Most of my readership primarily knows me as an author, blogger, pastor, songwriter. But I’ve had the privilege of also being a working musician for over 25 years as well. This is the non-glamorous side of music, making money by playing bars and clubs, working late nights in recording studios, playing weddings and corporate events. It helps pay the bills. And for that, I am grateful.
Some artists see this as being beneath them. They want to make their own music on their own terms. And I understand this. I want the same for myself as well. But my perspective is that being a professional musician is honorable work (at least with the people I work with and for), and I approach the craft in the same way that a master plumber or electrician might display professionalism and integrity with their customers.
There’s also a spiritually formative aspect to this too. I make myself a servant, not only to the audience I play for, but also to the music that I perform. If I’m playing a John Mayer tune for instance, my individuality will poke out, but I still want to maintain the musical integrity of the song. When I work on someone’s CD project, I want to ensure that the songs are a true reflection of the artist and not myself. In other words, it’s not about me.
Equally formative, I’ve also learned over time to have passion for my music, while not allowing an indifferent audience to shake my sometimes fragile psyche. And this is harder to do than one thinks.
Recently, something happened to me that has happened only one other time. I was playing solo piano at a local upscale restaurant which was then only nominally busy. A middle-aged couple at the corner table, I suspected were probably divorced and dating. A young married couple being treated out by the in-laws. A quiet and respectful family having dinner before their movie started. A group of boisterous young twenty-somethings in the center of the room, possibly celebrating a birthday. It seemed a typical Friday night crowd—proper and possibly a bit apathetic.
Two hours into the three hour set. This is when my inner voice begins doubting. I think to myself, am I playing the kind of music they want? Am I getting a little pitchy? Is anyone even listening? Do they even care? Why am I here anyway? It is the existential angst of the piano bar artist.
And suddenly a lady rouses me from my inner dialogue. Approaching me tentatively, she remarks, “I really like your playing. You’re very gifted. I want you to have this.” And she sets a hundred dollar bill in my tip jar.
I re-learned a lesson in that moment. You never know who is listening. You never know who is paying attention. You never know who you are affecting by what you do.
And this is why it is so important to always be who you are. And as they say, who you really are is who you are when no one is looking.
Who am I really? Author, blogger, pastor, songwriter? That’s just what I do. Who I am is a servant—to my audience (whether I think they’re listening or not) and to the music I perform. But mostly to God, through my life and through my art.
[Note: If you liked this blog, I have an older blog that talks a little about Piano Bar Philosophizing. I encourage you to check it out.]