Canadian singer and songwriter David Myles and his band take the stage for the Arts Council performance dressed in blue suits, white shirts, and narrow dark ties. “That’s odd,” I think, “a group of young musicians in the popular idiom wearing suits.”
David Myles suspects the audience might think it was odd, too, it seems. He addresses the question in his introductory remarks after the first song. He comes from a family of doctors, he tells the audience; his father and his brothers are doctors. A giggle ripples through the auditorium. Many of us have leaped ahead of him in the storytelling, and are already hearing the conversation he and his parents might have had. When he announced to this family that he intended to make music his career, Myles continues, his father told him he would be the only Myles who wouldn’t be ‘Doctor‘. Maybe not, Myles acknowledged to his father, but he promised his father he would always show up for work in a suit. The suit has become part of David Myles’ stage persona, of his identity as a performing musician.
In the same way, Brett Cave, pianist and singer I first heard in concert during a Panama Canal cruise, also orchestrates his identity as a performer as much as his music. Attire demarcates him as well. The Piano Man, as he describes himself on his website, arrives on stage wearing taupe pants and a co-ordinated wide-striped red, taupe, and beige long jacket with matching red shirt and vest. The vibrant colours and singular fashion statement mirror the energy of the show and differentiate it from others. The visual statement becomes enshrined in memory, and forever connected with the performer.
At the piano introducing a song, Cave calls it his “favorite song ever, ever, ever!” punctuating the last two ‘evers’ with arcs of his arms starting at the top of his head like a pirouetting ballerina, and finishing by the piano bench. Two songs later, characteristic gestures not forgotten, Caves sings another “favorite song ever, ever, ever!” By the third “favorite song ever, ever, ever!” the audience is joining in on the ‘evers’ as soon as they see his fingers meet at the top of his head. Caves has reinforced not only his rapport with his public and the spirit in the show, but also the imprint of his identity. I want to call it a brand.
We associate brands with products and organizations. The Saskatchewan Roughriders, for example, have developed an iconic brand. In fact, in March, 2014, the organization won a North American Brand Achievement Award from Cult, an Alberta marketing firm. The team’s logo represents pride, loyalty, determination, grit, fun, and community. As the Cult program description notes, “Fans are born into their colours, flock to the games and events, purchase more merchandise than the entire CFL teams combined and are themselves 'owners' (the team is owned by the community and fan shareholders). This community owned team has created one of the most loyal and involved fan bases in sport."
A brand, however, is not restricted to products, organizations or professional entertainers. Our identity as individuals becomes a kind of brand as well. Our character traits, our tastes and predilections, as well the activities in which we are involved, all make up the composite that becomes our image, both professional and personal. Certain individuals are known for their sports knowledge and proficiency, some for their innovation, others for their charisma and energy in social situations, still others for their commitment to the community.
In my own case, music, especially liturgical music, is a cornerstone of my identity. In fact, I carry a brand—‘the church lady.’ Given that I am not a professional musician, I can only attribute that phenomenon to visibility and longevity. I didn’t take it too seriously until a taxi driver in Hawaii yelled it out to me on the way to Diamond Head. Having walked from our hotel room, my husband and I were just beginning the climb to the trail head when I heard the call. “Hey, Church Lady!” We ignored the herald, and kept walking. A few seconds later, a taxi stopped beside us. The driver rolled down his window, and said, “Hey, Church Lady! There’s someone in this cab who knows you, and they want to give you a ride.” People related to parishioners from home had seen me at our church, and offered us a ride to the trail head. We accepted, gratefully. I, too, have my own brand, of which liturgical music is one dimension.
It’s one thing to create a brand, as did David Myles and Brett Cave, or to cultivate one springboarding from some pre-existing conditions, as did the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But what about the unintentional dimension, like my association with liturgical music? What factors might contribute to the evolution of our identity over the years? What resources might help us shape how our identity evolves? And what happens when, by choice or happenstance, we must rebrand? Lots of fodder here for the next blog posts, it seems.