A gig is a gig is a gig.
Last night I played at the Library Bar. I was invited by Erik Barnes, main man at the Library Bar and all around piano-vocal wizard. While the venue is gorgeous and the sound quality amazing, to be honest it can be a stressful gig for me. To start, it's 7–11 p.m. (With breaks the actual playing time is about three hours, fifteen minutes). That's a lot of rep. Also, it's piano-based. Now although I got my start self-accompanying on piano, lately I've transitioned to using my violin as instrument of choice for accompanying, which I think is a better representation of my brand. (Let's count how many times Victoria uses the words "brand" or "branding" in this post!) I was surprised to feel so out of practice with playing piano and singing, but thinking back I realized the last time I played piano and sang at a gig was roughly ten months ago. Since then I've been full-on Victoria Bon. Hey, is that a slogan?
What I've been thinking lately is that as I build my personal brand as an artist and creative, I'd like to make the violin central to my sound and let the piano be a tool I use in songwriting, but not necessarily my signature performing instrument. Hence, @bonviolon*, which is a reference to my last name but also means "good violin" in French. Yay for bilingual word play. P.S., I really need to take a French class or two. According to my mom I am only about 6% French, but my maiden surname is French and I plan to play that vibe up in my branding and in my song selections. But boy, do I need help when words like "oiseaux" show up in lyrics. That word has every freaking vowel AND an X.
Back to the overarching narrative. Here's where I compare myself to Taylor Swift. Some of you may remember that Taylor plays guitar. She relied on it heavily back in her country days. Now that she's transitioned into pop (which was a brilliant tactical marketing decision btw), the guitar has taken a backseat, and the focus is on her choreography and a generally more mobile performance style. Now I've seen videos of her bringing it out on stage as recently as the 2019 AMAs. Even so, you don't go to a Taylor Swift concert and expect to hear some gentle finger picking. At the same time, Taylor continues to use the guitar as a resource in her songwriting process.
So what I'm saying is that I expect piano to be like that for me. I don't plan to market myself as a multi-instrumentalist. Back at the Library Bar, I was constantly aware of how simple and same-y my grooves and chord choices were. Somehow I have this idea that in order for me to get my piano ability to a level that I would feel comfortable calling myself a pianist, I would have to work way hard, harder than I am willing to work. I'd rather continue to hone my skills in violin performance—in which I have an actual degree!—and lean into that, where I feel more at home.
By the way, I am the only one around me who thinks my piano is not good enough. I've always gotten positive reception at the Library Bar and from other musical colleagues. Their point, and it's a valid one, is that my vocals carry the performance and the piano plays a supporting role. It was freeing, actually, when several years ago my voice teacher Brielle pointed out to me that the piano accompaniments on my original songs were too busy, and could still be effective even when simplified. As a classically-trained musician used to having every note meticulously composed and reproduced in performance, this concept was revolutionary for me.
(Hear my performance of "Can't Help Falling In Love" here: https://youtu.be/6-DHWS96rSE)
A worthy tidbit: the story of Erik's residency at the Library Bar as he's told it to me is that he started as a pianist and became a singer in order to do the gig. That serves to put things in context for me. My musical career will not look the same as anyone else's, so I definitely don't need to feel like I'm falling short anywhere as long as I'm doing my best at whatever's in front of me.
All that said, I will continue to take the Library Bar gig as long as Erik offers it to me. I don't mind having a reason to keep my piano skills sharp. And as I've heard it said, a gig is a gig is a gig.
*My Instagram handle. <millennial upspeak> Follow for follow? </millennial upspeak>