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28 Oct, 2002

Music to the Ears of Team-Builders in MICE Sector

The boom in global conventions and meetings business is creating huge cross-linkage opportunities for the music and entertainment industry.

While traditional music remains in demand for regular functions like opening and closing ceremonies, corporations with big budgets and specific team-building needs are turning to companies like Spirit of the Dance and Human Rhythms.

Both were among the exhibitors at the recent Incentive Travel and Conventions, Meetings Asia (IT&CMA) trade show that ended in Bangkok last week. It was the first time exhibiting in Asia for Human Rhythms, which specialises in motivation and team-building, and the second for Spirit of the Dance, whose focus is pure entertainment for large conferences and events.

Human Rhythms is run by Mickey Shaked and Frankie Grojnowski, both 33-year-old Australian professional musicians who are diversifying from pure entertaining into team-building, a skill that is in growing demand as companies seek to get more productivity out of what’s left of their depleted teams.

Just as orchestra is one big team, Human Rhythms’ strategy is to get corporate employees to perform like one.

The instrument of choice is the drum which Mr Shaked says has been used for generations as a central force to build communities. Today, it can tap into the power of music therapy to create different beats that even shy, musically challenged persons can become comfortable with in a matter of minutes.

The whole performance is based on eye contact and signs, hence overcoming language barriers. While one of the pair keeps the main beat going, the other indicates to sections of the team how and when to join in.

“It helps overcome inhibitions,” says Mr Shaked. “People who have no experience with music are sceptical in the beginning but within five minutes they are all into it.”

Different kinds of drums are used, depending on how many are in attendance. To date, Human Rhythms has worked with companies in Australia and New Zealand with all the drums being made and shipped in from Bali.

However, for the ITC&MA session last week, 200 drums were ordered at a cost of A$12,000 from Taiwathid, a company that makes Thai musical instruments in Khon Kaen.

Mr Sarun Jatuthumrong, the son of the company’s owner, said it was the first time they had received an order for such a drum design, a South African instrument called a djembe. While it was different from Thai drums, in terms of both the leather and wood used, he called it “a good experience.”

All 200 drums are being left behind in Thailand in case the company gets more business here. Mr Sarun will be responsible for transporting the drums to the site of the next Thai assignment.

Set up two years ago, Human Rhythms has also done team-building exercises on cruise ships and on islands in the Great Barrier Reef. Mr Shaked says they can do exercises for groups ranging from five to 1,000.

Mr Shaked, who is originally from South Africa, says their motivation method differs from using a regular speaker. “A lot can be done through body language,” he said. “It is easier to understand people from the way they act and behave rather than what they say.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Spirit of the Dance, a company of electrifying Irish dancers which performed in Thailand earlier this year and is due back in May 2003.

While touring concerts generate about 75 % of the company’s income, performing at special events today generates the rest, according to Angela Glazin, director of the Theatre Division.

The troupe has performed at functions hosted by the Sultan of Brunei. One regular customer is Emirates Airlines which has used the performances to add extra pizzazz to events accompanying the launch of new routes to destinations like Chennai and Perth.

She said the company is looking for more business in the Asia-Pacific. Last year, they exhibited for the first at the IT&CMA in Kuala Lumpur but because that event came just a few weeks after 9/11, virtually nothing came of it immediately.

However, several months later, as the gloom lifted and business began to pick up again, the inquiries started coming, prompting the group to give it another try.

Ms Glazin says they are now regular exhibitors at most of the global trade shows, and are looking at the possibility of attending the AIME, another major show held every February in Melbourne.

The group’s repertoire consists of a broad range of Scottish, Irish, European, Caribbean and Latin American numbers, performed by an all-Irish caste of dancers with an average age of 21.

Her target customers are any “big groups with big budgets who want something fantastic for their meetings.” They have performed for lawyers associations and for casinos looking to bring in all their high-rollers at one go.

She declines to give an approximate budget, saying that much depends on the dance line-up sought by the clients. If the troupe happens to be touring in a particular location at the same time as an assignment, that is obviously cheaper than having it specially flown out for the event.

First-time clients are usually asked to put up a large deposit. Regular customers like Emirates “pay whenever they feel like it.”

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