Any tips on playing in a wedding?

June 10, 2013 at 02:05 PM · A friend of mine is getting married next month, and she just asked me to play my violin in her wedding. (It would be violin with piano accompaniment.)

This will be my very first time playing in a wedding, and I've only been to, like, one wedding where I was old enough to see/understand what was going on. I'm not sure exactly how everything works for the musicians. Any tips?

Should I ask the bride what she wants me to wear, or should I just wear formal black? Is there any information I need to get besides basics like when and where?

My friend told me that she has some music picked out for me to play. She hasn't sent it to me yet, but do you think it's safe for me to figure on learning it in a month and having it ready to perform correctly?

Any thoughts, suggestions, tips, etc. would be helpful. As I've already mentioned, I totally don't know how this whole thing works!

Replies (23)

June 10, 2013 at 03:17 PM · Hi Emma and welcome! Just a little background and context. I've been a professional violinist for many years. While I have played on stages of Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, I'm still not too 'proud' to do weddings, and have done about a million of them - and still enjoy helping enhance people's happiness on that special occasion. Today I'm in recovery from having played 3 weddings in the past 3 days!

Those are all good questions. Do communicate with the bride about some of these details. If her requests are too far out or wouldn't translate well to the violin, try to steer her elsewhere - especially as if I heard right, you're doing her a favor. There are some good arrangements you can find for different combos of such classics the Taco Bell - oops! - Pachelbel Canon, Bach air, etc. as well as the classic marches of Wagner and Mendelssohn.

Try to arrange for someone to cue you at the ceremony as to what to play and when. Also some prelude music 10-15 minutes before the start of the ceremony, as the people file in, will be appreciated.

Have fun!

PS Yes, the Bruch IS advanced!

June 10, 2013 at 04:10 PM · It can be relatively easy, Emma. If you figure that 1 month is too short a time to learn too many pieces, you can ask them to pick just 3 - one for the bride to walk in, another for signing and a final third one for the "walking out together" as a couple. On the other hand if all the pieces they pick are dead easy to you, then, you can also play some pieces for the guests to enjoy before the wedding will start.

Re. your dress, you do need to check with the bride, just in case, she has any particular preference. Some brides are superstitious and prefer any colour other than an all-black dress.

June 10, 2013 at 06:23 PM · Thanks for the great suggestions! Do you think I should bring a stand light in case the lighting is bad where I'm playing, or would it be considered inappropriate to have lights on? (I could always memorize the pieces, but I don't like to rely on my memory when I've only recently learned a piece.)

Yes, Raphael - I'm doing it just as a favor for her, since I don't do this professionally and she's just a friend of mine.

My first teacher once told me that a good rule of thumb is to have three months between the time you learn a piece till the time you perform it. Of course, I was a beginner then and almost any piece was a challenge for me. But how about now? Do you think it's okay to have only a month to learn even a relatively easy piece before playing it in someone's wedding?

June 10, 2013 at 06:38 PM · If the wedding is outdoors, be sure to bring clothespins to hold any sheet music you need on the stand.

June 10, 2013 at 07:16 PM · Another thing you can do is to gate-crash a few weddings in the next couple of weeks, just to see how things run.

Also, run through the pieces with the pianist in advance *in the wedding location* so that you know how it will sound in there.

June 10, 2013 at 07:18 PM · Get the music now, or at the very least, get the playlist and listen to all the songs she would like you to play. Make sure that you will have the time to prepare them. Usually, it's the other way around. When I used to do weddings, my quartet had a set of music and the bride would choose from that. We would learn something if the bride wanted it, but we'd charge a extra if we didn't have the music or if it would take an insane amount of practice.

I would tell the bride you will wear black unless she has something else in mind. If she does want you to wear a bridesmaid dress (or something coordinating) or a particular color that you will have to buy, then I would insist on being paid at least enough to cover the cost of the clothing she might want you to buy. But black is standard for musicians. So is the stand lighting. I hadn't thought of clothespins- but that's a good idea. However, I wouldn't use clothespins- I would use those clips you can buy at office supply stores that hold together big stacks of paper. It looks a little more professional than a clothespin.

