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String Quartet Disasters and How to Avoid Them: A Primer for the Beginning Wedding Player

He started playing with the recession and the entire wedding party went into a frenzied “not yet!” looks You ask yourself: “Could I have avoided this?”…

Those concert disasters happened to everyone. Well, except YOU, since you’ve only been playing weddings since last Tuesday. I’ve been playing string quartet at weddings for over two decades and I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, how NOT to experience that awful moment when the focus shifts from the happy couple to the instantly deceased violinist. Let’s get right into it!

God’s wrath

I played an outdoor wedding and the weather was perfect. 70 degrees, sunny, blue skies, just what the bride was hoping for. We completed the prelude and entrance of the wedding party and began the bridal procession. This was new to us; True love it just came out in theaters and it was the first time we played it All you need is love. The bride started walking down the aisle and a HUGE gust of wind, the first on a previously calm day, blew all our music out of the stands. Thank heavens we had rehearsed before, but the guests still enjoyed the sight of our viola madly chasing down eight pages of sheet music while we furiously improvised. We got through, but it was close.

The weather can change eerily quickly. When playing outside, the sides must always be in binding material and the boards must be securely fastened to the racks. Music stores sell long, springy clips just for that; I use clothespins from the dollar store. (They’re cheaper and I don’t mind if they get lost or broken.) Either way, USE SOMETHING! It may seem like an eternity between the entrance of the wedding party and the bride as you record the clips, but unless you’re a cellist in Pachelbel’s Canon, it’s better to close the book or be blown off the stand in the middle. . Also, make sure you sit somewhere where if it starts to rain, you won’t have to be disrespected by it. My ceremonial contract says: “… the quartet needs a sheltered place to play in bad weather.” (You have a contract, right?)

What are we playing?

At one of my first wedding gigs, back in college, we had a bunch of borrowed music and stuff from the college library, including two albums of Handel’s Water Music. During the prelude, the best man came over and said the bride needs five more minutes for what brides need five more minutes and can we play one more song? I said, “Okay, Handel Hornpipe!” We hurriedly pulled it out, found the Hornpipe, started playing… and soon enough we realized BOTH books had Hornpipe! It was pretty bumpy for about two steps while we figured out what was going on and got a few funny looks from the guests in the front row.

Making good wedding books takes time and effort, not to mention money. First, you need a list of wedding music. There are hundreds of these on the internet; I won’t waste time with this essay. Once you’ve figured out what you need and where you’re going to get them, you need to get organized. The best string quartets I’ve played with have single-volume, categorized, numbered books. Mine is divided into broad sections; Classical, wedding, cafe music, tango, rock/pop, ragtime, jazz and pop culture. Each part has a colored tab and the pieces are numbered. If I want Eine Kleine Nachtmusikthis is “blue sheet, 1.5.” To Una Cabeza the “orange 6.” It makes finding music easy and fast and keeps everyone on the same page. I have probably a dozen Minuets or Minuets in the books; this ensures we are all on the same page!

NOT YET!

So what about that premature wedding procession I was talking about earlier? Well, there was no good way to hide it. I cut the quartet off, giving the bride an embarrassed “I’m really sorry” shrug and a big comical cue when the priest gave an equally comical “OK, NOW! A wink.

The best defense against such things is to get to the concert early. Very early. I usually arrive at weddings at least 30 minutes and sometimes up to an hour before the start of the prelude. If the journey is long, I give him extra time. If it’s outdoors or I’ve never been to the location, extra time. This ensures that I have time for several things:

*Review the physical setup and make sure we have chairs, adequate space, and if outdoors, adequate shade and/or protection from rain.

*Find the wedding planner and ask the number at the wedding, are we going to play something we haven’t heard about yet (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Oh, we’re having a sand ceremony, can you play something for that?”), and most importantly, who gives the cue to start the entrance music. Usually it’s the wedding planner, but if there isn’t one, it might be Aunt Mathilda, who might need some gentle coaching on how to cue a string quartet down the length of a cathedral church.

*Finally, find the officiant or celebrant (who will actually perform the wedding) and find out what the last thing they will say before the new couple walks back down the aisle at the end. Usually, BUT NOT ALWAYS, the introduction. (“I already have the honor of introducing John and Mary Whatchamacallum FOR THE FIRST TIME!)

Fantastic! I’m ready for the wedding!

Well, maybe. There are always things that pop up. In fact, a bride of mine decided on a packed church day that today was not going to be that day. How do you handle this? (I’ll tell you. Play Mozart until the guests leave, then with the utmost tact ask his father for the balance of the fee.) The preparation only goes so far. At a certain point, experience kicks in and you realize that weddings are a very good way to make a living…

… unless you’re the cellist and it’s Pachelbel time.

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