Pittsburgh Aviary – Pittsburgh, PA

Our string trio played for the outdoor ceremony at the Aviary on a very, very hot day during the summer of 2016. It was close to 96 degrees! The staff was very kind and helpful to us, we were able to keep our instruments inside the air-conditioned building until the very start of the wedding ceremony.  In fact, one of the leading musicians came early and a gentleman who had a van with the wedding flowers, kindly offered to keep her instrument in the van… A short time later, he himself took it into the building. The only downside – we don’t seem to remember the flower company with which he was affiliated, so we have no way of thanking him! 🙂


On wings of wind

There is yet another nemesis that occasionally makes musicians’ job a battle – wind.  Most commonly, it applies to wedding musicians performing for outdoor weddings.  The way musicians look at it – we would prefer rain to wind.  At least with a rain there is a clear solution – run indoors: most brides have a back-up indoor venue where the ceremony can be continued. With the wind, however, the musicians are left to their own creativity to fight it, often losing the battle.  

This year our wedding musicians already had a couple of outdoor wedding ceremonies where it was almost impossible to keep playing!  Don’t get us wrong – we come prepared for outdoor performances: warmer clothes if needed, many “see-through” wind clips, and outdoor instruments. In one recent case, musicians were powerless. The gusty winds were so strong, they blew two music stands away, about fifty feet away from where the musicians were playing the processional for the bridal party. Notice: the musicians’ music stands for outdoor event are very sturdy, designed for uneven and unstable surfaces, and yet – the wind won!  During this wedding ceremony’s “wind battle”, a few wedding guests stood up and held the musicians’ stands down after the initial blast took them away.  

Just like our daily lives are unpredictable, so are the musicians’ jobs, so we learn to “expect the unexpected”, go with the flow (or the wind) and deal with these situations in the most professional manner, with some humor mixed in…

Sour wedding ceremony for musicians

The exchange of the e-mails below (I have omitted the groom’s name for privacy), is an example of how some issues during weddings can affect musicians in a negative way, regardless of our efforts to make everything clear. The wedding mentioned took place at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA, place with many gardens, indoor and outdoor facilities for wedding ceremonies. The red e-mail is my question to the client, followed by his response in blue.  

 —–Original Message—–
From: tatyana swanson [mailto:tatyana@chambermusicians.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 7:52 AM
To: ——–
Subject: wedding musician
One thing that  we never confirmed – where at Phipps the wedding is? Conservatory is pretty big, and has many places. What room are we in, so I can tell other musicians? Thanks! Tatyana.

The ceremony and reception is in the Tropical forest reception hall, which is the large area in the back of Phipps. Once you enter the main entrance of Phipps, you will go up the staircase and head straight back to the Tropical Forest.  I would imagine that it is marked as well for all the guests.
From his e-mail it is very clear that the wedding ceremony is to take place inside, since the phrase “reception hall” implies indoor venue.  On a side note: you may notice from the date of the e-mail – October wedding with unpredictable weather.

