lives, should they wander off from the party.

As for me, I have faith in “Cosmic Balance.” I just know in my soul that one of those knot-heads from the bar will father a daughter some day. Then he will invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to make her wedding a perfect fairy-tale evening. And – as sure as I believe that “what goes around, comes around” – on that night there will be a TV nearby, tuned to ESPN.

Let’s see how important “the big game” is to him, when it’s ruining his daughter’s reception.

A Reader Asks: How Do I Get Started As A Singer?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Dear Dave:
When your band played at my wedding reception, you got me up on stage to sing “At Last” to my groom. From that moment, I was hooked. Now I sing along constantly with the car radio, and have even joined the select ensemble at my church. But I dream of taking it to the professional level (at least part-time.) The trouble is, I don’t know how or where to start. Can you give me some ideas? Also, what songs do I need to know?
Hopefully,
Heather M.

Dear Heather:
I remember you! You were very poised on stage, you handled the microphone like a pro, and my wife said that your singing gave her chills, because it obviously came straight from your heart. Therefore, you possess 3 of the 5 ingredients necessary to pursue the Music Biz full or part-time: Confidence, Technique, and Talent.

The other 2 requirements are Time and Commitment (or “Drive”). And only you can determine where you stand with those. You’ll need both in order to memorize 20 – 30 songs and bring them up to performance-level. As to which songs they should be, that depends on your voice and where you want to perform. A repertoire of show tunes works great in a classy cabaret, but is useless at a dance club. So first, ask yourself “where do I see me singing?” (Hint: the songs must compliment your voice. Tina Turner doesn’t do Celine Dion songs, and vice-versa.)

Whenever possible, pick songs with a proven track record – especially ones that have been a hit more than once. Stick with familiar tunes, and learn your keys.

Once you’ve got a nice mix of music, Commitment kicks in. Here’s where you get a return on all that effort! One way to do this is to assemble a group of folks with about your level of talent and experience, and about the same amount of time to devote to music as you have. Your “band” might only play once or twice a month, but you’d be living your dream.

The other way to break into the pros is as a “sub.” Take a dozen karaoke tracks into a studio and record 30 – 60 seconds of each, to showcase your voice in a variety of tempos and styles. Burn a few CDs of the finished product. Make a list of your songs and keys. Throw in a recent photo, and you have a demo! Bandleaders like me are always on the lookout for someone who is ready to fill in on a moment’s notice.

Heather, every band has permanent members who were once somebody’s “subs.” Like you, they had a dream. Theirs has now come true. Yours can too!
All the best, Dave Tanner

Sometimes, The “Best” Party Is No Party At All

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

A good friend of mine offered his daughter $10,000 to elope. When she demurred, he upped the ante, then raised it again, until finally she agreed. (She and hubby used the money as a downpayment on their first house.) It wasn’t that my friend is cheap or anti-social. Indeed, he is the soul of generosity and affability. But his is a “blended” family that has resolutely refused to truly blend. As such, there was a very real possibility that, sometime during the evening, an incident might occur which would mar or – in the worst case – ruin) what should have been a perfect night. Even if all the in-laws and outlaws turned out to be on “good behavior,” the bride would have had a miserable time, simply from worry over what might occur.

Friends, I am about to – metaphorically – cut my own throat. As a bandleader, my professional well-being depends on people celebrating their most special occasions with big parties. If the soiree business ever dries up, I’ll have to get a real job. Still, honesty compels me to admit that there are times when a gala event is a bad idea.

One such occasion was a wedding reception at a local country club this past year. Clue Number One that something was out of the ordinary: the parents of the groom hired my band. Clue Number Two: when the guests came into the ballroom, the groom’s friends and family sat next to one wall, while those associated with the bride took their seats by the opposite. The big, beautiful dance floor in the middle of the room was No Man’s Land – literally. Nobody danced. It turned out that the bride’s family – for religious reasons – doesn’t drink or dance. So the groom’s Dad picked up the tab for the bar and band, thinking his friends would expect them. The trouble was: no one wanted to offend the bride’s family. So there was a bar, and there was a band – but nobody drank or danced. This was definitely a night when the church fellowship hall would have been the best – and cheapest – solution.

So – think about whatever you are planning to celebrate, be it birthday, anniversary, reunion, or wedding. Next – give serious thought to exactly whom will be in attendance. Are these folks going to drink enough to justify hiring a bartender? Will they dance? (Even party animals tend to tone it down during daylight hours or when they will be going to work the next morning.) If – upon reflection – you decide that this is not going to be a bash, but rather a… low-key gathering, then save yourself a world of money and hassles.

And, because my kid is in college, I hope that soon you’ll take all that loot you saved, and hire my band for a P-A-R-T-A-Y!!!