Rivonne (pt. 1)
Could you tell me about yourself?
My name is Rivonne Moore, i’m from Detroit Michigan. I’ve been in Japan since 2008. 10 years coming up.
Wow. Why did you come to Japan?
It was actually not my decision to come Japan. It was Ashton’s (my husband) decision. We had a friend named Tiffany who was here, she was doing the eikawa, and she said “you guys have bills, you should come here!” And he said, “that sounds like a good idea.“
But it didn’t sound like a good idea to me. I had just finished my bachelors and was going into teaching, we were still dating, and so I told him: “if you want me to go with you to Japan you’re gonna have to marry me.“
And he called my bluff! He ended up asking me to marry him. And I said yes.
He sure did. So what were you doing when you got to Japan?
We started with the whole eikawa route and the rest is history.
So you didn’t know very much at all about Japan before you came here?
None. Absolutely nothing. They told us to look up where we wanted to go, where we want to live. And I said “anywhere so long as I’m near a big city.“
Funny story, they tried to place us on our wedding day. They called and they told me, “You need to take this placement otherwise we don’t know if we’ll be able to find you another one.“ And I said “People, this is my wedding day. I’m not accepting anything today. And it was in Hiroshima.”
Not quite the big city like you had requested.
Not at all.
And they went on saying “if you don’t except today we don’t know that will be able to place you.“ So I told them, “I don’t think you’re hearing me. I’m getting married today. Call me tomorrow, anytime but today.”
Exactly. Is this type of attitude something that you’ve counted more than once?
Yes. Absolutely. There is this type of “hurry up and wait” mentality, a sense of urgency that I’ve come across only when something is important to the company or the business or the agent. It can be really annoying. Even on my wedding day it was as if whatever they had to do trumps my marriage.
So that was how things started off.
Yep. I didn’t know anything about the food, about the people. I mean, I liked Sailor Moon (who didn’t like Sailor Moon) but that was the extent of it.
It was more about, they are paying, I have student loans, and it’s something new.
So you started with eikaiwa, are you still doing that?
Oh, no. That was 13 months. It was an experience, but I don’t think I could work for an eikaiwa like that again. Because they just don’t care. And that’s part of the reason we didn’t end on a good note, because of their lack of empathy.
So after that I worked at a preschool for about two or three years. And I loved it. I would go back to that in a heartbeat! It just didn’t pay enough. It was unfortunate because it was such a great school, with such an important mission and everything… but they stopped giving out bonuses at the end of the year. We were never turning a profit. We didn’t have enough students. The man who owned the school wanted to keep the school going so he was funneling in money from his other businesses to keep it afloat.
So you ended up leaving.
What was the next step after teaching at the preschool?
I went into singing. I started singing more. I started to do something where I could make my own hours and, well, freelance. It was really important to Ashton, my husband, that we be self-sustaining. And freelancing was really scary for me because no one in my family has ever done that before. My mother has her own business, which isn’t quite freelance, so it was scary.
It just wasn’t as… stable? Consistent? I like consistency.
So that’s what that was like for me at the time. Learning how to be freelance was a struggle, especially here. You don’t know what you’re going to do, how much money you’re going to make. And especially in singing. The lifestyle changes month to month. Gigs can be plentiful in October but then you might have nothing in February.
Who did you reach out to when you were setting this up? Who was your support system?
Again, our friend Tiffany. The one who was teaching and encouraged us to come here. She’s a fantastic jazz singer. That was actually part of the reason why she really wanted us to come here, Ashton is a singer. She said that we could come here, do eikaiwa for a bit, get your visa, and then stay in Japan. That was always kind of the goal for him—to advance his career in singing here.
What about for you? Was singing on your mind?
Not at all. Teaching. I was trained to teach. It was something that I said, “OK, I can sacrifice for a new experience.” Now I know that it’s one of those things that come from the patriarchy, but at the time it was just embedded in my head that I do it for my husband.
And at the time, I didn’t have anything lined up. I wasn’t putting anything on hold to come here. I was a substitute teacher and I was making OK money, but I was also working five jobs just to pay rent. I thought, “How are you working five jobs and not making any money? How is that even possible?”
Working to just barely sustain. There are a lot of people asking that question.
Right. So coming over here, it was the land of milk and honey for singing. There are jobs and agents and once you sing at one place, people start hearing about you. Once someone hears you sing, they give you a contact. Other people might say “Hey, I can’t do this gig. Maybe you can do it?” And suddenly I have a contact with that agent. It’s a ton of networking.
Maybe this is just my own perception, but it sounds like being a big fish in a small pond. It sounds like there can be a lot of opportunities and if you’ve demonstrated that you have the skills and the credentials, the industry is your playground. You can snatch up a lot of opportunities.
You really can. However, the pond is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. The jobs are getting fewer and people are steering away from the singers. I mean, it’s expensive. When you can hire a DJ or you can just have a piano.
The climate is changing, and we have to adapt and start doing new things. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
What would you say, and this isn’t to say that you’ve “peaked”, but what is something that’s a peak moment in your career here as a singer?
Hm. You know, I’d have to say it was when I did this private party at the Blue Note Tokyo. It was because I had finally come to terms with my voice, the things I was doing with it, the way it was maturing, and how it sounded. I don’t do runs, I don’t have the Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey. I have my voice and it is what it is, but I was very self-conscious about it for a long time.
I think it was that day where I said, “You know what? This is me. I’m getting paid to sing and people are enjoying what I’m doing. This is a great feeling.”
There are so many people who graduated with music degrees from my school who didn’t have the opportunity to pursue music as a career.
And here I am. I’m singing. And I’m having a great time doing it. I never thought this is what I’d be doing with my life. Never.
At the Blue Note Tokyo, no less. The same venue that’s hosted Peabo Bryson, Esperanza Spalding, Christian Scott, Robert Glasper. That’s such a huge moment.
Right. And that was 2013. That’s when I came into that realization that this is my life.
I think it was after a friend of ours had a stroke — right after a set at the Park Hyatt. We went to go visit him and I told him, “I really don’t think I want to sing. I’m not that great.” and he said, “You know, I can’t believe you said that. Here I am a singer, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sing again. You’re a singer. And you’re able to sing. Don’t take it for granted. Just do it.”
Thankfully, he’s recovered. But that really stayed with me.