My Reaction to SAVVY Musician In Action 2016

13342937_976484135798760_5228319447620498152_n A few months ago I announced that I'd be attending David Cutler's SAVVY Musician in Action 2016. Little did I know that my plug for the event would sway three fellow teachers and 88Pianokeys (88PK) readers to attend. I was THRILLED to hear that Marie, Renee and Becky would be joining me on this adventure!

Turns out, that this adventure gave all of us a similar sense of anxiety. We knew this would be like no other conference with tons of hands-on, out-of-the box experiences. Furthermore, we'd be heading to hot humid, South Carolina meaning long flights, sleeping in dorm rooms and intermingling with NON teachers! In addition we were assigned to prepare and deliver a one minute pitch on day one of the SAVVY event.

Together we commiserated about the superficial stuff like what to wear and which hair products to use to tolerate the humidity, but I believe those conversation threads were a coverup for our fear of...the unknown.


It was like a mini family reunion when we finally met in person and the first night we hung out in the dorm lobby chatting late into the night.

Unfortunately, two days into the event, the sweet and always filled-with-joy (I'm NOT exaggerating!) Becky contracted a NASTY bug. It slammed her down so hard and so quickly that she was bed-ridden for two days and decided to head back to Chicago for the comfort of home. It left a hole in our hearts to see her leave....

FYI: The creativity that Becky brings to her teaching at her hip and highly successful Songbird Studio will be shared soon here at 88PK. I can't wait for you to hear what she's up to.

We had little time to mourn the loss of Becky's smile as Renee, Marie and I were sucked in to a non-stop SAVVY schedule.

The SAVVY experience

The first day was packed with diverse activities for mixing with others and to stretch our imaginations within a group setting.

It was also the day that we had to present our "pitch."

Delivering my pitch at Savvy Musician in Action 2016

In a nutshell, a pitch is a short presentation that identifies

  • a problem
  • those who have the problem
  • how a proposed business will solve the problem.

After all 70+ pitches were heard, we voted for our favorites and our top 9 were chosen. Pitch winners were renamed as founders and the following day, it was the task of each founder to round-up a team of 7-9 members from fellow SAVVY peeps to form a business model.

The rest of the days were spent in team meetings and sessions to help us create a viable model around the founding pitch to sell to prospective investors. According to our thought leaders, an effective plan must be "comprehensible yet comprehensive."

Our team set out to design EVERY aspect of the model down to EVERY detail:

  • Budget
  • Marketing
  • Description
  • Revenue streams
  • Partnerships
  • Potential Customers
  • and more...

Top-notch thought leaders Gavin Chuck, Nancy Christiansen, Brandon Pearce and Lance LaDuke (wow, do they know what they're talking about) were there to guide each team to help them develop the business from infancy to the final stage where it could be effectively pitched to a panel of judges--pretend investors.

Stealing from the Shark Tank show, well-known respected, local entrepreneurs adjudicated each team's model on the final day giving their comments about each and choosing the top pitch.

What I learned at SAVVY

1) I wear a green hat. I'm a creative. Let me explain.

One of the most brilliant hours (there were many!) of the five-day event was a skit about a committee meeting. Seven people sat up in front and were asked to read from a cleverly crafted script that demonstrated all the types of people you might find in a typical committee meeting interrupting each other with their opinions and ideas.

  • Green = the "creative" who has a million ideas and can't stop spouting them.


  • Red = the "supportive," warm fuzzy who glowingly supports others and ALL their ideas.
  • Black = the "shooter" who shuts down ideas with an arsenal of darts.
  • White = the "cruncher" who interrupts with reports about every dollar down to the dime and forecasts dire budget woes.
  • Yellow = the "observer" who lists the benefits of any option in hopes that something will work.
  • Blue = the "processor" who readily organizes the steps to complete projects.

The skit captured a typical meeting so well we were crying because we were

Jolin won the spirit award. Can you see why?

laughing so hard. The "party hat roles" enlightened me. They showed me why my green hat shrivels up at meetings because most of my ideas are shot down by black and white hats. It's not their fault, they are just doing what they do best.

The idea of each member wearing the role of each hat simultaneously within a specific time limit is a practical way to let everyone's voice be heard in a structured and productive manner. It helps each member climb into the head of another perspective. Even though you may claim to be a "creative" it's good to experience being  a "cruncher" even for just 5 minutes. I can't wait to try this out in a future meeting.

2) Working on a team when you can't choose who you work with takes determination, patience and oodles of will power.

3) Control (which I love!) is hard to give up but necessary to make a team gel.

4) Failure and making wrong choices can set you on a fresh and promising path.

What I witnessed at SAVVY

1) The SAVVY staff went above and beyond, below and above, behind and get the idea. They were everywhere to make the SAVVY machine run smoothly AND cheerfully from beginning to end.

2) My new BFF Marie Lee isn't afraid to kneel on hard tile at 12:30am to cut paper for

Marie, carrying her southern inspired lunch

her team mates, carries a well-stocked suitcase of tasty and healthy snacks, has an immediate smile, takes on any challenge with confidence, always thinks of others first and handles what comes to her with good hair at all times.

3) My other new BFF Renee leads with efficiency, herds others along with a gentle yet firm tone, is quick to recognize tasks and jumps in when they need to be completed, finds good in not-so great situations and carries a well-stocked first aid kit with her at all times.

4) Both Ben and Xu (Sue)--two youngsters in their early 20s on our team--exhibited an extraordinary work ethic. I was stunned by their continual can-do-I'll-do-it-upbeat attitude. Our future is in good hands.