A couple of issues happened as soon as musicians arrived for the wedding ceremony. We found out that the location for the wedding ceremony was changed to a different spot at the venue, quiet a walk away, especially if you have instruments, music, cumbersome cello case, stands. However, we are flexible with such a change, mild inconvenience at best.
Second issue, however, was more serious.  After walking to a new site for the ceremony, we found out it is to be outside,not inside. At that point I have politely confronted the groom, asking him why the location has changed from indoors to outdoors. Sadly, he got upset, stating that the ceremony was ORIGINALLY planned to be outdoors if it didn’t rain, that it was NEVER to be indoors! Again, refer to the e-mail above – “reception hall” means indoors. I made an attempt to remind him of the e-mail, but it didn’t help the situation, it only brought more aggravation. As a result, we were “stuck” playing outdoors. It was an evening ceremony with a 6:30pm start, getting cold, dark. At 6:30 the temperature was 61 degrees – NOT good for musicians or for instruments, and it was getting colder as time went by. If the musicians were notified about the change ahead of time – we would have been prepared for playing outdoors: warmer clothes, bringing outdoor instruments which are a little bit more “rugged” and not as fragile as our “indoor”, more expensive and delicate, sturdier music stands, winds clips. Basically, items that musicians need to have for outdoor wedding that clients are not aware of – which is why we ask for the location of the ceremony.  
It is not often that our needs are not considered by our clients, but this was an example of a blatant mistake on a groom’s part and the musicians did not get an apology, but just the opposite. The result? Confrontation minutes before the wedding ceremony, bad moods, frustration on our part and a desire to finish our job ASAP so we can leave fast after an embarrassing performance due to cold fingers and cold instruments.
I believe the incident affected us, the groom, even some guests who witnessed the aggravated exchange between us and the groom and it set a somewhat negative tone to the entire ceremony. There seemed to be other minor things that did not go well:the person administering the ceremony was stumbling every other word, forgot to tell the guests to be seated after the bride walked in. Guests remained standing for the duration of the entire thirty minute ceremony! The musicians observed quite a few rolled eyes from guests, head shakes, and confused looks. The microphone was in and out. People were cold. It is possible that some of them, just like us, were told that the wedding ceremony was to be inside – many women were wearing dresses that implied so. 
Bottom line – as musicians we try to communicate very clearly with our clients.  We hope that the same courtesy can be achieved by the clients towards musicians, even if we get paid.

Musicians for funerals

Although weddings are the most common event that our Pittsburgh musicans perform at, several time a year we are asked for violin players to play at funerals, usually at funeral homes during viewings for families and friends. 
   The most common questions here is “how many musicians should be playing for such an event?”.  Obviously, money is the first factor.  Aside from the budget – most often we would suggest either a solo violin player, or possibly two musicians, violinist and a violist, or two violin players.  Very rare would you need more than two musicians.  It is an atmosphere for soft, somber music that should not be the “center piece” of attention.  People usually converse quietly at funeral homes and it might even be viewed disrespectful to play loud.  As far as music selections – just like for wedding ceremonies and other occasions our musicians have a repertoire that would be appropriate for funerals.  We have music from religious repertoire; quite often the musicians would plays a song or a piece of music that was a favorite of the deceased at the family’s request.

Did you know?

On a truthful note, we  have no way of distinguishing between true and false facts.  Surely, some of these are true or have nuggets of truth and history in them, especially those having to do with wedding traditions. Nevertheless, they are interesting…

…Did you know that one of the reasons that professional classical musicians wear black forperformances is that it has been found that black color is less distractive to the audience. Studies have found white color to be more disruptive and listeners have harder time concentrating on serious classical music if musicians are wearing white as oppose to black… 

 …Did you know that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described chamber music (specifically, string quartet music) as “four rational people conversing.” This conversational paradigm has been a thread woven through the history of chamber music composition from the end of the 18th century to the present. The analogy to conversation recurs in descriptions and analyses of chamber music compositions.

…Did you know that it takes at least on average seventy pieces of wood to make a violin?

...Did you know why a wedding ring is worn on the third finger?  It was once believed that a vein of blood ran directly from the third finger on the left hand to the heart. The vein was called vena amori, or the vein of love, and early writings on matrimonial procedure suggested that it would be appropriate for one’s wedding ring to be worn on that special finger. Source: Ever Wonder Why? Douglas B. Smith / Mass Market Paperback / Published 1992

… Did you know that in the 1500’s most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

… Did you know that the second Saturday in September is a popular date for weddings, but not in 2004 when the second Saturday fell on September 11th.  Most couples did not want their wedding anniversary to fall on that date.

… Did you know that a wedding shower originated with a Dutch maiden who fell in love with an impoverished miller.  Her friends “showered” her and her groom with many gifts so the couple could do without her dowry.