Be sure to practice with the accompanist. Practice in the place where the wedding will be held if at all possible. If it's at a church, ask the church office if you can play for a few minutes, just to get a handle on the acoustics. (learned that lesson the hard way. A high ceilinged Catholic church will surprise you if you aren't prepared) And if she has chosen something you don't think you can play well in the time you have, don't be a hero.

Good luck!

June 10, 2013 at 07:53 PM · It's a good idea to go to the place where the wedding will be and feel out the acoustics. Do the musicians normally attend the rehearsal, or should I arrange to play through the pieces in the building with just the accompanist?

June 10, 2013 at 07:59 PM · It is a good idea to agree on the list of music you are going to play and have plenty of time to learn it.

Find out as much as you can about the details of procession, the sequence of events and when and where you will play.

Unless you will play only indoors, weather condition can affect you and your instrument; plan in advance for extreme heat, rain or wind.

Have fun. Remember that your music is part of their celebration and that is the message you want to project. People will be just delighted that there is a violin player!

June 10, 2013 at 08:22 PM · "Any tips on playing in a wedding?"

Violins are widely believed to "play in", and while the topic remains controversial, many suggestions have been offered to enhance the playing in process.

I don't know to what extent these suggestions would also apply to weddings or marriages. ;-)

June 10, 2013 at 08:45 PM · We did go to many of the rehearsals. Ask the bride what her preference is. When we did go, the wedding planner would explain what was happening, cue the music, etc. We would play a few bars. The bridesmaids and flower girls would walk down the aisle... Since this is your first wedding, I would try be at the rehearsal, even if you don't play. At least you could know what was going on. But a rehearsal is a great way to get to know the venue- where you will stand, other things you may need, you can test the acoustics.

Outdoor weddings...ugh. I lived in Texas, and after one 95 degree June wedding, we politely declined all outdoor weddings (it was one of our first gigs- we were young and foolish and didn't know any better. I'm sure we were only booked because every other string quartet in town turned them down!) Stringed instruments are not meant to play in those extremes of heat. None of us were in tune, my violin was going haywire from the humidity. Not to mention the fact that when it's so hot, you want to sit still and have a cold drink. You certainly don't want to play Canon in D. I had completely forgotten about that. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was miserable. Ah, memories...

June 10, 2013 at 09:14 PM · Yes, a stand light is a good idea, and there's nothing wrong with it. For outside playing, clips or other devices to keep the music from flying away. As you are new to this, attending the rehearsal would be a great idea. One thing that brides often don't count on when they ask for many "changes" - that is, different piece selections, is that processions are often shorter than they imagine, and with too many changes, they'll just get a bar of this and 2 bars of that. The typical procedure is some prelude music, procession music - hopefully with just 1 or 2 changes, and recession music - what you play after they are pronounced husband and wife and start to exit. For the procession you should be prepared to stop at an appropriate cadence. You don't want them to keep listening to you for 5 minutes after the bride and everyone else is up and waiting to begin. Again, not abrubtly; continuing a few notes or a bar to a reasonable cadence is fine. I didn't mean to say in my first posting that you should just try to ignore the bride's wishes, but steering toward a compromise is nice, too. Once I did a wedding with about a million changes, and unusual requests, too. If it had been up to me I would have refused, but my boss, the contractor and who was also cellist on the gig, wanted to be accommodating. After the ceremony I asked the bride how she liked the music she requested. She admitted that with all the excitement she hadn't really noticed it!

No matter how many weddings I've done there are always surprises. At Catholic weddings, the ceremony doesn't usually end with the kiss. There is more. At a Jewish wedding it usually ends with the groom breaking the glass - but sometimes there are a few more words. But when the couple starts to exit back up the aisle, there's no doubt that the recession has started.

I had a few surprises just at my recent marathon this past weekend. At one, the AC was so strong that it blew the music off a few times. I held it down with my scroll and my violist partner with his! There was no time to get my cut-to-order plexi-glass 'windshields' from my car, which work great, btw. Yesterday it was outdoors and I was prepared with them. Unfortunately, a bird decided to 'decorate' them in the middle of one of the selections. (It could have been worse; the bird at least spared me and my fiddle!) Well, that's showbiz!

