Weddings We Have Played

August 10, 2008 at 09:06 PM · Wedding stories I have known:

I have often thought that some day I'd write a book filled with stories of all the bizarre happenings of various weddings that I've played. As a member of a string quartet which does many weddings every year, I'm compiling quite a list.

It occurs to me that many of you may have entertaining, freaky or just weird stories to share as well. Bring em on...

I can start with my experience of today. I live about 40 minutes from the ferry boat that takes one to Mackinac Island, so most years my group plays there most weekends. These are usually outdoor weddings, ranging from simple to quite elaborate.

For today's wedding, I believe we set a record for the longest continuous playing of Canon in D in history. (and not played at a super slow pace, either). The wedding party was fairly large, but they walked a long way in super slow motion. Then the 3 flower girls, then ring bearer...all in slo-mo. THEN, we were supposed to continue with that music until the bride arrived by horse drawn carriage. There must have been a mix-up with the horse-traffic controller, because we waited and waited and waited....playing all the while. I was beginning to think that the poor groom has been stood up. The whole wedding party up front, and no bride....

We did the ENTIRE Canon 1 1/2 times before the bride arrived. Never thought I'd have to put a repeat onto a 5 minute melody, but there it was. Probably about 7-8 minutes of unbroken Canon.


Replies (43)

August 13, 2008 at 07:48 AM · I wrote this in my blog a couple of years ago regarding weddings:

Raise your bow if you've ever:

--Read your solo off the piano accompaniment.

--Taped a stand/music up like a hostage for an outdoor wedding.

--Preluded for a boat entrance on a cannery dock.

--Took your cues from the entrance of the dogs.

--Unraveled a string between the second and third run-through.

--Waited for a keyboard to magically appear for accompaniment.

--Made an extra rehearsal because the video didn't catch it the first (or second) take.

--Used a translator when coordinating the music with the pianist.

This list was compiled just from today's rehearsal.

Certainly, in playing the violin, you will discover in a short amount of time that violinists are in high demand for wedding music. I wish to warn all would-be wedding musicians to consider the high stakes and infinite complexity of wedding gigs before agreeing to play, especially if you are asked within one week of the special date.

Do not be deceived into thinking that the gig in question will be any different from the scenario I just described. All this, and more, happens every single time, without fail. You must have the temperament of a plaster-smile yes-man with pretzel-like flexibility. If you do not have such qualities, they can be yours--for just the right price.

Don't sell yourself short of your worth. After all, you are the glue that binds this wedding, not the vows. If it was just vows they were interested in, they wouldn't have hired the boat and included the dogs.

So, before you book that next wedding gig, ask yourself the value of your magic touch during that crucial moment. Ask yourself what kind of amazing person it takes to be able to create keyboards and stands out of thin air, to parade the party in orderly fashion while timing the music down to the second, to speak Russian, and to turn a good phrase while fighting gale-force winds to keep the bow on the string. Think about the humidity, the rain, the glaring sun, the frazzled bride and groom, and the father-in-law who would like to know when you are going to play D for his cue. Consider all this, and the little dog, too, before you set your price, and make a vow never to sell yourself short again.

For the right price, you will be able to smile through anything. And it could be anything; trust me.

August 13, 2008 at 11:46 AM · Well written Emily!! How many of you have played weddings under tarps or umbrellas only to have the wind blow it over during the ceremony? In fact this just happened to our group in July and the falling umbrella missed my violin by inches....I need a "beater" violin....

August 13, 2008 at 01:49 PM · One of our last years weddings had a pair of Yorkies dressed as bride and groom, even listed in the program.

We've had weddings where we are holding the music stands in place with our feet (in addition to the tent stakes we use), weddings where we've been attacked by large insects (our cellists watched one ride the bow for most of the processional. Imagine grasshopper sized things falling out of the trees and hanging on with their sticky little feet), weddings where we had to vamp the bridal processional endlessly while the wedding coordinator attempted to unravels the hoop on the wedding dress from the root in the path that had hooked it, etc. etc.

This is not to mention know, when a bride says "Can you play for a singer?" and you say "As long as we and she have music in the same key.". If the "singer" doesn't know what that means, you know you'rein trouble.

After the endless Canon of the other day, I bent over and reminded my friend that THIS is why we charge as much as we do!!! :):):):)

August 13, 2008 at 02:06 PM · My fav, comes courtesy of a violist I used to work for:

The gig-wedding, with music by string quartet

SO the quartet shows up about 30 minutes before the show-scopes out the venue, unpacks and warms up.....eventually it is that magical time....but the quartet is still warming up.....

