Friday, November 16, 2012

Wedding Music for Composers/New Music Performers

I have an idea about a new market segment that I bet most composers (and new music performers) have not thought to tap (or maybe you have, maybe I'm just late to the party): WEDDING MUSIC. I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. I actually think it might not be a terrible idea.

Here is the scene: You are a composer (and/or someone who performs new music a lot). You are getting married. You realize you need to think about music for the ceremony. Suddenly, you have a panic attack: "I'm a composer! Everyone is going to expect me to have SUPER AWESOME MUSIC AT THIS WEDDING!!!" Or at least that's what I did. You're probably all wondering why I didn't just write a ton of new music for my own wedding, since that would have (probably) been the most meaningful music to have- but wedding planning can be very stressful. Add to that the stress of writing the music for your own wedding- clearly whatever you write has to be absolutely perfect and meaningful, while still being "you"- and maybe you can understand why I didn't go down that path. I know people who do, and I admire them. But for those of us who decide we can't write our own music but still want something a little more true to us than Pachelbel's Canon (no matter how lovely a piece it is), what do we do?

My first step, after deciding I wasn't going to compose something, was to go find someone else who already did. Preferably someone who was alive in the last 100 years, since as a composer of new music I need to represent my people. Shouldn't be that hard, right? Wrong. Think about your favorite string quartet (from any era). Is it happy, uplifting, wedding-y? Probably not. Or at least mine weren't. I found a disturbing trend that many of my favorite string quartets were kind of dark and/or weird (in a good way, of course!). But while I love listening to them, it's not really what I wanted to hear on my wedding day. Even the most devout new music listeners among us can probably understand that on your wedding day you might want something more happy and sappy sounding, even if it's a little cheesy.

The most recently-composed pieces weren't really wedding appropriate, although I should probably define this term. For my wedding, wedding appropriate meant not too dark sounding, not too dissonant (some dissonance was fine, let's not go crazy!), and since people had to walk down the aisle to this music, I thought it should have some semblance of a regular rhythm. I also didn't want it to be too fast, or else people would have been racing up the aisle. That pretty much took care of any piece I could think of written in the last 20 years (or even more). I even tried googling along the lines of "wedding string quartet 20th century," thinking some composer before me must have gotten married, had trouble finding music and decided to launch a website for the 1,000 of us in this country who might be interested.... Maybe my logic was a little off on that one. But I imagine that there must be people out there who aren't composers but still want non-traditional wedding music (and I don't mean popular music arranged for string quartet). I also, for lack of a better term, wanted to find a piece that would be audience-friendly to a very wide variety of personality types, musical tastes, and ages. Many of our guests had probably never even heard of new music, let alone had ever been to a concert before. 

But wait! Isn't that the EXACT elusive audience we as new music composers and performers are always looking for? To expose them to the wonder that is new music in the chance that they will actually like it and want to hear more? And here they are, a captive audience with nowhere to go and no choice but to sit and listen to whatever music is forced upon them- ahem, I mean performed. How can we use this opportunity to our advantage?

First Step: Marketing. I'm not suggesting that we go out and start composing "wedding-appropriate" music just for that purpose, but I don't see why we can't look at our catalogs and start engaging in some creative marketing. Have you written a string quartet? Does it have any slow sections? Okay, it's a processional! Do you have any trumpet pieces? Organ? Now you have a recessional too! And I know I gave all these parameters earlier, but those were just my preferences. Apparently a lot of people want to walk down the aisle to pieces in minor keys (based on my wedding ceremony music research), so they won't have a problem with some of your darker sounding work.

Second Step: Don't call it New Music. If you start advertising that you have music for the "alternative" bride/groom or ceremony, you may find a lot of interest. I mean, this is similar advice for getting your music out there in general, but why not use the wedding-industrial complex to our advantage (in a non-evil, manipulative way, of course)? I had no idea before last year how many blogs, websites, etc., are dedicated to wedding planning, especially for people who don't want to go the traditional route. Using new music in a wedding is much less traditional than using anything by the Vitamin String Quartet, and if people aren't scared away by the term "new music" (or just have no idea what it is, so they skip over it), I don't see why more people wouldn't program it.

Third Step (or 2.5): Just say it's Classical. For some reason, people who are usually uninterested in classical music and would never dream of setting foot in a concert hall are all over it when it comes time to get married. So maybe we should just start saying we write classical music again. It's still not Pachelbel's Canon or Mendelssohn's Wedding March. But it's sophisticated! There are live musicians sitting there with instruments! Yay!

Of course, all of these suggestions either require us to "sell out," in a way, by putting something on our websites about wedding music, or trying to begin a relationship with a wedding ensemble who may or may not have any interest in us (since I assume most of us would be doing this to try to make a little money, in addition to getting a wider audience to hear our music). But maybe we could start a wedding-music-for-20th-century-composers website under a pseudonym. Or under our real names. I obviously have no idea what the market would actually be, but I am more than a little curious to find out (and all of you who are reading this and find yourself in a similar dilemma in a few months or years, you can thank me later!).

I realize this sounds really facetious and tongue-in-cheek, but I'm only half joking. Composers are always talking about ways to find new audiences. People will take notice when something new and interesting and different is played at a wedding, since we all expect the same music over and over from hearing it in movies and on tv. And wedding string quartets advertise that they play the same music over and over- perhaps that's because it's what people mostly want, but we'd never know if brides or grooms might be interested in something new if they were given the option. Wedding musicians tend to be quite talented, so it could also be a new way to get (hopefully) great performances of your compositions, as well as meet performers/future collaborators who may not have thought about or been interested in playing new music before. Maybe weddings can be the new art galleries or coffee shops. Just don't forget to put your name and website in the program.

Posted by Sarah


  1. I totally experienced some similar pressures as a musician getting married a month ago. Thankfully, having played wedding gigs since I was in High School, I had had some time to think about what I might do. I would highly recommend the selections I ended up with...

    Processiona: Rumi Settings by Augusta Read Thomas for vln/vla Mvt 3
    Bridal March: Abundance by Mischa Salkind-Pear for string quartet - commissioned for my wedding
    Recessional: Happy Together by The Turtles for string quartet arranged by me

    If anyone is interested in Mischa's piece, just email him. It's elegant, dramatic, and stunning.

    Another note: You can hire a string quartet but still have music for any number of the people involved - eg vln/vla, vln/clo, trio. Don't get stuck in an instrumental box just because you hire a string quartet.

  2. As always, thanks for posting, Jen! Your selections seem like a nice mix. I ended up arranging something for my wedding, too (although that's not an option for people who aren't musicians).

    - Sarah

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