 …Did you know that the second Sunday in February each year is World Marriage Day. The National World Marriage Day brochure says that “by 1982, 43 Governors officially proclaimed the day and celebrations spread to U.S. military bases in several foreign countries.”

      … Did you know that classical music affects the brain’s organization and abilities, through its melody and rhythm. The rhythm raises the level of serotonin produced in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, involved in the transmission of nerve impulses that helps maintaining joyous feelings. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased. In fact depression is a consequence of the scarce production of this hormone. Serotonin is released when the brain is “positively shocked”. For instance: if we look at a splendid painting, smell a delicious scent, feel an extraordinary sensation, eat something delicious or listen to some charming music, then the brain lets off a certain amount of serotonin which arouses and maximizes pleasant feelings. Music’s rhythm can also stimulate other natural cadencies of the body, resembling the heartbeat, or the Alfa-rhythm of the brain, and this effect is used to counter the development of clinical depression. The melody instead, is the “sparkle” that catalyses the creative process in our minds.

Classical Revolution Pittsburgh

 March 20, 2011, Beehive Coffee House in Pittsburgh.  

Sometimes musicians forget that classical music IS about music, and not about weddings, orchestra rehearsals, practice room sessions and teaching kids how to play  “Twinkle, Twinkle”. Sometimes, it is simply about getting together and playing. That is exactly what Pittsburgh musicians did on March 20th at the Beehive on SouthS ide.  We had all the string instruments involved: violins, violas, cellos, double-bass, along with clarinet, flute, guitar… Musicians simply put themselves in groups, forming trios, quartets and even quintets, playing whatever they felt like playing. No pressure, no judgment. Surprisingly enough, there were quite a few people listening, even children.  It is a great way for people to learn about chamber music in a relaxed setting, while socializing with friends and drinking a glass of wine. Hopefully, we will have more of these sessions. Here is the photo of myself, a violinist and a cellist. We had fun, no doubt!

Spring weddings

With weather warming up and sun peeking out, musicians are getting ready to play at spring weddings.  The most fearful word for this time is “weather”… Regardless of the forecasts weather remains unpredictable: it might be a perfect sunny day for your wedding when you expected rain, or you will be running for cover in the middle of your wedding ceremony due to a sudden thunderstorm, when all your preparations were based on a prediction of a beautiful afternoon!

As wedding musicians we played at many weddings in the spring time when it was us running for cover, right behind the bride and the groom! An advice on this potential problem on your wedding day: regardless of the official forecast – always plan on having an indoor venue as a back up if your ceremony is scheduled to be outside.  Several times we finished playing ceremony music for the couple in the hallways of adjacent buildings, and it was pretty “memorable” time in the negative way.  On a different occasion, the downpour began midway during the wedding vows, but the couple had a back up plan in a form of a erected tent near by, under which we finished playing and they got to the end of their wedding vows mostly dry. 

Obviously, many wedding venues will charge an additional fee for such a back up, but for the peace of mind it might be worth it. Needless to say from our perspective as musicians – under no cirumstances can we expose our instruments to rain, even a few drops can cause damage to the glue and the structures of violin, violas and cellos.

Summary? Plan ahead, don’t trust the weather man ( they get paid whether or not they are correct), and stay dry!

Brides and Wedding Vendors

I have been reading numerous articles lately related to wedding ceremonies, especially emphasizing the relationship between brides and their wedding vendors.  I even came across one story where a bride was very displeased with the ceremony musicians that she hired.  One of the main comments from all brides is that “…everyone assumes that we know exactly what we want, as we have been planning our dream wedding since we were five years old…”. 

I see their point. Many vendors quite often assume that brides have it all figured out and just want to hand over their money to a vendor to get whatever it is they “figured out”.  I have to say I am glad I work with our clients, especially brides under a completely opposite assumption: a bride wants to have ceremony music for her wedding.  Usually a bride has no idea how many musicians she wants, she likes some music in our wedding repertoire, but  not sure which ones would suit her wedding ceremony the best; she might not know the difference between a string quartet and a string trio.  I really feel that my job as a professional wedding musician is to explain everything in as many details as needed to a bride, then give her time to process all the information. After that, make my suggestions on ceremony music, music for the prelude and postlude, and any relevant advice pertaining to wedding music.  

