My Wedding Was a Disaster (but Ida Kavafian was great!)

October 13, 2017, 7:32 PM · I’ve been married almost 35 years, but it occurred to me only recently that my wedding was a bit of a disaster. Simply put, if things could go wrong, they did. So why does that particular day remain one of the brightest of my life? Because the music was absolute perfection. And that is what I remember when I think back on that day. All the glitches have miraculously faded into the background — the horrendous weather, the people who couldn’t be there, the nerves and anxiety — and I’m left with the music. And that is the part I cherish most.

I realize how fortunate I was that Ida Kavafian and Joyce Hammann, both exceptional violinists, performed at my wedding.

Ida and father-in-law
Ida Kavafian and my father-in-law at the reception

Ida and my husband became friends at Interlochen as students in 1968. They went on to collaborate on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 1977 at CAMI Hall, Ida’s first professional performance of the work (or so I’m told). Ida, an internationally-acclaimed violinist, currently teaches at both Juilliard and the Curtis Institute of Music, and performs extensively. Joyce worked with my husband in the early ‘80s and is currently Concertmaster of the longest running show on Broadway, Phantom of the Opera. And our pianist was none other than Joan Dorneman, the leading coach of the Metropolitan Opera. It was particularly meaningful that these incredible musicians shared their talents with us on our special day.

But, before I get to the music, let me set the stage with an unfortunate series of events.

Our first disappointment occurred the day before the wedding. My husband’s beloved friend Raul Julia was to read Shakespeare during the ceremony, in counterpoint with Anthony Zerbe, who would read e.e. cummings. (I picked the former readings, my husband the latter.) Well, best-laid plans and all that. Raul’s wife went into labor the night before the ceremony, which meant he would not be in attendance. Anthony agreed to read all the works (and did so brilliantly), but we lost the entire point-counterpoint effect.

Next, my flowers arrived the morning of the wedding. I was working at New York City Opera at the time and a brilliant costume designer there transformed my great-grandmother’s wedding dress into something quite remarkable. He also designed the flowers I would carry and promised I would love them. Well… let's just say I probably would have loved them had I been getting married at Westminster Abbey. They were HUGE! It was a massive bouquet that cascaded to the floor. Frankly, I had a genuine concern about tripping over them. Thanks to my mother’s ingenuity, I took the tiny bouquet that was embedded in the enormous arrangement and, instead of throwing it later, used it as my bridal bouquet.

My wedding was held at the historic National Arts Club in Gramercy Park — a spectacular venue in New York City filled with carved wood, ornate stained glass, and, unfortunately, NO AIR CONDITIONING! Yes, back in 1983, air conditioning was spotty at best and certainly not available in historic sites. For all the care my husband took to research the venue, he overlooked the element he cared most about: AC. And it turned out to be the hottest, most humid day of the year. At the start of the ceremony, my husband asked the maid of honor (my sister) if it would be okay to take out his handkerchief and wipe his brow. In her inimitable deadpan, she replied that it beat watching his sweat puddle on the floor. Ah, good times.

There was also nowhere to park the limo my father and I were in, and nowhere within the venue for me to hide before the ceremony, so we were forced to circle Gramercy Park about a million times. That proved to be a happy accident, giving me some of the most precious moments I have ever spent with my dad. We finally made it inside unseen and were ready for the march down the aisle.

And then came the music!

My husband selected the prelude and processional and, wisely, gravitated to a classic: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, specifically Autumn (3rd movement) and Winter (2nd movement). I selected the meditative piece: the largo from the Bach double. The one vocal selection was my brother singing “Simple Song” from Bernstein’s Mass. (Perfection.) It was back to Vivaldi for the recessional: Autumn (1st movement). I will never forget the stunning beauty Ida and Joyce brought forth from their violins and my brother with his dulcet tenor. In retrospect, it was the music that separated my special day from someone else’s wedding.

Alas, the glitches just kept on coming!

Turns out the man who performed our ceremony was not vested with the authority to pronounce us man and wife in any state other than New Jersey. So the pronouncement made during the NYC ceremony was a complete sham. After the faux wedding, we jumped into a limo and got married in the parking lot of a Travel Lodge in Newark, NJ. I’m fairly certain we kept the motor running and the doors locked.

Next? Our “photographer” was the boyfriend of one of our guests. (I suspect you see where this is headed.) His camera “broke” and all our posed photos were blurry and dimly lit. (Today, you’d have 75 people with iPhones who would happily help you out, but no such luck back in 1983.) The photographer was able to get a different camera prior to the reception, but the real damage had been done. (Perhaps it was just as well. My husband and I were both so shiny-faced by that point we practically glowed. And the humidity had the opposite effect on our hair: His dark curls got tighter and tighter, while my blond ones fell in a mop around my face.)

But I don’t need photos to remember that day. And a recording would never compare to the memory I hold inside me of hearing Ida and Joyce. The incomparable beauty of the two melodic lines weaving together throughout the Bach will always be symbolic of the pure and passionate interlocking of two souls.

So, for those of you brides who are worried about the dress, the party favors, and (heaven help us) the releasing of doves, consider putting that attention into your music. I promise, you’ll have memories that truly reflect the uniqueness of you and your spouse. As Victor Hugo so aptly said, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”


October 16, 2017 at 06:31 PM · Great story, Diana. I think there's a novel in there somewhere!

October 16, 2017 at 08:19 PM · I always appreciate my wedding day being remembered! The music was indeed fabulous and we were honored to have such generous, talented friends participate. If I may make one correction: we actually drove through the Holland Tunnel and were married in the limo at the Gulf Station in Jersey City. Then we turned around the corner and went back through the Tunnel to attend the reception which was in my father's offices in the Financial District. The best part of the reception were more performances by family and friends AND the divine cake by Chef Maurice Bonte!

Brian Salesky

October 17, 2017 at 01:10 AM · Diana, I can't help but think this all sounds beautiful, even the part about the NJ parking lot! The music was surely the highlight, but it seems the whole occasion was just the right adventure to send you and your husband on to the wonderful life you've made uniquely yours.

October 17, 2017 at 01:45 PM · I agree with the overall moral of the story: Keep the ceremony simple and hire the best musicians you can afford. Ideally hold the ceremony in the same place as the reception. That's what we did and it worked great.

October 17, 2017 at 03:47 PM · A wonderful story Diana - I can muster up all the images in my mind. Yes, there is a great book there if only to enlighten the Bridezillas who want themselves and the "show" to be perfect and doesn't understand it's all about the love, commitment and be in the moment - and yes things can go very wrong. It's all a matter of attitude, and yours is right on the mark.

Happy Anniversary!

October 17, 2017 at 09:18 PM · Paul, thank you for your comment! I'd love to hear more about your ceremony. And, to your point about having the ceremony and reception in the same place, I heartily agree. Believe it or not, the National Arts Club was free to us, because a "member" supported us. That said, the generosity stopped at the reception, so we were forced to move on. Arthur, I've never actually heard Ida's sister, Ani, perform live, but there are some wonderful YouTubes of the two sisters! Brian, point taken! To the other kind commenters, I say a heartfelt thank you!

October 19, 2017 at 04:19 PM · Oh my, this story is amazing. I'd LOVE to see photos of the dress and the whole day sometime!! Thanks for sharing!

October 20, 2017 at 03:27 AM · I got to play at my sisters wedding nearly 20 years ago -the Delibes Butterfly duet with my violin teacher. It was only a small civil wedding held in our parents' house so my teacher's husband played the trumpet voluntary on a flugelhorn.

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