A Play With Teachable Moments

2 Pianos 4 Hands

by: Erica Ehm

A Play With Teachable Moments

If your kids are taking music lessons, run, don't walk, to see the play 2 Pianos 4 Hands.

The show was created, performed and directed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt. I had heard the show was great. It premiered 15-years ago, has played in nearly 200 cities worldwide and is arguably the most successful play in the history of Canadian theatre.

The play is a hilarious and heartbreaking series of scenarios chronicling both performers' parallel lives growing up studying classical piano from the age of seven.

My son plays trumpet. It's mandatory at his school. How can I say this delicately? HE HATES IT. He doesn't like the instrument, hates practicing and doesn't like his teacher.

This weekend I brought my 7-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to see the show. I was slightly concerned when I noticed that 85% of the audience were older adults. I'm talking seniors. The reality of my kids sitting through a two person adult show for an hour and a half started to seem like a bad idea.

Until the performers came on stage, and began playing the most magnificent piano in tandem.

The script and performances were brilliant. Both Ted and Richard's ability to jump into the skin of the boys they used to be, the teachers who taught them, the parents who pushed them, and the musicians they become were riveting.

Throughout the show I kept sneaking peeks at my son. He was killing himself with laughter, relating only too well to the personal hell of learning to play an instrument unfolding on stage. He howled knowingly at the frustrated teacher and the tortured boys who hated to practice. He laughed because it was true.

Exchange a piano for a trumpet and Josh's frustration was being played out on stage. Talk about a teachable moment!

At dinner we shared our favourite moments of the show. There were a lot of them. The conversation jumped from the stress of learning music, to the importance of doing what you love. We talked about how persistence pays off; how Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 tries to get good at something. We made fun of Josh's teacher and pointed out that the stress he feels when he can't get a good sound in his trumpet is the same frustration the performers felt when they couldn't get their hands to do what they wanted.

Josh still hates trumpet. But now he knows other very talented people also have a hard time learning an instrument. Somehow knowing that he's not alone makes the process a little less painful.

Isn't that what art is supposed to do?!


How to Get First Class Service

Michael Fazio's Insider Tips

by: Erica Ehm

How to Get First Class Service

You never know when you're going to meet someone interesting. The other night, I found myself chatting with Michael Fazio, a New Yorker famous for servicing the stars.

Micheal feels like a character right out of the movies. His career started as a harried personal assistant to an L.A. casting agent. Next stop was a move to New York City to work as a concierge at the Intercontinental Hotel where he learned what it takes to get the rich and famous what they need. From there, he launched a hugely successful concierge company and become a poster boy for good service.

No wonder American Express invited him to their party, seeing as their goal is to be able to boast about having the best customer service in the world.

And now for a little gossip: Michael has been known to rub shoulders with some of his famous clients. The buzz going around our party was that Whoopi Goldberg is one of his BFF's. But Michael has become somewhat of a celebrity in his own right as a regular guest on The View.

He's also just written the book Concierge Confidential, which "reveals the behind-the-scenes madness that goes into getting the rich and famous what they want".

So I took advantage of this impromptu meet up to get some insider info from Michael on good customer service and bad celebrity behaviour.

What's the secret to getting into exclusive restaurants, hotels or events that are sold out?
The specifics vary with topic to topic, but the two strategies to keep in mind are:

Establish yourself as an insider. This can be as easy as calling and introducing yourself. Hint: Don’t divulge that you need something on the first call. Just call, get a name and express to them what a big fan you are. You can be a fan of a singer or a band the same way that you can be a fan of a hotel or a restaurant.

  Keep on top of every reward/upgrade/special access tool you have. Some brands are focused on service, and these are the brands that know the importance of being there for their customers on many levels. I’m a big fan of hotel reward plans and I’m an avid fan of American Express especially when it comes to special “cardmembers only” benefits from advance access to tickets to special events just for cardmembers (like the Unstaged event where we all met!).

Share an anecdote of someone in the public eye who was very demanding. How did you handle it?
This was a lesson I learned early on. A very famous recording artist made several requests for tickets to see a very sold out Broadway show. After several cancellations and changes, the production office basically told me that they were losing their patience and I had one last try before they officially said “no”. At the time, I was a novice and pulled the “do you KNOW who these tickets are for” with lots of attitude. They replied, “yes, and we’re not interested…we have list of stars asking for tickets so tell YOUR client to take a number”.
Here’s what I learned:

It’s not always smart to tell people when you’re asking for things on behalf of a star.

