February 11, 2013 at 9:20 PM"We are so glad you will be playing violin at our wedding. One thing: can you play 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' by Elton John?"
If you've played a few weddings, you've probably had a few requests like this: for a pop song that you may or may not know, for which you definitely do not have the music. (Is anyone old enough to remember "You Light Up My Life"?) While the violin repertoire gives us all kinds of wonderful music that is perfectly suited to weddings, people still have their favorite pop tunes that are special to them, or special to their relationship. This is okay, and I think we should try to accommodate such requests.
One of my students, a bit too young to have negotiated the whole wedding-gig circuit yet, was asked to play in a wedding, and she was struggling to figure out how to pull off "Don't Stop Believing" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." She'd be playing on a seaside cliff in Malibu, outdoors, no pianist.
In helping her figure this out, I thought I might share some ideas for my V.com friends who are asked to play weddings. (I welcome your wisdom and advice, as well!) The two challenges I'm addressing here are: having no accompaniment, and being asked to play an unfamiliar pop or folk song.
In an ideal situation, an accomplished and flexible piano or organ accompanist can help you put together something with minimal (or no) rehearsal. Also, in an ideal situation, you have a roof over your head and you are asked to play something you know really well, or at least you have the music for. It's also nice if you can be hired as a quartet, which allows you many options for music.
But you might be hired (or asked) to play all by yourself, with no accompanist. In this situation -- now please don't get mad at me for this suggestion -- I advocate taking advantage of modern technology.
At most weddings, though there may be no piano or organ, there is usually a sound system. You'll have to do some inquiring, but you will likely be able to hook up an MP3 player, a CD player, or maybe just your iPod, so that you can play an accompaniment track. (Or you can just bring your own boom box, if things are really minimalist!) You can do this for classical music you are playing, as well as for pop music.
Here's the thing to google: "vocal accompaniment tracks" or "violin accompaniment tracks." You can use such tracks to accompany your standard classical pieces, and you can use such tracks to accompany pop music requests.
For example, here's one such site, with piano accompaniments to standard, mostly classical, violin pieces: Piano-Accompaniments.com Or, you can often find something fuller. For example, I wouldn't mind playing Schubert's "Ave Maria" to this accompaniment track, and here's the matching violin sheet music part in B flat, free from IMSLP.
Important note: make sure that your sheet music is in the same key as the accompaniment track!
Now, how about those pop tunes: Elton John, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga? These probably require that you read a vocal part and find a "vocal accompaniment track." Fortunately, the range of a violin is well-suited for vocal parts, and if you are in the mood for some fun, you can do a bit of improvising once you get the basic song (or not!)
Here are a few examples, to get you thinking:
EXAMPLE 1: Elton John, "Can You Feel the Love"
I did some Googling, and I found this CD accompaniment track. Of course, they assume you are a vocalist who does not read music, so they give you a version with someone singing, plus lyrics. If you want to play by ear, you can work it out, But since most of us do read, you also might want to find some sheet music that has actual notes. A quick check with the piano tells me that this is in B flat, so after some googling, here's the sheet music. This is all pretty quick and downloadable, but in this case, the track and the music cost a total of about $16. You should pass this expense on to whomever is hiring you. (If you play a lot of weddings, you might find yourself simply having a standard fee for playing any piece that is not part of your standard menu of wedding tunes).
EXAMPLE 2: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey (or Glee)
First, you'd need the Journey version; the Glee version is a four-part vocal score (it's pretty cool, I must say, if you have a barbershop quartet you can use this version!) -- I digress..
Here is a vocal accompaniment track for "Don't Stop Believing" (I'd recommend the instrumental version without backing vocals). I had to use the word "karaoke" a few times in my search! Of course, people usually do not use sheet music when singing karaoke; they use a lyric sheet and summon the notes with alcohol-enhanced courage. So you must find the vocal sheet music, and here it is, easy to find by searching "sheet music" and the name of the song.
EXAMPLE 3: "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" -- traditional Irish tune
In some ways, traditional tunes presents more of a challenge, because they tend to be available in a lot of different keys and styles. I would seek out accompaniment that sounds good to you, and that is acoustic (not all synthesizer, if possible). In the case of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," a search brought me to a flute version, with sheet music as well as an accompaniment CD. Nice that it was all-in-one! (I haven't heard this CD accompaniment, though, so I can't recommend it 100 percent.) Flute versions can also good options for a violinist, as they tend to be in the same range, though you will likely need to be comfortable playing a few things in position.
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I hope that gives you some ideas for how to accommodate requests for pop tunes at weddings and other occasions, and also how to cope with a situation in which there is no accompaniment. I welcome your ideas as well!
My older kids may start getting requests to play at weddings soon enough -- actually, my oldest will be playing (and singing) her 1st in her school-organized ensemble (and choir) next month -- and their multi-talented (private) teacher would almost certainly discourage the use of prerecorded accompaniment for that... But then again, I guess they can always play duets -- and I can probably also volunteer my viola for some simple harmonies -- if they can't have additional accompaniment. But outside of the money issue, wedding couples wouldn't really require gigs be strict solos, no? And at least for kids (and those starting out), the experience itself would be at least as important as the bit of money they might make, no? Not that I would want to encourage the general devaluation of musicians for such gigs of course...
Nowadays apps for android and iOS has become so accessible and they're available dirt cheap - with a three dollar app and some time and effort, you can get much more desire results than you would by downloading the backing track in mp3 or wav.
Some religious venues and/or officiants have *very* strict rules about this sort of thing.
Also, this is a handy guide:
But Karen, it might not be possible to polish this up, if the wedding is the next day! ;)
Anne, thank you for the ASCAP link, very good idea to check such things.
Casey -- do tell more!
And yes, ideally, one is hired as a quartet, or one has an accompanist, and one can do it all acoustically...I'm just saying that in the absence of the ideal situation, here are some ideas. :)
Good things about midi is it's the scores or notation for computers and digital keyboards, any datas can be changed afterwards which is unlike an audio file like mp3. If the midi file isn't awful to begin with, usually simply loading it with good midi keyboard with better sound will give instant improvements over the synthetic sound generated by the computer OS.
My collegue who's into this kind of things shown me an android app, which I remember the name goes something like "live midi" which cost few dollars and the sound is actually pretty good, better than most entry level digital keyboards. It even have mixer to balance every instruments, intuitive transposition feature, and tempo adjusting (although full fledge editing isn't presented but it reflect the asking price, apps with good editing features usually cost $10 and up). Although these are the norms even for most freewares, but with a good sound library (midi guys call it sound samples) isnt always the case. It's especially useful when all you need is just backing track libraries with the flexibility to change tempo, keys, mute certain tracks etc in the fly.
2) amazing slowdowner- a program that lets you play back mp3s at any tempo, and/or any key.
3)printmusic, or smartscore (inexpensive music notation programs)do a perfect job of transforming a midi file into notation, which you can move to any key. You can also extract out the accompanying part to use as a playalong.
I use these tools almost every day. they are useful for lots of things. For instance- you can import a sheet music pdf, and transpose it, make background tracks, etc.
Some compensating up-side to the new technological age.
At the other end of the stick, we had a bride request the 1st movt of Dvorak American for her stroll with dad..Explaining did no good and we were well into the 8th minute, after a 22' march by the bride....finally the minister sent a missionary (best man) over to Turn-Off-the-Music...they wished the last movt for their recessional....they were far. far away and all the guests were gone by the time we quit the 4th movt.
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