PS David, I think we all agree that a soundpost adjustment can affect the sound and playability of a violin. Now with a marriage, I don't know - maybe a BED post adjustment now and then? (I probably should have quit while I was ahead!)

June 11, 2013 at 12:07 AM · Agree with what's been said so far. Just a hint for music - I'm a member of Virtual Sheet Music, and it has a pretty good supply of violin music and also wedding albums for almost any combination. An annual membership is one of the best investments you can make - I've been a member for years.

On the subject of the pieces - don't worry too much about preparation time - you're not playing a concerto. Most of the peices are 3 minutes or maybe less and are pretty straightforward to play - and if you're not happy about any of your friend's requests, say so. You're not setting yourself up as a professional who should be able to play anything, so make sure you only tackle pieces you feel comfortable with.

June 11, 2013 at 03:43 PM · Don't ask the bride what she wants you to wear; offer several outfits you can don without breaking the bank, e.g. all black, black and white blouse, etc.

Wear flats. Scrambling over choir risers in high heels isn't a good idea.

Bring a cardigan. If the church is freezing, you'll want to layer up.

Bring a stand light, extra batteries for the stand light, and a folding stand in case the church doesn't already have one.

Request an armless chair. You'll probably stand while you play during the prelude and entrances, but you'll want to sit during the ceremony.

Organize your music in a binder. I prefer clear plastic slip-in sheets in a three-ringer, but everybody has their own style.

Bring clothespins. AC blowers can get up to monsoon speeds. Don't use the jaw-style office clips; they are too stiff for fast page turns. If brown wooden clothespins are too tacky, paint them black. :-)

Find out who the wedding co-ordinator is and contact them ASAP. Be honest about your lack of experience. Ask them to lay out the ceremony plan.

Get a hold of the pianist and make plans to rehearse, in the ceremony venue if possible.

Attend the rehearsal.

Good luck! You'll be fine!

EDIT, 'cause I thought of more stuff:

At the rehearsal, or before the wedding starts, get a program. Program = no guessing.

Arrive a half hour before call time, for set up and whatnot.

Also, every wedding I've played the last few years has sported ceremony witnesses (aka "the audience") doodling around on their phones. During the ceremony.

Please, please don't do this. Just because it has become tolerated behavior doesn't mean you have to follow the (rude) herd. Even if you don't have a lot of professional experience doesn't mean you cannot present yourself in the best professional manner possible!

(I did a wedding gig this spring that, of course, had the ubiquitous dozens of witnesses doodling around with the phones during the ceremony, but the violist joined in too. Gah.)

June 11, 2013 at 06:24 PM · If possible, do a dry run with the bride to get the timing of the processional music just right. A couple of weeks before playing for an outdoor wedding we all went to the location - with instruments - and walked through the processional several times, working out the exact point in the music where the bride should enter and adjusting the score as required. On the big day, we nailed it - the bride arrived at the altar exactly as we played Pachelbel's final notes.

June 11, 2013 at 07:00 PM · Be prepared for last minute changes, and don't let them fluster you. I've yet to play a wedding when I wasn't asked to do something different the day or week before.

June 11, 2013 at 08:25 PM · Great responses - extremely helpful!

Good point about the cell phones, Anne. I don't actually have a cell phone (I'm weird, aren't I? LOL), but it sure is annoying when people are supposed to be paying attention to what's happening and they're sitting there texting.

The bride just sent me a list of the pieces she wants, so I finally get to learn them. The only problem is that the one for seating of the mothers and the one for her walking down the aisle do not come with sheet music because it has not yet been released. They are pretty easy, but I get to learn them from a recording on YouTube that she sent. I guess that means I probably won't have a use for a music stand anyway. (The other piece is a hymn I learned years ago, and music would only serve to confuse me.)

One of the pieces is played by a cello and a piano in the recording. The bride wants me to arrange the cello part for violin and make it sound very similar. It makes me very glad that I can play a little cello - the job isn't exactly easy, but it helps that I can transpose from cello to violin and vice-versa.

