The Ultimate Guide for Selecting Wedding Musicians

It's that beautiful time of year where the wind smells so faintly of snow, and you can feel the electricity of the chilled air. We are transitioning into more holiday party events, and corporate performances these days, though we still have a few winter weddings left. (I have to admit, I am partial to December weddings. I'm not sure my husband will ever forgive me for forcing a frigid Christmas wedding in Nebraska, but I couldn't have been happier!)

Wedding season for 2017 may be coming to a close, but we are busy at work gearing up for our amazing 2018 brides. We have some truly unique music already planned and booked for next year, including a couple of new arrangements from Ed Sheeran and Queen for string quartet! As I start gathering music together, and working with each couple to choose the perfect song for the perfect moment of the perfect day, I realize that now is the perfect time to share a great resource I put together over the last year.

I vividly remember being engaged years ago and eagerly reading every article I could find on The Knot, WeddingWire, wedding.com, you name it! I devoured every piece of literature I could find on weddings-I was clueless, and I needed every bit of help I could get! As a musician, I knew I didn't exactly need to scour the web for recommendations on how to hire a string quartet, but you better believe I still read what was out there. I am an eternal perfectionist; I was not going to miss out on some crucial bit of information.

I was appalled by the articles available! Everything written about selecting a string quartet or a solo musician for a wedding was clearly not written by anyone who had ever played an instrument. None of it made sense and the advice was at best laughable, at worst, setting up couples to be horribly disappointed on what was supposed to be one of the most memorable moments of their lives.

I finally took the plunge this year, and worked up an essential guide. Written by a musician, specifically for the brides who hire live musicians, I sincerely hope that it is not only helpful, but might inspire some new ideas to help set the tone on your perfect day. If you follow the link on the bar across our website, you can access a downloadable full version. Or you can just continue reading here. Enjoy!


 The ultimate guide to selecting wedding musicians by White Pines Entertainment. Background image captured by Jeffrey Lewis Bennett of  Jeffrey Bennett Photography

Ceremony Music Basics

What parts of the ceremony do you need music for, and what kind of music should it be? Don't worry. We've got you covered!

Prelude

Prelude music is performed while guests are arriving to the venue and being seated. It is almost always comprised of light, classical selections, but most groups should be more than happy to accommodate your own requests during this section. We have played everything from Bach to Bieber (yes, Justin!) during this time, so never feel afraid to ask for something special to you.

Guests usually arrive in the twenty minutes before a ceremony. Talk with your musicians and ask what time they typically begin their prelude music. If you have a lot of out of town guests, or your wedding is in a hard-to-get-to location, they might arrive earlier. Ask your ensemble if they are able to add additional time to this section if you think you may need it!

 String Trio performing prelude music at Meadowbrook Hall. Photo captured by Amanda DuMouchelle of Amanda Dumouchelle Photography

Processionals

This music is what will accompany the entrance for the wedding party. You will want to choose a piece of music that is special to you both for each arrival. Typically, we have couples select a piece of music specific for the seating of the mothers and grandmothers (it is always lovely to let them choose what they would like here, so they have their own special moment!). Next, you can choose something for the bridal party, and then switch to something special and celebratory for the bride's big entrance!

(Want something really unique? Consider choosing a special piece for the groom to walk down the aisle to!)

Interludes and Special Music

Sometimes, there is a chance for more music during the ceremony. Talk with your partner and think about if you would like to do a special unity service with music accompanying. We have seen some amazing ideas, from a simple candle or sand, to a wine box to share, a tree to plant, or a celtic knot to tie. Unity ceremonies are as varied and unique as the couples who plan them—why not add a piece of music that is meaningful to you as well?

Tip: Frequently, the officiant or minister will talk through the unity ceremony. Make sure you find out what they plan to say, and communicate such with the musicians! We can either play quietly, underneath the words, or we can play the whole song as a sort of interlude.

Recessional

It's over! You did it! You tied the knot! You want something joyous and exciting for the whole bridal party to walk back down the aisle to and begin the celebration!