I used to think that in our “internet-oriented’” society I do not need to be so involved and detailed with brides.  After all, they can find and listen to any wedding song on the web.  However, it is a very different feeling when instead of trusting a computer screen to decide on your wedding music, you get a chance to discuss it at length with a wedding professional. 

In the enormous world of wedding industry I think it is pretty hard to be a bride and I do whatever I can to diminish the stress that brides go through in their preparations for the big day.  I will spend as much time as needed with every bride discussing their wedding music, their song choices and any music related topic.  It is my job to which I am dedicated and it is their big celebration and i truly want it to be memorable for each and every one of my clients! 

What IS chamber music?

I decided to put a few excerpts from different articles which define chamber music.  Quite often there is a confusion between chamber musicians and soloists. Although we do perform solo at times, our main line of work consists of playing in chamber groups, ranging from duos to quartets.
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part. The word “chamber” signifies that the music can be performed in a small room, often in a private salon with an intimate atmosphere. However, it usually does not include, by definition, solo instrument performances…
Thought by most to be “music written for a small ensemble,” this definition is correct, but incomplete. A form of classical music, chamber music is generally written for a small group of instruments, with no two parts doubled and no conductor in sight. Initially created for performances in a bedroom or palace “chamber,” the art form gained fashion as an intimate activity among friends…
Some of history’s greatest composers used chamber music as a vehicle to create their most profound and important works. Others used the medium as an outlet for fun and lighthearted entertainment. The best composers often did both. Many string quartets of Haydn and Mozart were cheerful and humorous, intended for intimate groups, of which they were each a member. Beethoven had a different agenda altogether, creating in his late years some of the most challenging music for string quartets in the history of the genre… 
Although the art form takes its name from those early performances in “chamber” settings, it was eventually elevated to the concert hall. While the works of Haydn or Mozart could often be undertaken (if less than professionally) by amateurs and were well suited for the private homes of friends, Beethoven’s works were much more technically complex…
Although string quartets overshadow other chamber music combinations in their popularity, there are a tremendous variety of instrumental groupings. String trios (violin, viola and cello), piano trios (violin, cello and piano), and piano quartets (violin, viola, cello and piano) are but a few of the additional string combinations.  Playing chamber music requires special skills, both musical and social, which are different from the skills required for playing solo or symphonic works…

Heat and instruments

With summer weddings and other events taking place outside, one of major concerns for us as musicians is to protect our violins, violas, and cellos from harsh weather, especially sun, and even in Pittsburgh it can get very hot in the summer!
It is easily understood by everyone that wood cannot be allowed to get wet, but sometimes we are asked why can’t we play in direct sun.  Here is an excerpt from an article on instrument care. 
…”Heat joins sudden change as the other serious menace to instruments. Luthiers purposefully use wood glues which soften when heated (to 145F) so that an instrument can be disassembled for service when necessary. Direct sunlight is hot enough to soften the glues in your instrument and weaken or destroy the joints in the piece. Do not display any instrument anywhere that will be exposed to sun as the light  will damage glue and varnish…”
Here are some things that can be done for musicians if we are to play outdoors.  Provide a tent, gazebo or any sort of overhead protection where the musicians will be playing. There are times when it is impossible.  In that case – position the chairs under a tree or in a shady area: if you are setting up in advance,  you may calculate where the sun will be during that time of day.  You may also consider a second “playing site” in case if the sun moves and starts beating on the musicians.  We have played at weddings, where very thoughtful brides had ready for us two playing areas: one was for the beginning of the ceremony, and the other was preset in case if sun rays reaches us, which they did. Overall, we have never encountered a problem with playing outdoors, and were always able to move our positions based on the sun…
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