I'm also glad that I at least took the first two grades of ABRSM violin exams. The Aural experience is really paying off now! It's so interesting how sometimes some knowledge seems a little useless at first, but you are able to apply it later.

So far, this whole thing has been a fun and interesting experience. I can't wait to meet with my accompanist next week for our first rehearsal together!

June 16, 2013 at 01:21 PM · Emma,

I'd ALWAYS want the dots in front of me.

Don't care how easy it is - it's very easy to go totally blank at the wrong moment. I learned that the hard way a long time ago :)

Either write it out by hand or there's a free notation programme at http://musescore.org/

June 18, 2013 at 01:34 PM · "The bride wants me to arrange the cello part for violin and make it sound very similar."

Its really great your friend wants you to play for her wedding. I am assuming that your performance is for free? If so, I just wanted to say that you shouldn't feel bad about saying no to anything you don't feel comfortable with. It sounds like you are OK learning to play songs from youtube and arranging pieces but don't be afraid to say no to things that you aren't comfortable with. (If she changes her mind about the pieces to play at the last minute for example)

Also, for outdoor weddings, my only wedding performance experience was on a very windy beach on Kauai and I used tent stakes to get the music stand to stay up and it worked great.

June 18, 2013 at 06:49 PM · Hi, I do not know if it's appropriate for a wedding (most probably not for the sunglasses... ) but I've seen outdoor concerts where symphony musicians had to where sunglasses to read their sheet music. Also some tied their hair when the wind came out...

If it's really sunny and/or windy, this can save your day...

Good luck!

June 18, 2013 at 11:59 PM · Great suggestions.

I could add Zoot's advice from Muppet Treasure Island: "Hey, man - just play the gig! Don't get involved in politics."

At weddings, things can go off without a hitch. Or they can get strange fast. No matter what, you can keep your cool and enjoy yourself.

Be yourself. If any criticism comes your way, Just know that the guests are not who asked you be there.

June 19, 2013 at 08:40 PM · Good idea about the sunglasses, Anne-Marie - I'll put a pair in my violin case so I don't forget. :-)

Yeah, I'm pretty comfortable with the whole idea. Although I usually have music in front of me for performances, I've done plenty of them without. I did scribble out some basic guide-notes so I don't get lost when I'm rehearsing with the accompanist, and I might bring my notes along with me to the wedding.

I'm naturally a play-by-ear violinist, and didn't even begin learning to read music until about six years ago. It wasn't until last year after I was assigned to play principal 2nd violin in my symphony that I really learned to sight read okay. And I think the only reason I ever got to play that chair was because the judges in my audition asked me to sight read a piece I already knew! (And they didn't even give me a different piece to read when I told them that the piece was familiar.)

June 20, 2013 at 04:03 AM · I've only played one wedding (my sister's last year), but this is what I learned:

1 - have the bride and bridal party walk down the aisle and time it. No need to play, just get the timing. Or at least get the distance that will be walked and walk the distance yourself to get a sense of the timing.

2 - once you get #1 done, take a look at your sheet music and figure out good stopping points (more than one) and repeats. That way you don't going on playing and playing and playing when everyone is done walking, or run out of music while there are still people to be seated.

3- If the wedding is outdoors, find out where the alternate space would be in case of bad weather (if there is one). Repeat step #1. This happened at my sister's wedding. She planned an outdoor wedding but then Frankenstorm moved in, and so did we. The chapel had a MUCH shorter walking distance, and less music was needed.

4 - Attend and be part of the dress rehearsal if there is one. If not, do a run-through with as many of the bridal party as possible.

5 - Be prepared for surprises. (refer to #2)

June 20, 2013 at 09:38 PM · Be prepared for the unexpected, my teacher fondly remembers (not) randomly starting the Cacklebell Canon in D minor. Why wouldn't it work!

And the beachside wedding we were cued to start playing, but the 2nd car of the bridal party wasn't behind the 1st car, so got to do so many extra repetitions of the canon (on autobot), our backs to everything so couldn't see why we had to keep on going. Felt more like a requiem by the time of the real entry.

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