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Customer Profiles

Island Music Journeys

By Monica Friedman July 6, 2012

A Lifetime of Music

At the age of 8, Brian Silber told his mother that he wanted to play violin.

After an assessment at a Baltimore conservatory, it was determined that Silber had a “good ear” and was well-suited for the string instrument. For $25 a year, he was able to rent his first violin, complete with bow and case, and join the elementary school orchestra. By age 13, he was the youngest first violinist to ever perform with the Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for 4 years, playing “the same repertoire as the major symphony orchestras in the world, putting on 4 big concerts each year in the conservatory’s concert hall,” albeit with a new violin.

It was “very cool,” Silber recalls, “very gratifying, and helped me to form a much higher level of self-esteem and pride.”

Island Music Journey and Kids of Note-ability

Today, Silber seeks to instill that same level of self-esteem and pride in the children of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. His organization, Island Music Journeys, brings world-class artists from around the globe to perform and teach, to inspire, “to encourage and to foster perseverance [and] dedication, with the hope that it leads to the development of character and self esteem in these children.”

To further this goal, he is also working to launch a new program, “Kids of Note-ability.” For the first tier of the program, he envisions bringing together 50 public school kids between 4th and 12th grade for professional instruction in steel pan, guitar, piano, and voice. He would provide instruments, sheet music, and small group instruction to children with an “enthusiasm and interest in learning a musical instrument.” Children and their parents would sign a contract “in order to participate, which requires real responsibility, both for the care of their instruments (while on loan), for attendance, and for practicing and coming prepared.” He envisions by-invitation musician’s residency sessions for a small group of gifted students, starting as early as 2013.

Every musician Silber invites play two concerts: a public one, for which he sells tickets, and a private, hour-long concert followed by a Q and A session exclusively for 100 invited music students, exemplifying Silber’s goal. “These performances serve as one of the most inspiring and one of the best learning experiences” available to young musicians, “to be close to, and in the presence of this kind of musical excellence.” They “encourage and…foster perseverance [and] dedication, with the hope that it leads to the development of character and self esteem.”

The World’s Most Outstanding Acoustic Musicians

Over the last 5 years, Silber has “invited some of the world’s most outstanding acoustic musicians” to perform on St. Croix, including Jimmy VanCleve, Josh Shilling, Mountain Heart, Tim and Myles Thompson, Martin Hayes, Mark O’Connor and his Hot Swing Trio, Richard Smith, and Julie Adams.

Brazilian virtuoso Celso Machado recently performed a sold-out show for Island Music Journeys. Silber added 20 additional seats, but many fans had to be turned away, due fire code regulations. Celso, sometimes referred to as the Bobby McFerrin of Brazil, is a guitarist and composer who is also “known for his ability to make music and intriguing sounds from everything and anything, including paper, rocks, sticks, every part of his body, the microphone stand.” At one point in the performance, “he sounds like a tropical rainforest, with rolling thunder…rain and all,” encouraging the audience to help create the rain sounds. Silber recalls, “the weather was clear all night, just until he began his rainforest segment.” Then, “it just began raining lightly, reverberating on the tin roof of the performing arts theater. It stopped just as he finished. It was a surreal experience for all, and one many still speak about with amazement.”

The Show Must Go On

On another occasion, Silber wrung success from a near catastrophe when a musician scheduled to perform 2 sold-out shows was unable to travel to St. Croix after contracting Lyme disease. “I thought there was no way that I could salvage this event,” he remembers. Before panic completely set in, however, it occurred to him that he “did have a phone number for one of the country’s finest bluegrass fiddlers, Jimmy VanCleve, whom I met at a music festival the year before.” VanCleve’s parting words had been, “Don’t be a stranger.” Silber called him up and, a day before the scheduled concert, VanCleve agreed to fly out to the island, bringing with him the extraordinary pianist Josh Shilling. Silber’s girlfriend donated 70,000 air miles and the musicians got on a 6 a.m. flight to St. Croix.

But the show wasn’t saved yet. A few hours later, Silber received a phone call from Miami. The performers’ plane had mechanical problems, a delay that ultimately made brought them into St. Croix 8 hours late—2 ½ hours after the show was supposed to start.

What does an event organizer do in that situation? Well, if he has contact numbers for all 100 ticket holders, he calls them all up individually to apprise them of the situation and inform them that the Friday performance will be rescheduled for Sunday. He attributes VanCleve and Shillings’ “willingness to come…put on some of the finest performances our island residents have ever seen,” with saving his project from an “early demise” in its second season. In the following 2 years, he invited VanCleve’s 6-piece group, Mountain Heart, back to the island for “some of the finest, most electrifying music we’ve ever heard.”

Getting Noticed, Selling Tickets

It was fast thinking and fast acting that saved that concert, but it’s old-fashioned publicity that sells those seats in the first place. “Good first impressions are paramount, and I’ve made sure that attention is put to every detail and component of our events,” Silber says. He designs his own ticket online at TicketPrinting.com, having some fun in the process. He also uses the company to print posters and fliers, which he considers “very professionally printed” with “full color and sharp images.” They’re “very reasonably priced,” and “look first class,” to create that perfect first impression.

“My posters always look awesome,” he says. “I place up to 50 all over the island. And I hand out hundreds of fliers for our events.”

He also makes use of an extensive radio campaign, 260 minute-long spots across 3 stations for 2 weeks prior to any given show. Usually, the local papers will run some articles on the events right before the show, and “this year,” he reports, “we have the support of one of the major TV stations, so we’ll be on TV a good bit for our next event.”

In addition, he’s found that he can streamline the process of selling tickets by using Ticket River, a virtual box office that allows him to sell seats any time, track sales online, and make the purchasing experience simpler for customers. “I would ideally like to see every ticket sold through Ticket River. It has made my job much easier,” says Silber, who believes the site enhances sales, resulting in an increase in revenue. He sends out 100s of emails before every concert, emphasizing that, in addition to purchasing tickets at local retail outlets, concert-goers can easily purchase tickets online at Ticket River.

The Future is Bright

Silber is excited about what’s upcoming for his organization. He’s optimistic about reaching his funding goal for Kids of Note-ability and recommends readers check out the website, which also includes “a wonderful section devoted to the scientifically proven benefits of music in our lives.” In the meantime, he’s worked out “other ways to benefit the interested musicians on St. Croix, such as scholarships and one-on-one residencies with invited top notch musicians from around the world.”

He’s also looking forward to his next scheduled concert. In February of 2013 international champion guitarist Richard Smith will perform with cellist Julie Adams. Opening for this act will be “2 remarkable and gifted violinists,” the Marnai Duo. These violinists will also be featured “in a Sunday afternoon concert at a very lovely and historic church, encouraging a much different segment of our island population to attend.” Music lovers will “be dazzled by these women’s arrangements on gospel, spiritual, and a breath-taking repertoire from the Broadway musical, Porgy and Bess.”

Silber plans to continue putting on concerts and planning performances for his music students. This spring, he’ll offer a “week long residency for invited, world class musicians to come here to work (one-on-one) with selected dedicated students,” and says, “scholarships based on merit are part of our mission as well. We’re continually fine tuning the benefits that can be provided.”

Celso Machado demonstrating how one can make beautiful sounds and music from a rock. The Brazilian musician had picked it up on the beach on St.Croix the day before. He said, “when I found it had a small hole through it, I knew I could make music with this.”