Some more time passes...

......everyone is sitted and waiting, quartet warming up still--we're about 5 minutes late now.....

Well the rather annoyed mother of the groom comes up and wants to know why they aren't which the musicians respond that--per their contract, they have not been paid (we know the drill, checks on the stands before hand)....she makes some excuses and runs off......musicians get back to warming up.....

Well, the families wait....apparently hoping the musicians will somehow forget about their dough and just start....

Well, by now we're 10 or 15 minutes late.....

Finally a rather irate father of the groom comes up-and loudly demands to know why the musicians aren't playing, and starts making insinuations about the character of the musicians in front of assembled guests....

The violist of the group stands up and loudly says for all to hear:

"I'm sorry sir, but we have not been PAID as per the contract you yourself signed. If you're going to be a CHEAPSKATE and not pay us for our services, we have other things to do......"

(At which point, the musicians make like they are packing up...which induces the desired panic on the part of the parents)

The now stunned and shocked parents race out some arrangement for who is paying the musicians....race back up and pay the musicians and things get going finally.....I should mention that evidently the bride's parents were laughing during this whole proceeding.

August 13, 2008 at 02:04 PM · Top of my list: a San Francisco sunset wedding at Ocean Beach - in a fog bank. We couldn't see the bride and groom, and my poor fingerboard was covered in condensation. It must have been about 12 degrees celsius. Delightful.

August 13, 2008 at 02:04 PM · I still remember the time a bride's wedding occurred on a rainy day, and she was so self-centered that rather than request that the wedding be moved inside, she insisted on a tent for herself while the guests sat out in the rain. Classic..

August 13, 2008 at 02:37 PM · Ah yes...I forgot about the lakeside (Lake Superior) wedding where the wind and waves were so loud that no one could hear a sound we were making. Our chair and stands were sunk several inches into the sand. And they tried to mic us by putting a mic in front of the cello. All they accomplished was to amplify the sound of the wind rushing past.

We played barefoot, since our shoes were useless.

August 13, 2008 at 02:39 PM · We now write temperature requirements into our contract after a bride insisted on outdoor wedding when it was spitting sleet and slush with a gale force wind. (I live in the north). Family members had to hold the music stands down. This is now unfondly referred to as the wedding from hell with demon bride.

We rewrote our contracts based on that one alone. Now, the contract says that we will not play in the rain, and if arrangments aren't made for shelter, we leave. And we won't play in weather below about 50 degrees. Since we are paid in full one week in advance, that is incentive.

You do have to wonder about some nice do they think the music will sound when you can't feel your fingers? How memorable will the guests find it if they've gotten frostbite in the process?

"Bridezillas.... Musician Edition"

August 13, 2008 at 02:55 PM · "the bride arrived by horse drawn carriage. "

Wow. Tell me, were the horses white? And did the carriage resemble a converted pumpkin?

August 13, 2008 at 04:13 PM · Yes and yes....the carriage was white too.

google mackinac island weddings and you'll see what I mean.

August 13, 2008 at 04:22 PM · I've found homely stepsisters to be a lot less demanding.

August 13, 2008 at 10:59 PM · Most recently, I played a wedding where the ringbearer was a great dane and it was 98 degrees. During our prelude, the post-wedding African drummers practiced the whole time (they were "tuning"). One October Michigan wedding we played at a botannical garden was so cold and windy I thought we'd see snow flakes. That bride was from Alaska and was wearing a strapless dress. I played another wedding at where the elevator was broken and the wedding chapel was on the fifth floor. I played a wedding reception on Mackinac Island (had the carriage and all that) where we had a violin quartet playing on one end of the porch and a jazz combo on the other. That bride originally wanted at least 8 violins lining the steps up to the hotel. I also played a wedding for the daughter of a prominent Dow executive that involved a whole chamber orchestra. Unfortunately, the father had been ill and died a few weeks before the wedding, so we had to play for his funeral as well.

August 16, 2008 at 10:05 PM · Today's wedding had the bride and her father arriving by Harley. Never had that before!

August 16, 2008 at 10:09 PM · such an interesting thread!!

i once played at a wedding in Israel, and like i had to play this same passage over and over i think it was caprice 20 im not sure, while they walked lol, it was funny.