 
 I do's at Meadowbrook Hall captured by Amanda Dumouchelle at Amanda Dumouchelle Photography
 

The Venue

Rules and Restrictions

Before you speak with live musicians about your event, make sure to cross all your t's and dot your i's! Certain ceremony sites or officiants might have guidelines about what music selections you are allowed to have. Make sure you ask about any restrictions they might have before setting your heart on walking down the aisle to Britney Spears!

Set up

Make sure you consider the size of your venue before committing to hiring a group. For example: Choosing a trumpet ensemble in a small church chapel will most likely overwhelm the space with sound. Or, if you are outside and you want a pianist to be a part of the service, you will most likely need to be prepared for additional fees for keyboard transport. Likewise, if you are being married in a restaurant, a full string quartet may not fit—but a string duet may do the trick!

Acoustics

Are you hoping to have your ceremony inside or outside? This is a very important question to consider before deciding what kind of ensemble you want to perform. Outdoor weddings are beautiful and romantic, but the sound from live strings, guitar, or harp tends to dissipate very quickly in the air so you will want to have a larger group. Are you planning a small, intimate family gathering in a quiet restaurant? A soloist might be the perfect touch to add romance to the evening. Church chapels and cathedrals tend to have amazing acoustics, so any size group works well!

 String Duet performing at a ceremony at the Detroit Athletic Club. Photo captured by Jeffrey Lewis Bennett of  JLB Photography

Value and Professionalism

Before you begin your search, consider what amount you are willing to spend on live music. The fees for a professional group will not only take into account their performance on the day of, but will also include things like practice and rehearsal time, their ability to perform custom requests, and how seasoned the group may be. If a group is more expensive, it is because they are well established, all hold degrees in performance, and most likely have a contractor who is in charge of booking the group (which not only guarantees you a professional contract, and protection, but also means someone is available at all times to answer your questions as they come up!)

Things to look for in a group before booking:
    • Are you able to listen to the group perform online? If there is no audio or video of the group, steer clear! You should always be able to get an idea of what they might sound like live!
    • Are they able to perform a wide range of music? The most experienced event groups should be able to give you options of everything from classical, to current pop hits and everything in between!
    • Do they have a professional contract and invoice booking system? You should always sign a contract with a group before paying any deposits. This contract of course protects the group, but it also should have clauses that protect YOU from anything should something happen!
    • Are there reviews available from other past brides or wedding planners? If the group has a large amount of RECENT positive reviews, then it is a great bet that they will be a wonderful choice
    • Look for a group who responds well to your e-mails. Talent and ability are extremely important, but good communication is also key in selecting an ensemble. If you are having trouble getting responses from a group, or they seem unsure about the individual particulars of your ceremony, then RUN! The last thing you want is to be worrying about little details with your musicians the day of your wedding.

Style

This is the fun part! The music you choose for your big day is as much a reflection of who you are as individuals as it is a set up for the big party after your ceremony! Ask yourself what the most important feeling you want to convey for your ceremony is. Do you want a traditional, romantic feel? Work with your musicians to choose beautiful, classical music for each portion of your ceremony. Are you hoping for something more unique and upbeat? Ask if they have arrangements of your favorite songs. If they aren't currently a part of their repertoire, ask if they are able to do a custom arrangement for you. (Hint: Any professional ensemble should have the capability to do a perfect custom recreation of your favorite song for a small additional fee!)

Tip: Ask the coordinator of the group for help or recommendations if you get stuck! I know that I have coordinated and played hundreds of weddings, and adore helping couples choose the perfect music!
 
 String Quartet performing for University of Michigan School of Architecture and Engineering graduation. Photo captured by Peter Smith at Peter Smith Photography.
 

I certainly hope this answered some questions and will help when you are choosing musicians for your wedding. There is truly nothing like live music to help celebrate an amazing day. (I know. My husband and I had an amazing friend of ours perform the Bach VI Suite for solo cello for our ceremony and it is still one of my favorite memories from that day. Fun fact: that friend is now the composer who does most of the arrangements for White Pines Entertainment!)

If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me personally at hello@whitepinesentertainment.com. I am always more than happy to help in any way I can!

until next time!

-michelle