Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vendors: The Music

Husband here, blogging live from 2009!

Our first post of the year, and my first post in several months. As happened last year, once school started I fell right into an intractable school/band practice/recover routine that’s pretty hard to break out of for the time needed to write an interesting blog post. I recall that most of my more interesting posts last year were written between midnight and 1 a.m., but these days I spend that time dreading 6 a.m.

Things have been going well on my end. I’m having a really good year at school—whether sixth grade is that much easier than eighth, or whether one’s second year of teaching is that much better than the first, it’s certainly working for me. I’m tired a lot, but I’m much less worn out than last year and don’t feel as if I’m gasping for free time.

The wedding happened over six months ago, but it’s still fresh on our minds. We spent Christmas and New Year’s in sunny Arizona, not just for the holiday but for an awesome west- coast reception for Hannah’s friends and family who couldn’t make it out for the main event. It was a great time; I really feel like I’m part of the family now. My parents made it out, and everybody got along great.

So with all that in mind, it’s time to post my two cents on the two as-yet unexplored vendors from the wedding day: the music and the beer. First up: the music.

Wedding Music – St. Charles String Quartet

The music for the ceremony was always going to be a sticky wicket. Music is, of course, crucial to setting the mood at pretty much any occasion, but the thought of a giant pipe organ pumping the traditional wedding march as we walked down the aisle never really seemed appetizing. It’s not any big ballsy “anti-tradition” thing; the song and the sound of it never resonated with me. I mean it’s a MARCH. We might as well have used the Darth Vader march. That would have at least made shopping for my outfit easier.

The only acceptable use of a pipe organ in church:

Hannah and I were both after “pretty” music, but even that had its limitations. Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is one of the mainstays that I actually really enjoy; however I can’t quite get past the fact that Pachelbel apparently stole the chord progression from “Hook” by Blues Traveler. Plagiarist hack.

We figured we could hire a pianist from UMD on the cheap. Their accompanists are so good that we could have tossed them some sheet music half an hour beforehand and no one would have known the difference.

However, the idea-that-was-so-cool-that-we-figured-it-was-unattainable was a string quartet. Hannah and I had discovered string music in a big way since we became a couple; neither of us had been into it before, but the music of Nickel Creek in particular shaped a lot of our tastes over the next few years and resulted in the surprisingly high concentration of country-esque music for the day.

I never really thought we'd get it to happen. I always envisioned string groups playing events where tuxedos were mandatory and guests used caviar as a condiment. We started looking, hoping to get lucky, but we were prepared to be told that we'd need to spend thousands of dollars to even think about having a string group play our ceremony.

A simple google search brought me to Gig Masters, which allowed me to read reviews and look over prices for several string groups at once. I was able to send a request for a price quote to a bunch of them with one click. And soon enough, I heard back from St. Charles String Quartet.

Even though I was expecting not to be able to afford it, Neil of St. Charles String Quartet immediately got in touch with me with a quote that was very very reasonable--a few hundred dollars for an hour and a half of setup, rehearsal, entrance music and playing. Both Hannah and I were impressed with the clips and song lists on their website, which were stocked not only with classical standards but with arrangements of dozens of pop and rock songs--including a huge Beatles selection (check out their site to hear samples like "Everlong" by the Foo Fighters, too).

Even more impressive was their willingness and ability to learn not one, not two, but THREE special requests specifically for our ceremony. Again, I was prepared to shell out extra dough to get them to accomodate us, but Neil and the gang had no problem arranging and learning the songs in time for our big day. They accomodated our every request--even allowing my bandmate Dave to record their music along with our ceremony.

I won't go too much into what songs we picked and why we picked them--that was covered in an earlier post. However, I do want to point out that, as much as I love Mark O'Connor's "Appalachia Waltz," I was worried that others wouldn't hear it the same way. However, when we were all scrambling in the minutes right before the ceremony and they began rehearsing, I watched my mother-in-law Tanya stop in her tracks and exclaim "wow, that sounds beautiful!" I knew we'd scored.

Being a gigging musician myself, I devoted a lot of mental energy to planning and envisioning the music for the ceremony. I was thrilled with how it turned out and how easy it was. I wish there had been more time to enjoy it; I would have loved to have been able to just sit there and hear them play, but maybe some day one of my other local friends will hire them and I'll have that pleasure. I certainly plan on recommending the St. Charles String Quartet whenever possible.

