Timing, they say, is everything. I get a lot of questions from wedding clients about whether the songs they’ve picked are long enough, or short enough. I also hear some concern about how our musicians will know how to stop and switch songs. Well, it’s time to share some of our secrets!
Even if you don’t have a musical background, you know the feeling you get when a song comes to a proper end. It feels grounded or resolved, and it feels like a question mark hanging in the air if the song doesn’t come to rest on the right chord. That has mostly to do with musical structure and note choice, which is what we spend years learning about in our music classes. Because of this background knowledge, we know how to steer a song to this finished feeling and end on a “final” chord even if we still have music left on the page.
The reverse is true, too; if the song as it is on the page is too short for the action happening in the wedding, we find natural ways to loop the song, or we improvise a fitting melody over the chords. Part of the reason why Pachelbel’s Canon in D is so popular is that it is very easy to end (the same chords repeat over and over), but it is also easy to stretch to fit any situation. My record for a Canon in D processional tops out at about 15 minutes!
Performing wedding processionals is a bit like driving: we’re keeping track of many things at once. We have our eyes on the music 30% of the time, to read the notes we play. We also spend up to 50% of the time looking up at the bridal party, the bride walking down the aisle, or the wedding coordinator, so we can determine how far we are from the song’s end. The other 20% of the time is split between watching each other for musical nuance, looking ahead in the music, and focusing on our individual instruments.
This is why we ask our wedding clients to let us know how many bridesmaids, groomsmen, and children are in the wedding party. The number helps us determine what to watch for during the procession. Even if there is a day-of wedding coordinator giving us cues on when to stop and start, the more information we have, the easier it is to achieve perfect timing.
Our performances at weddings are based completely around the action happening in that moment. Live ceremony music differs from pre-recorded tracks in this way; wedding parties can try to rehearse their processions to recordings of us, but on the big day, our performance relies on them. Flower girl falls down and runs back up the aisle? We’ll note that and keep playing until she makes it. Bride wants to make a grand entrance? You’d best believe we’ll put a nice crescendo in as she moves toward the altar.
Performing live for special events is a job that keeps you on your toes. It’s humbling to think that once you play a note, there’s no taking it back! However, that’s also part of the electrifying energy that live music brings to weddings, parties, and more. There’s also nothing more satisfying than hearing -- or playing -- something at exactly the right time.