“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” Coco Chanel
I love classical music, although I don’t listen to it anywhere near as much as I would like. Listening to classical music can be hard work. I often imagine it is like reading a classic book – something that people like to talk about but very few ever read. That’s why when I do listen to classical music, I am very lazy and often listen to what I know. (I got into the habit years ago of having a few pieces of music that I can switch on to repeat and just keep listening to for hours, when I need to write or study about something important. It helps me to zone out and concentrate on what I’m doing).
So when I was introduced by Yuja Wang by a friend of mine at Red Bull, I couldn’t help but take notice. Not just because of “first impressions“, but because when Red Bull introduce you to a classical artist you know they’re not going to be your average….
I was introduced to Yuja though this documentary that Red Bull produced about her. It’s well worth a watch. Yuja takes a lot of critisism in the classical music world, as you might imagine, due to the way she dresses. Her response is usually that she dresses like a 26 year old and when she is 40 she’ll dress differently, but she has very carefully crafted an image which is memorable and striking. Not least because she is so supremely talented that when such a petite woman takes the stage and plays with such power, the juxtaposition is all the more dramatic. It raises an age old marketing debate about packaging and substance, where if the content is poor ~ it doesn’t matter how amazing the packaging is. But if the packaging is beautiful and the content exceeds all expectations, then what you have is rather special.
Yuja Wang is rather special.
She triedto dress differently once. She wore a more traditional pink dress as you would expect to see from your average classical performer. According to the reviews, the performance by her standards was considerably below par. Her usual emotion and commitment to her music wasn’t there. Yuja says it was because she didn’t feel herself. Ever since then, she has ignored her critics and dressed however she wanted. Not how she thought her wider (potential) audience wanted.
I had a similar debate with Gary Vaynerchuk a few years ago. He was taking lot of heat about his keynotes and the amount that he swears. Which is a lot. He was advised by a smart person who knows what they are talking about that his audience may be 40% larger if he didn’t swear. To him, it wasn’t even a discussion. To change his style was to take away his authenticity. What he has since ended up with is a very committed audience who love, share and buy all his stuff, while defending him against all his critics. Many of the best performers know this. Compromise for the sake of a slightly larger audience can do you far more harm than good.
You can read a great article about Yuja in the New Yorker here. The highlight of the article for me was this lovely quote which I think that anyone who deals with an audience will relate to.
“Her alluring, surprising clothes don’t just echo the allure and surprise of her musicianship, though they certainly do that. More crucial, the tiny dresses and spiky heels draw your focus to how petite Ms. Wang is, how stark the contrast between her body and the forcefulness she achieves at her instrument. That contrast creates drama. It turns a recital into a performance“.
How could you turn your next presentation into a performance…?