Reception Music – My iPod, among other components.
As I said in my song-requests post from a few months ago, the PA system was graciously provided by my bandmates in Lucky Day (we each bought the different components of the PA before a doing a short tour in 2007. I was a poor college student at the time; I believe that I purchased the cables).

Beyond that (admittedly very large) contribution, almost every other part of the "DJ station" was compiled from something in our apartment. I'm pretty sure that the only purchase I needed to make to get the thing up and running was a $5 cable.

I'm not sure how feasible it is just to rent the music equipment (speakers, stands, cables, and mixer), but if one could swing it, there's not a heck of a lot of reasons for paying for an actual DJ any more. For one thing, it's not really necessary, since music has gone digital. I was at my cousin Jessie's wedding in August, and their DJ was running more or less exactly what we used: an iTunes playlist. Granted, he was making up a lot of it on the fly, but in our case it wasn't too hard to acquire the music we wanted from various sources and throw it together into a pre-arranged playlist. Of course, it's impossible to predict exactly how the party will flow and when the various milestones (first dance, cake-cutting etc) are going to happen, but if you know anyone who can use a computer mouse, all you need to do is hit "pause" or drag the song you need to the position you want. It required almost no effort whatsoever. We even did DJ-like dedications ourselves, by using the simple Microsoft voice recorder. Then all we had to do was drag and drop the dedications in front of whatever song we wanted (like dedicating "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead to Hannah's sister Rachel, to thank her for introducing Hannah to the band so long ago, or like dedicating "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry to my dad, since his life partially inspired the song).

For the most part, Juan and I split up "DJ" duties for the reception--that's right, I DJed my own wedding. It added up to about 60 seconds--tops--of volume control, hitting pause, clicking and dragging, and telling Juan how to do those things. I put Grant in charge of hitting the "play" button while we were biking over, and that was that.

The end result was that Hannah and I had complete, 100 percent, total control over the music that was played at our wedding. We made a deliberate effort to make sure that there were plenty of recognizable hit songs that everyone would enjoy, but we were able to balance that with some songs that were personal favorites--for both us and some guests. iTunes even has a crossfading feature that, like a real DJ, is able to segue from song to song so that the music never stops. I recall that the transition from "Walk this Way" to "Stronger" was particularly awesome.

Of course, the best part wasn't just that we got to play music we picked--it's that people enjoyed it! We got lots of compliments on the music, and have burned a couple of CDs with the whole playlist after a few requests. If you feel like checking out what was played at the wedding, I exported the playlists to spreadsheets and uploaded them to Google documents, linked below:

Dinner Playlist
Dance Playlist

I think that the fact that our wedding was so homegrown and showed so much of our personalities didn't just make it more satisfying for us, but for everyone else as well. Whether your musical poison is classical/string music (St. Charles String Quartet), classic rock (Journey), hip hop (Kanye West, The Roots), country (Gillian Welch, Randy Travis, and Lucinda Williams), progressive rock (Dream Theater, Procupine Tree), indie (Weakerthans, Andrew Bird, the Format), or even schizophrenic Casio-keyboard rant-rap (Wesley Willis), our wedding had something for you.

All this, and on a budget!

1 comment:

  1. I have to say the only downside to having total control over the playlist at every moment was that everyone else knew we could skip songs or repeat songs. This opens the door to everyone's opinion about what should be played, and I for one wasn't all that interested in who didn't like Abba and wanted to skip "Dancing Queen" or whatever. Okay, I get it, our guests are so macho they could never, ever hear a song they think is lame without commenting. You can't please everyone, and it didn't matter how much Marshall Tucker Band I put on the playlist, the people who like country music won't think there's enough of it. The people who like indie will scoff at the recent popularity of The Moldy Peaches (I'm indie-er than thou for knowing them back in the "My Name is Jorge Regula" days, etc.)
    After the great dancing success of Kanye West's "Stronger," I got a request to play the song again later to recapture the moment, but I knew that the moment was gone.
    One cool thing that came of this, though, was that we were able to take last-minute requests, like "Changes" by David Bowie, submitted by my cool nephew Max. When he had to leave with his family, I was able to drag the song to play before he left.