5) A team setting reveals members who like to contribute heavily to the cause with

Renee painting the "welcome mat" for our exhibition.

verbose opinions but also tend to come up short on completed tasks.

6) There are too many adjectives to describe the SAVVY peeps I met so I'll limit it to WOW. Egos were checked at the door so the sandbox was a level playground which kept things positive and open.

7) University of California is lucky to have Stephen Pierce as part of their piano faculty department. He stood out as the MVP of the event. No one could match his congeniality and kindness and we were all smitten! It's a shame he and I never met when Stephen was in Colorado at UNC.

What I took away from SAVVY

1) Use the Party Hat System for all meetings and planning times.

This system will offer immediate structure to your meeting, no one needs to feel badly about shooting darts or crunching numbers and it will help all members move out of the hat that they normally wear.

2) Profit vs Non Profit, which is best?

Your company can be split into two models: for profit and non-profit.

3) Working on a large team is difficult.

Starlitt practicing her pitch.

Starlitt was our fearless and inspiring team leader. Her initial pitch received the most votes in the first evening. I was drawn to her pitch not only because of her mission and authenticity but also because I could see her vision. It was clear to me that this was the team for me. And, I really liked Starlitt. Good thing she picked me as a team member!

Starlitt captivated us with her peaceful yet powerful message. She addressed the problem of waste and lack of recycling efforts in South Carolina and in her home town of Columbia. She proposed a two-month camp for K-12 students featuring classes in dance, music and visual arts tied in with classes on how to recycle and repurpose. This combination of the arts and education would build awareness and make a change in the community's treatment of trash.

As we moved through the days ahead, our team carried excitement for the initial pitch. Thought leaders, including David Cutler and Brandon Pearce, Gavin Chuck and Lance LaDuke dropped in to challenge us. We were stretched

  • to amplify the idea
  • to think bigger and broader
  • and then, to narrow the focus.

Our team's final model morphed into a venture including a camp and a culminating community-wide festival called R.A.E. Repurpose Arts Exhibition. You can learn all about it at our website.

4) I like

Since I was experienced with logo and web design I was the default Marketing Director for our team.  Although I would have liked to learn about other aspects of our business model, I did my best (I admit, I did whine after midnight) and came up with our logo below via with the help of the team Brandon Pearce (whoa, does he have an inspiring entrepreneurial story!) and our local art expert, Evelyn.

RAE Color (1)

FYI: I was pleasantly surprised with how intuitive it was to use to build a static_qr_code_without_logowebsite. Wix is much easier to navigate than this Wordpress platform I use for the 88PK blog. I highly recommend it if you are looking to set up your own site.

Unfortunately, the logo and our website went virtually unnoticed at the exhibit hall on the last day. I'm not sure many scanned our QR code to access the site and our team neglected to print our logo to hang on our exhibit--we were tired! Do us a favor and visit the site here or scan the code.

5) I'm now a huge fan of chamber music.

Prior to the SAVVY Musician in Action event, there was a unique chamber music competition. Each entry was judged on artistry AND innovation. SAVVY attendees were privileged to hear the top four groups. The caliber of music and creativity was outstanding. It was a memorable evening featuring video, drum set, hip hop, mandolin, Bartok, singing, vibraphone, guitar, viola, voice, flamenco dancing and more.


Check out the sites of these four superb groups:

Invisible Anatomy


Controlled Chaos

Melodika Project

6) SAVVY Musician in Action is more than an immersion, it is a 5-day deep-sea dive.

After it was finished and having some time to reflect with fellow SAVVY peeps on the plane ride home, I made some conclusions. Let me wear the black hat and throw a few darts...

The SAVVY pitch "game" morphed from a game into "life" for us attendees. Meeting deadlines is reality so I understand why this type of pressure was simulated in the game; however, I didn't like staying up past midnight--I'm a wimp. Furthermore, it was troubling to me that because of the late-night work binge, I was oblivious to the tragedy that took place in Florida. I was consumed with a game and didn't check in with life.

Next, it felt that we worked on too many details that in the end, "didn't matter." Because of this, I missed out on learning other aspects of building a business. I didn't get a chance to work on creating a budget because I was too busy developing website content, constructing a 100 x 100 inch paper exhibit and practicing a presentation.

At the end of the SAVVY in Action, we were asked to give our feedback. Every year, David Cutler absorbs the feedback and evolves SAVVY into something even better. I trust this will continue to be the case and know that even though I had some darts to throw, the event was extremely important in my journey as an entrepreneur, musician, teacher and human being.

On with the red, warm fuzzy hat

David Cutler is a dynamo, a genius musician and entrepreneur with formidable energy, a laser sharp vision and a passion to make a lasting impact.

I highly encourage you to read both of his books, The Savvy Musician and the Savvy

Posing with new life-long friends and fellow piano teachers. We survived SAVVY!

Music Teacher and consider a trip to South Carolina for next year's SAVVY event. You'll experience some tasty, southern cuisine and loads of vital guidance for any venture you pursue in the future.

Dr. Cutler will be the keynote speaker at the MTNA conference in Baltimore. Bravo MTNA! You do NOT want to miss his insightful, edgy perspective. Cutler is leading the way for musicians, music teachers and music-based entrepreneurs.

It was an honor to work, eat, dine, hang, whine, and dive in alongside David, the other thought leaders and fellow SAVVY attendees.

I've been SAVVIED and life won't be the same.