6 Tips for Wedding Ceremony Musicians
Today I am honored to be playing the music for a couple of my good friends who are getting married. I hope I can help to make their wedding day sound just exactly as they've planned it.
I've played my fair share of wedding ceremonies and cocktail hours (Never done a reception yet... bucket list?) and there are certain things I've learned to do to make a wedding day as amazing and not-awkward as possible. Are you a wedding musician? Take heed! This stuff is important:
1. Practice the music ahead of time. I can't count the number of times I've sat in a wedding for some good friends and listened to a musician stumble through what is obviously their first read of the ceremony music. Don't be an idiot. Practice the music and play it well. I sure do wish this didn't need to be mentioned...
2. Practice looping music and then stopping at any point in the music tastefully and inconspicuously. The biggest mistake wedding musicians make is playing music that is either too long or too short for what is necessary. And odds are, your bride is not going to pick music that is timed perfectly for that march down the aisle. It is your job to make sure the music starts when it is supposed to and then stops when it is supposed to. This will often require some musical gymnastics on your part, (especially if you're playing with a group) but it is the most essential part of what you are doing. The ability to lengthen or shorten a piece of music in real time is not just a neat talent. It's really a necessity before you decide to take a wedding gig.
3. Go to the rehearsal. Clear your schedule for this. The rehearsal is the ultimate surprise-preventer. This is when you find things out that you were never told (or you forgot)... Things I've discovered at rehearsal (in no way related to the wedding I'm playing today, Andrea and Dan are rock stars!):
- Basic structure of the ceremony
- Is there special music?/When does it occur?
- The aisle is a lot longer/shorter than you thought.
- 15 bridesmaids?! Really?
- Have the flower girls/ring bearers practiced at all before tonight? No? They'll be taking while...
- "You need to provide a sound system and microphone for the officiant."
- "We'd like to hear this song instead."
- It's an outdoor wedding.
- A fellow musician was practicing the wrong part.
- Oh... you'd prefer organ for this then?
And all this is not to mention the added benefit of the bridal party getting the chance to hear what the music is going to sound like... one less surprise for them too!
4. Pay attention to the pace of the ceremony. Everything that happens will affect what you are doing. Remember back when we practiced shortening and lengthening music? It's time to put all that into practice:
- Your prelude may have to run longer because Aunt Suzie isn't here yet.
- No matter how well you prepare, you will never be able to truly estimate how long it will take for people to walk down an aisle (unless you set a timer and give each member a specific time stamp on when to start their procession... true story. This wedding was precise.) The song's over and there's still bridesmaids coming? Time to loop...
- Is the bride jogging up the aisle? Time to wrap up the song. Many brides want to hear a beautiful 4-5 minute song playing as they walk down they aisle, not realizing it usually takes about 20-40 seconds to walk down an aisle. Be ready for this. (This is actually the best case for "Here Comes the Bride" anyone could make... the chorus takes just about the right amount of time)
- Is the bride standing up at the front while the party is trying to signal that they're ready for you to stop playing? It's already too late. You missed it. End it now. Noo, not like that. Like we practiced.
- Is the special music playing during a unity-something-or-other? (candles, sand art, sandwiches...) It does not take long to light a candle. Don't play a 3 minute song to underscore the candle-lighting. Do find the perfect part of the song that will most effectively express the beauty of the moment... and then let the moment be a moment.
5. Play in such a way that people leave the ceremony not thinking about the music. If you are at any point a focus of the ceremony, you have failed. Your job is to underscore, and a good underscore helps convey the emotion of the moment without being a performance. If the music becomes a personal performance at any point, you have taken the spotlight away from where it really belongs. There are times for performances (cocktail hour is a GREAT time to perform and show off a bit... be an entertainer!) but during the ceremony you should stay as much in the background as possible.
6. Do everything you can to relieve the stress of the bride and groom. They are counting on you to make some of the most potentially hairy parts of the service go as smoothly as possible. And you really do have this power. Know your stuff and watch your timing and you will put everyone at ease!
What would you add to this list?
Let's make music with some soon-to-be-newlyweds.