August 17, 2008 at 12:40 PM · Here's the mirror image of your Canon experience Dottie:

It was a short isle, and a nervous bride. The cellist started the Canon. After 6 notes it was clear she would be at the altar imminently. We whipped up our instruments to fill out the chord...but could barely contain our laughter, and now know firsthand why it is better to start from bar 3 in Pachelbel Canon,


August 17, 2008 at 06:55 PM · We were playing (I think it was two violins and a viola) with a trumpeter for this wedding. We never did practice with the trumpeter and she wasn't anyways she started playing the march before the bride was ready to march. So there was music and no bride....

August 17, 2008 at 11:15 PM · I played my best friend's wedding...while also being a bridesmaid!! Man, that was some pressure, and when we were done playing the processional, I had to jump up and run to the front (heel got stuck in the deck....yes it was outdoors in Virginia Beach)...and my boyfriend/duo partner played the recessional.

Being outdoors was REALLY stressful..winds were crazy off the beach, if we held down the stands, the entire binders we used for our music would blow off. Thankfully, some of the bride's friends held everything down for us, along with giant clips. The wind even blew my bow slightly off the violin while I was playing.

Despite the wind...the wedding went beautifully and I had a great time! Lots of work though, between bridesmaid duties and rehearsal (rehearse...make flower & chocolate bride get ready...warm-up/set-up). Probably wouldn't recommend doing that, but for her it was worth it :)

August 18, 2008 at 05:00 AM · I was playing Canon in D with a quartet of sorts, but the violist carried the bass line. We laughed and told her this should be simple enough, since she only had to know eight notes, repeated over and over again. The first violinist scratched out the part on notebook paper for her, and we were good to go.

To our shock, as the bride walked down the aisle, the violist played an F natural instead of an F sharp--stinky! She fixed it quickly and we made it through the rest of the piece, after which she whispered, "What key is Canon in D in, anyway?"

After the recessional, we played more music as the guests exited. For the heck of it, we decided to give the Canon one more try, so the violist could get it right this time. She's good natured and can take a tease, so as we began to play, I poked fun and said, "Here's to Canon in D Major!"

She laughed and added, "Here's to one sharp!"

August 18, 2008 at 02:40 PM · Once during the 'lighting of the candle', for which I usually recommend something short, the candle had not been pre-lit and would not remain lit. After a few minutes of smoldering the wick worked it's way down into the candle and could not be reached. The groom finally turned around and asked if anyone had a pocket knife.

Needless to say, it required a little more music than I had anticipated.

August 18, 2008 at 11:47 PM · Ha ha Emily, that's a great story.

August 19, 2008 at 03:09 AM · 2 short stories:

1. I played at a wedding where the bride was about 8 and a 1/2 months pregnant...still wore white though

2. A wedding between a hispanic groom and a white bride. The grooms family was all there, but none of them spoke english, so there was a translater

August 20, 2008 at 08:00 PM · I've played lots of weddings where the bridge and groom's side of the room seemed, to put it kindly, peeved at one another. I played a wedding once where, when we took our break pursuant to the contract, the bride's mother came over and yelled at us in front of the assembled guests that she was "paying us to play, not to sit around."

However, the worst / saddest wedding I ever played was at a fancy country club out in horse country. This was a no-expense-spared wedding, with a large video crew of at least 3 separate cameras in addition to the two roving still photographers. This was all topped off by a large wedding party, a huge guest list--and a retired priest to officiate.

Unfortunately, the priest turned out to have some memory problems, perhaps due to a stroke or even early-onset senility. After a decent start, he abruptly froze up and lost his place in the wedding ceremony and in the celebratory mass. He realized that something had gone wrong and began looping through the service randomly, repeating some sections and skipping over others. We were (mostly) able to keep up with the musical cues, but the bride was just about in tears. And the whole thing was captured on videotape....

August 20, 2008 at 08:36 PM · Mine is not as adventurous as most of you. I just did one on Saturday. While we were scheduled to play a 15-minute prelude before the wedding at 10am, the bride was late for an hour. Turns out I play the pieces we prepared for, I think, two to three times. The pianist filled in with a couple solos, and we played two pieces that were not rehearsed at all....

I guess for wedding musicians we simply need to have a whole bag of tricks and be ready for anything.

August 20, 2008 at 09:41 PM · I was once playing for the service of a wedding, where the priest had an incredibly serious stammer. Now I know you're not supposed to laugh at people with stammers, but on this occasion we couldn't help it - I think it's always harder to not laugh when you know you're not supposed to. Because of his stammer, I reckon the service took about three times longer than it otherwise would have, and we spent the whole time bent double, trying to hide behind our music stands, shoulders bobbing up and down, trying our best (unsuccessfully) to keep our laughter inaudible. It rates as one of the most stressful experiences I can remember.

