Hi! I'm April Dean McConnell, and my sister Megan and I are co-founders of Deans' Duets. We started playing the violin at a very young age through the Suzuki method. Our Nana (grandmother) saw an advertisement for Suzuki violin lessons on the cable advertising channel which sparked our interest and was the beginning of us playing instruments. Although there were no musicians in our family before us, we quickly learned to love the art of music. Both Megan and I started violin lessons at the age of three, and at the age of nine I also became interested in playing the piano. Fast-forward a few years and by the age of 13, I was playing for my first wedding. We charged $25 each! That first spark and love of weddings carried through to today and it's still such an honor to be a part of so many couples' wedding days.
The Beginning as Professional Musicians
We played several weddings for friends as young teenagers. I started working at Dairy Queen and then won a contracted seat as a second violinist in the Western Piedmont Symphony when I was 16. Weddings and symphony were my first experiences of music being a job. Our grandfather had the idea to call ourselves “Deans’ Duets” and said we should make some business cards and start doing that on weekends instead of working at Dairy Queen. After starting my symphony job and booking a few weddings, I quit Dairy Queen. haha. We ended up distributing business cards to local alteration and dress shops, and sure enough, people started to hire us for their weddings!
At first start, we never worked with professional wedding coordinators, and most weddings took place in churches. I can remember one wedding where the couple requested Yankee Doodle - ha! By the age of 16 & 18, we were playing at least 1-2 weddings a month. We gradually started developing a song list and figured out ways to make our performance one that couples would seek out for their wedding day music.
Learning & Growth
I later received my bachelor's degree in violin performance from Wake Forest University, in Winston Salem, NC. While at Wake Forest, I was concertmaster of the University Symphony and also performed as a violinist with the Western Piedmont Symphony in Hickory, Salisbury Symphony, and Winston-Salem Symphony. While we both were in college, we played in orchestras, but didn't playing many weddings during that point in our lives. After I graduated from college, I took a year off and started teaching private lessons at Lenoir Rhyne University in Hickory, NC. Once the year ended, I began grad school for clinical mental health counseling at Appalachian State University in Boone. When I moved to Boone, NC I started playing weddings in Boone again on Saturdays just for fun and to earn some extra money. I continued teaching private lessons one to two days a week in Hickory at LRU. I graduated from ASU with my master's in clinical mental health counseling and started a counseling job in Charlotte, NC to be near to my fiancé (now husband) Jeremiah, who also lived in Charlotte. After moving to Charlotte, I drove back to Boone almost every weekend to play weddings in Boone.
Expanding Our Team
Once Megan moved out of the area, I started playing with Madilyn Schmidt who was one of my advanced students. We played together for about three years. Then when she graduated from high school and went to college, I met Donna at a Salisbury Symphony Concert where we were stand partners. We then met Jackie Barnes, who was a fantastic violinist and had also just graduated from ASU. At that point, we had three wonderful violinists in Charlotte as part of our team, and I started to wonder if it would be smart to book two weddings on a given Saturday. While I couldn't be at two weddings at once, it made me nervous sending musicians out to weddings without me being on-site personally. We tried booking two weddings at a time on busy weekends and realized it was successful as long as we worked with great reliable players.
New Instrument Variety
In 2014, a bride asked if we could play with guitar which we had never done before, but we were excited to expand our horizons. Up until then, we had only offered the violin and piano, until we met Paul Bowman. He came to Charlotte, and we jammed for a few hours, and ultimately decided that offering the guitar at weddings was a great idea! It was such a fun ensemble! Deans' Duets really started to come to life in 2016 when we started booking three to four weddings on busy weekends, and in 2018, when we hosted our Duke Mansion training. You could truly see the business beginning to boom as we began integrating more instruments. As more clients asked if we could play specific instruments, we added more instruments to our portfolio. We would figure out what the clients were looking for on their wedding day, find a musician who excelled in playing their instrument, and develop it. Even our song list and our styles have all developed from client requests!
Our mom came to weddings with us for the first 3-4 years of us playing when we were teenagers, and since there were never professional coordinators, she would stand at the back and hold up these large cue cards for us. We had a "G" for grandmothers, "M" for mothers. "BP" for bridal party, and "B" for bride. Megan and I would get frustrated at each other at times when playing at weddings, as siblings do, and we would make faces at each other while we were playing. We would forget we were up in front of so many people. Our mom told us after we had caused a scene that the next time she saw us make a face, she would take all of our money from that wedding. We never made a face again. We saved our arguing for after the wedding :)
In the beginning of Deans' Duets, we played a wedding show where NOT ONE PERSON showed up. It was so poorly advertised that not even one bride or groom came. It was horrible, especially because so much preparation yielded no results. There were a few experiences like that, but we learned so much. There were a lot of things to learn in those beginning years. But by the time we were 30, we had 15 years of experience and really had a good understanding of wedding music and the industry in general.
Deans Duets Weddings
Deans Duets performs at events throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia by providing solos, duos, trios, and quartets for weddings, cocktail hours, private events, receptions, parties, church services, funerals, memorial services, fundraisers, and more. We collaborate with violinists, pianists, guitarists, harpists, and cellists. Our travels take us most often to Charlotte,, Greensboro, and Asheville, as well as Durham. We also have locations in Hickory, Raleigh, Greenville, SC, Columbia, SC, and Charleston, SC, in addition to destination wedding travels, which have taken us to Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida. We are excited to see what the future holds for Deans' Duets!
-April Dean McConnell
April is a professional violinist and the music coordinator for Dean's Duets.