I've never planned a wedding, but if watching TLC has taught me anything it's that there is some serious work that goes into these things. With all the planning required to create one of the most special days in a couple's life, the last thing you should be worried about is the music. As wedding season approaches, I'd like to share a few things that I have learned from playing in weddings over the past years in hopes that these tips can help some of you planning your big day.
Song selection can be a great way for a couple to showcase their personal style and include songs special to their relationship. While I would encourage this, I advise caution when choosing songs with lyrics. Try singing the melody of the song in question. Does it sound good without the words or does it become monotonous and awkward? If it sounds weird without the text, it will definitely sound strange with a string quartet. I've heard some pretty interesting choices - everything from a medley of music from the video game 'Zelda' to Smashing Pumpkins. Some of these songs worked, other have (really, really) not. Listen to the arrangement before you OK it for the ceremony. The same concept applies to arrangements of classical (particularly orchestral) works. Yes, you love the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto... but how do you really feel about the arrangement for string trio?
The last thing to think about with song choice is the necessary length for the song's role in the ceremony. The song for a bridal party's processional will generally be much longer than the music needed for the bride's procession. Talk to the musicians about their suggestions and discuss which of your chosen songs would be best placed in different slots. Give an approximate minute and second count of how much time will need to be filled and let their experience guide you on how to match your desired songs with the right place in the ceremony.
Location, Location, Location!
When you're planning the setup for the ceremony, take care in considering placement of the musicians. With big bridal parties, this can be difficult because the bridesmaids and groomsmen extend so far from the center of the ceremony. If the musicians are stuck behind people, they will not be able to see when to stop and start playing. It seems obvious, but setup can cause big problems! For bigger bridal parties, I recommend finding a good position in the back of the space for the musicians. Playing from the back allows musicians to communicate with the wedding coordinator and watch the processions easily without becoming a distraction to the guests. If you want the musicians integrated more obviously into the ceremony, make sure they have good sight lines from the front. Visual communication with the officiate is desirable for the players and will make complicated ceremonies with unity candles, cultural traditions, communion and other special musical requirements much easier to coordinate.
Outdoor weddings are beautiful, but can wreak havoc on instruments. If your wedding is in the middle of July and the sun is burning down, have the venue's crew set up a shaded area so you don't lose the band. With instruments that can cost more than the wedding itself, don't assume all players will stick it out in the sun. The same applies for rain - at the first drop, you can expect full flight.
Another issue with outdoor weddings is the ensemble's projection challenges. Without amplification, acoustic instruments can be difficult to hear. I've played quite a few weddings where I left convinced that the guests heard more from the birds and passing planes than from our playing. See if the venue has equipment available to set up microphones. If not, keep the musicians as close to the ceremony as possible so the sound does not get lost. When you're looking at which group to hire, ask if they have any equipment to help with projection.
Those are just a few basic things I wanted to offer. If you have questions, please ask them and I or my colleagues would be more than happy to offer suggestions! Additionally, if you are a musician with further advice to add, I'd love to hear what you have to say.