August 20, 2008 at 09:50 PM · On another occasion, I got booked for a wedding with a quartet that basically consists of random players. On this occasion we decided just before the service that we'd play the slow movement of Vivaldi's Spring for the signing of the register. I was playing 1st violin, which of course begins with a G#, in slowish 3 in a bar, C# minor. The problem though was that the 2nd violinist chose to play his part using naturals, so his G clashed quite severely with the notes I was playing (it took him about a bar to realize). To make matters worse, the violist set off at double speed. The result is that it had an uncanny resemblance to Schnitker (try it for yourself!). When it was clear that it wasn't going to recover itself, the cellist frantically whispered Eine kleine, Eine kleine, so we launched straight into that (as we knew that one from memory) as if nothing had happened. I remember the confused expressions on the faces of the congregation.

August 20, 2008 at 10:14 PM · I once played for a function with my string quartet (although it wasn't a wedding), where Roger Black was their celebrity speaker (

Our job was to play some sort of fanfare for when he is called to walk to the podium to give his speech. We opted to play Chariots of Fire, as it seemed appropriate as he was an athlete. We didn't have any music for it, but it seemed like a simple one to improvise. All the cellist had to do was play his open C in quavers throughout. We ran it through a couple of times and it seemed to work fine.

When it came to it however, the cellist inadvertently played a G instead. The 1st violinist kept calling out "C...C....C" about 20 times. This went on for about 45 seconds (although it felt longer), by which time Roger Black had long since reached the podium, and was looking up at us with a bemused expression. The cellist eventually realized his mistake, but I can't remember whether we got to play any of the tune or not.

August 22, 2008 at 06:24 PM · Conrad,

I hope that's when you whipped out your copy Judge Judy-style and said (just as loudly), "This is your signature, is it not?" :)

Some people just need to look important. I played a wedding where a total stranger tried to give me tuning advice, as if I wasn't already paying for lessons with a Delay student. It was a family wedding, so I was doing it pro bono, too. The bride and groom were happy and that's what mattered.

August 22, 2008 at 06:26 PM · I remember playing a wedding with my highschool quartet. The bride insisted that we play Guns 'n' Roses "November Rain" while she walked down the aisle. Seriously, I'm sure you all know the video for that song is about a bride dying on her wedding day.

A couple of years ago I had a great experience playing a wedding. The wedding started late so the father of the bride came over during the cocktail hour and paid us extra for our time. Then everyone liked us so much they paid us to keep playing for the first hour of the reception too!

October 12, 2008 at 06:25 PM · The wedding we played yesterday was the first one that I've even done where it seemed evident that the bride must have chosen the color of the bridesmaids dresses based on how well they coordinated with the bridesmaid's full-arm tattoos.

October 12, 2008 at 07:44 PM · I played one wedding where the bridal party all rode in on horses (it was an outdoor wedding at a lake) and they all had strapless dresses that showed off their back tattoos. Klassy.

For my sister's wedding, I was instructed to "start walking when the quintet cadences in D-flat Major!"

October 12, 2008 at 08:23 PM · I forgot: at the Tattoo/Horse Wedding, the "processional" was the theme from Titanic. Doesn't everyone die in that movie?? We also played Aerosmith...with a string quartet. :-/

October 13, 2008 at 03:41 PM · Wow. These are all bad. I have a few answers....

1. Anytime our cellist has to play Canon. She hates it so much, and she takes it really fast!

2. Once we went overtime, as we were sitting under a tent, waiting for it to stop raining. We got wet anyway. When we asked for the extra overtime money after the ceremony (it's in the contract), the son of the bride physically threatened us. Fabulous.

October 13, 2008 at 03:15 PM · I refuse to play Canon in D slower than 60=quarter note.

October 14, 2008 at 12:01 AM · Oh wedding stories!!!

One image that will forever sit in my mind is an outdoor wedding I did for a Greek family. There was LOTS of drinking going on before the wedding even began and due to very windy weather the usual duct tape and tent pegs were not working to keep my stand and music in place even in the extreme winds, so, sitting on a chair beside me, was a gentleman (I think he was an uncle to the groom). He held my music steady with one hand and a glass of wine (not so steady) with his other hand.

Other great memories - being bit by a bee just as the bride starts to walk down the aisle.... the father of the bride asking me to play more quietly and eventually asking if I can finish any earlier when the bride and mother of the bride (the people who'd hired me) were asking if i could stay longer....