If the star has a bad reputation, no one will want to help you help them

Word travels fast in the fast lane. You don’t want your star feeling like you are spilling their name everywhere

Even when it feels slightly vindicating to do so, NEVER tell a star that someone is rejecting THEM.

Never use the “do you know who I am” attitude. It never works.

Catering to wealthy people's every whim can be very trying. Why do you do it?
I do it because I’m good at it and I love knowing that I’m doing something that most of clients can’t do themselves because they are way too busy. I’ve also learned a great deal about stature and money (neither of which I was born with). I focus on the luxury market because it makes good business sense. There’s a very detailed customer service study by American Express that shows 69% of consumers are willing to spend more if they feel they are getting good service. They are even willing to pay more…12%. By sharing my secrets with the rest of the world, I feel like I’m fulfilling a very small bit of my Robin Hood philosophy.
Where have you gone where you received service that exceeded your expectations?
For a classic experience, the Principesa de Savoia in Milan is one of my favourites because of the warmth of the service. I felt like it truly was their pleasure to make everything exactly as I wanted it. I also love knowing that their presidential suite has an indoor pool. It gave me something to hope for the next time I go there.

If you are in the mood for something modern, I highly recommend the InterContinental Times Square. This was like a night out of “Sex And The City”. Floor to ceiling windows, two story loft with a tub that overlooks the whole loft and the city. Very modern!

Please share some gossip. Tantrums, bad behaviour, outrageous requests. Entertain us!

The daughter of a rather famous CEO racked up a weekly dry cleaning bill of close to $1,000. By way of a private car and driver, two suitcases full of clothes would be dropped off each week for cleaning (including bathing suits, workout clothes, t-shirts, jeans). It wasn’t possible that she actually wore all of these items in a week. We tried to intervene to see if she REALLY intended to get everything dry cleaned. She said, “I hate folding so please just get everything cleaned so I don’t have to deal with it”.
When a client fraudulently disputed their credit card charges, leaving us with the responsibility of paying their housekeeping bill, we did some internet forensics work. Guess what…the client is a porn actor. Investigating it further, we also learned that his time is available “for hire”. With some candid texting, we came to an agreement that we would shut up if he paid up.
Do men really cheat? To the tune of $10K per month! A former client would send $10,000 in cash each month to cover the room and board for his young mistress. Cash = no paper trail. There was a lot of tension in that family. When his wife threw a tantrum in a restaurant after being kept waiting for all of 10 minutes, I got an emergency call from the manager telling me that they were being thrown out and were not welcomed back.
During the blizzard of December 2010, a client asked us to find a location for an impromptu party. The mission: find an outdoor pool, rent heaters, find a caterer and hire bikini clad waiters/waitresses for a “Winter Wonderland” soire.

Tonight, when you spoke at the American Express dinner you said, "The only thing you can't fake is good service". I loved that line. Can you elaborate on that?
Dim lighting can disguise an atmosphere. Elaborate garnish can make a basic dish look gourmet. Hip music piped in the lobby can make a modest hotel seem chic. But how do you fake service? Even though service in thought of as intangible, it leaves a very tangible impression. Service is expensive to deliver because it is produced by the world’s most prized and expensive commodity…people. This is why companies that really know what service is about and who are willing to dedicate themselves to service continue to stand out as iconic brands. Brands like Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, American Express, Singapore Airlines, Cunard Cruise Lines.


My Workout Has Begun

No More Excuses

by: Erica Ehm

My Workout Has Begun

I guess it takes a bit of a health scare to make me start taking care of myself. Actually, it was a combination of getting less than glowing heart stress test plus an invitation from my sister.

Those close to me know I've been complaining about my lack of physical activity and blaming it on my jam packed work schedule combined with family time. I know, I know, that's the reality of most women with kids!

I'm not an early riser like some go-getters who do their workouts done first thing in the morning while the kids sleep. And I loathe pulling myself away from the computer when there's work to be done.

Luckily, my sister called with an offer I couldn't out with her on Saturdays during the time my daughter is at her acting class. It's the perfect solution for a multi-tasking mom who finally ran out of excuses!

So last week we started at The Motion Room, a little gem of a workout studio in the Junction area of Toronto. James agreed to train my sister, who's very fit, and me, who isn't, simultaneously.

Luckily he started me off slowly, putting my body through a series of very specific exercises.

At the end of the hour, soaked in sweat and exhausted, I felt good. In a way.

I'm back next Saturday. My heart thanks me.