Interview: Playground Sessions CEO Chris Vance Discusses Success of Powerful ‘You Raise Me Up’ Virtual Recital

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Playground Sessions’ Chris Vance and Quincy Jones

During the pandemic, when people have been stuck inside their houses, Playground Sessions, in partnership with legendary artist, producer Quincy Jones, offered the world an opportunity to participate in a free class to learn Brendan Graham’s song, “You Raise Me Up” on the piano and perform it together in a Virtual Piano Recital. The goal was to share the joy and gift of music when the world needed it the most.

Using the Playground Sessions platform users learned the song, recorded their performances on video and submitted them for inclusion. What started out as a 30-day virtual lesson culminated into a worldwide, history-making campaign as more than 7,000 musicians of all skill levels took part with nearly 1,000 video submissions

I recently spoke with Chris Vance, Founder and CEO of Playground Sessions about this phenomenal event and more in this exclusive new interview.

Can you give me a little backstory on your own experience with music?

CV: I played the saxophone in elementary school but was always drawn to the sound of the piano. If I ever saw someone playing, I’d be right there watching. Like many people I had a lesson or two, but when that didn’t work out I just went on with my life.

Where did the idea for Playground Sessions originate?

CV: I had been working at P&G doing brand management and being part of the digital team. During that time, I was also learning different languages using a product called Rosetta Stone. I became fascinated with what tech could do in people’s homes. One day I was shopping and saw a Casio keyboard on sale and thought now was the perfect time to try playing again. What I discovered after visiting YouTube and taking private lessons was that all of my practice time was being spent alone with a piece of sheet music. The truth is around 90% of keyboards and guitars purchased are under the bed within thirty days because people are not having success. I fell into that category. That’s when I decided I wanted to create a product that could take the universal desire of playing an instrument and help make it a reality.

How did the partnership with Quincy Jones come about?

CV: Quincy is a huge part of what we’re doing, as is Harry Connick, Jr., who’s one of our teachers. Quincy actually approached us early on after reading an article about us. He had been in an airport and noticed a kiosk filled with Rosetta Stone. For Quincy, music is the universal language, and he wondered where the Rosetta Stone for music was. His team told him about us and he invited me out to meet with him. The rest is history. He’s been a huge influence and sounding board for us and plays a big role in building the product and curriculum.

How does Playground Sessions work?

CV: There are a few core things, the first being how to make the experience of practicing fun. We solved that by building a curriculum that puts people in control and gives them the songs they know and love to learn. Then we leveled everything. So whether you’re just starting out on notes or are more advanced with chords, we surround you with visualization and gamification to keep you engaged and practicing. We also provide backing tracks to help you find success. It’s all genres of music but we’re putting users in control.

Tell me a little about the 30-day, “You Raise Me Up” virtual session and how it was so successful.

CV: This year is the 35th anniversary of “We Are The World.” We all remember how powerful that was. During the quarantine people are having a tough time, but music is the great healer. We decided to use this time to over-invest in our users. So we partnered with Q’s team to do a “We Are The World” concept. But instead of using people who are already established artists, we thought let’s create a free online course and teach everyone how to play a song. Then after thirty days people could record themselves performing and we’d take all the videos and create a recital. We reached out to Hal Leonard Music and they suggested “You Raise Me Up,” by Brendan Graham. We had more than 7,000 people learn the song and brought everyone together. It was powerful.

Are the any other projects you’re currently working on?

CV: We have a few new tech platforms we’ll be launching in a few months that will get us on all devices along with more live sessions. At our core we’re going to continue to enroll great teachers and continue developing the best ways for people to learn the instrument. Our main focus on a daily basis is making sure we’re doing all we can to give people success.

What satisfies you the most about the success of this session and this next phase of the company’s career?

CV: Teaching people to play an instrument can be a challenge, but my satisfaction comes from seeing the success our users are having. I’m happy that people are learning and experiencing music. The “You Raise Me Up” recital has allowed other people to see exactly what the employees at Playground Sessions see every day. People learning, having fun and expressing themselves through music.

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