Oh! and the 8 minute Canon? I think I've got you beat!!! Last summer I did one when the minister signalled to start the canon for the bride and she just stood there talking to her mother. For another 5 minutes and then the flower girls and ring bearer came and then the rest of the wedding party.

I played it a total of 4 times. *cringe*

oh there are a lot!

October 14, 2008 at 02:34 PM · There was also the time in Louisiana when our quartet launched into the recessional at the traditional time, right after the minister introduced the Happy Couple and the crowd went nutz... And the minister RAN OVER to the musicians, frantically waving his arms and saying, "NO NO! We're doing pictures first!" Sputter. Fizzle.

October 14, 2008 at 05:13 PM · Wow these are great stories!

I'm sure someone's had to do it... has anyone requested of you "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey? That Adam Sandler movie - the wedding singer had a string quartet playing it.

October 17, 2008 at 04:34 PM · My favorite is a wedding that I contracted last summer. The groom had signed a contract about a year before the wedding and as it got closer requested some specific pieces and decided that he wanted to pay the full balance before the wedding...fantastic! So, we arrive at the wedding, luckily having already been paid, and there are those trumpet players in medieval outfits and a dj all set with different music selections for the ceremony. and everyone had been paid. We ended up coordinating with the trumpeters and trading off selections for the ceremony.

October 20, 2008 at 02:32 PM · Was reminded of this thread this past weekend.

I was an usher for a wedding and there was a quartet playing. I wasn't able to listen too closely during my usher duties, but they did play the processional and an arrangement of a contemporary song during the service.

It was, to say the least, pretty bad. The cellist seemed to not know the rhythm, and seemed about a half measure in front of the others. The intonation was pretty poor as well. At one point, I thought they might restart as they all seemed lost. This was during the lighting of the unity candle and appreciation of parents.

I looked at my former roommate, a violinist, and he was visably cringing.

Our wives knew something was wrong because of our reactions, but I'm not sure if they could really tell.

Was it a bad arrangement? Or just performed poorly? I think the latter.

I spoke to another violinist friend at the wedding "I hope they didn't pay them too much!" Were these friends of the bride/groom? are they professionals? and none of us knew, but there's no way they could have believed they did a good job.

But the non-string playing people in attendance didn't seem to notice. Ouch.

October 20, 2008 at 02:46 PM · A string quartet can be very pricy to hire for a 20 minute service so often folks balk when hiring musicians or go down the route of "amateurs" and "students." Nothing wrong with that, but what usually happens is that you get 3 pretty good players saddled with one awful player who continually gets lost and has no instinct on how to come back in at the right place. Then the pretty good players aren't quite good enough to save the day and there you have it. There's a reason why they say "a group is only as good as its weakest player."

October 20, 2008 at 02:51 PM · Allan, your story was sad in a few ways. I think people being hired to play at events should be decent, least you can do is rehearse the pieces you've been thru, and with enough practices, you should at least be able to get back in if you're lost. I am a super beginner and I know how easy it is to get lost in quartets/orchestral music but i learned how to play the downbeats if I'm confused/lost, it only happen if i do not know the music at all. Maybe i'm wrong, but I'll be mad if that happened at my wedding.

It's also sad that people don't really care about classical music, even if it's all played wrong, they can't even tell...

I was at a leadership workshop a few weeks ago and the opening exercise was to describe an orchestra conductor vs. jazz band leader. Of course the nasty descriptions all went to the conductor. And then members of my group started saying they won't even go to a classical concert even if you pay them... how sad is that....

October 20, 2008 at 03:09 PM · Howzabout a cellist who messed up the Pachelbel Canon?

October 20, 2008 at 06:33 PM · I can't say anything recent since my name is easy to google, but I remember going on break at a wedding back in the 80s, and the only men's restroom was taken up by the bride and her entourage. Apparently she felt faint and the men's room was closer so they all stormed in there.

Since the women's room was also in use, and I had to get back to play, they graciously gave me access to the urinals, but it was strange with so many women in a tiny bathroom.

And then there was the time that the leader got so drunk he kept falling off his chair, and after he passed out we went on break, dumped him in the back of his van, and then went on playing.

October 20, 2008 at 07:01 PM · Students would have been fine. The church was about a 5 minute walk from Curtis :)

I don't know - they could have been friends, doing someone a favor. If they were paid, it was a pretty sad thing to witness.

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