VICTORIA THEODORE  -  FROM STEVIE TO TV

IMAGINE BEING ASKED TO AUDITION for a mysterious but high-level “secret project.” When keyboardist Victoria Theodore got that call, she balanced her natural curiosity with a bit of caution.
“I did a little bit of reconnaissance, just to verify that it wasn’t something illicit or untoward,” she says. “And it all checked out, so I booked a flight to LA.”

A seasoned performer who has also toured the world backing Stevie Wonder on keyboards, the San Francisco Bay Area native aced the audition and got the gig. And that’s when the really hard part started.

“Once I got the job, they told me what it was,” she says, “but I had to keep it quiet. The audition was in May, and the press release wasn’t until July! That was the toughest secret I’ve ever had to keep.”

But finally she could tell her friends and family: She’d been chosen to play keyboards with the Posse, the house band in the production of The Arsenio Hall Show. “I absolutely loved it—it’s was so much fun,” Victoria says. “And it was a challenge, in terms of how many different types of music we had to learn every day.”

“I’VE LEARNED HOW TO CHANGE THINGS ON A MOMENT’S NOTICE, WHETHER IT’S MY PERFORMANCE STYLE, MY PATCHES, OR WHAT I HAVE TO PROGRAM.” 

No two nights were the same for Theodore and her bandmates. Besides providing musical elements and interacting with Arsenio, the Posse was often asked to support the show’s guest artists. “When Earth, Wind & Fire came on the show, we performed with them,” she recalls. “Then we played with Lil Jon on his new hit, ‘Turn Down for What.’ And when Trombone Shorty came on the show, he asked me and Sean [Holt], the saxophone player, to be his background singers—and it turned out fantastic.”

Victoria came to The Arsenio Hall Show with impressive credentials. In addition to her six years performing with Stevie Wonder, Victoria is a dancer, singer, and songwriter. She also has an extensive musical education, including Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Classical Piano Performance and Computer Music from Oberlin Conservatory of Music and an M.A. in Classical Piano Performance from Stanford University.

victoria-side“Because of my training, there’s pretty much nothing you can throw at me that I can’t play,” she says. “It does give me an edge, though I do have to try not to be too precise. When you’re playing music with a more laid-back feel, you don’t want it to sound stiff. But whether I’m performing a Rachmaninoff étude or a Stevie Wonder song, it really doesn’t matter as long as I take the time to understand the language of that particular song.”

Working on a TV show offers unique performance challenges, says Victoria. “People say that it looks like I’m just having fun. And I do try to look engaged, because you never know when the camera’s going to hit you. But there’s this whole inner world happening in your ears: ‘All right, get ready for this cue. No, we’re changing it. Do this cue now. No, cancel.’ I’ve learned how to be very nimble. How to change things on a moment’s notice, whether it’s my performance style, my patches, or what I have to program.”

Given the split-second demands of television gigs, it’s essential to have a keyboard that’s up to the job. That’s where the Yamaha Motif XF8 comes in. “I was introduced to the XF8 through my work with Stevie, because Stevie is a Yamaha endorser,” she says. “So when I was putting together my rig for this show, that was my first choice for my main keyboard.”

The Motif XF8 combines powerful programming features with a simple interface—and, of course, great sounds. “In particular, I really love the different Rhodes sounds,” Victoria says. “The Vintage ’74 is one of my favorites. The layout, the feel of the keys—it’s very much home to me. The keys have just the right amount of response, and they feel solid under my fingers. I can store user patches, performance patches, and control all my other keyboards. The fact that I can program and change things on the fly makes my life so much easier! I feel like I have a lot of control when I play this keyboard.”

As the year winds down, Victoria finds herself in the studio. She has partnered with PledgeMusic to bring her first solo album to life. She also looks forward to expanding her performance skills even more in 2015. "When you get to do what you love, at this level –well, I would never have imagined that I’d be able to tour with one of my heroes, Stevie. And then being able to perform in a television show with such a great comedian, actor, and just person, in Arsenio. I just couldn’t have imagined it. So I appreciate every second!”