Winter wedding adventure

Category: Music and Life

Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015…

That will be a memorable date in our musicians’ history.  At 4:30 in the afternoon, the three of us, violinist, violist and a cellist were due to play at a wedding ceremony at Bella Sera, a place in the heart of Canonsburg, south of Pittsburgh.  Earlier in the day there were predictions of some snowfall with accumulations of 1-3 inches.  The three musicians were coming from different directions. On a good day, the farthest of us lives about 30 minutes from the above mentioned wedding venue. Now on a personal note….

I am not sure what forces of nature, or a”gut feeling” entered my brain, but I left my house at 2:10, which is way too early under normal circumstances.  As it turned out – it was barely enough to get there! At 2:15 there was a complete blizzard-like conditions, with zero visibility. In the following one hour-time, I have driven about a half a mile from my house. At one point, not being able to avoid going up the hill, I was stuck and only with the kindness of a couple of gentlemen who pushed my car from behind was I able to continue up a steep hill. At 3:30 I was still not even a half way to the wedding place. Meanwhile, I witnessed several accidents, a stuck bus and several blocked intersections where drivers simply gave up on driving due to zero visibility and others being stuck on hills. 

At that point I had to do what I have never done in my professional life as a musician.  I called the mother of the bride, and with an apology prepared her that there might not be any musicians playing at her daughter’s wedding.  She was very nice about it, obviously sad, told me to be careful and it was not worth risking my life… To deviate a bit from the story, this was one of those “easy booking”, where the client (mother of the bride) was amazingly well organized: she sent us printed lists of every piece that musicians are to play for the ceremony, as well as directions to the place from every possible corner of Pittsburgh, emergency numbers, and other materials that we usually have to extract from our clients, at times at a very last minute! I really did not want to disappoint her, so I kept on driving, average speed – 5-10 mph…  At 3:50 I called the other two musicians, one of whom was stuck on the local highway due to a blizzard. She decided to continue on.  The violinist arrived first with about ten minutes to spare. By the grace of God I made it there as well, with the last maneuver being my car sliding across the parking lot right in front of Bella Sera. Two minutes later the cellist showed up, frazzled but there!

From what the musicians heard, many of the guests for this wedding were on the shuttle bus from a local hotel… the bus didn’t make it in time for the beginning of the ceremony, arriving just as the newlywed couple finished the exchange of the vows.

At the end of the evening, we were profusely thanked by the parents of the bride, received one complement after another. It was truly a miracle that we made it there….

…and the “1-3 inches of snow” turned out to be at least 7 inches…

The musicians made it!

The musicians made it!

Yin and Yang of humanity

Category: Music and Life

One of the really neat things about being a freelance musician is that we get to meet and observe people in different settings, people with different moral and social standards, different levels of integrity and caring.  It is amazing how well musicians can be treated one day and how much ignorance can be poured on them during the next.  Here are some examples of yin and and yang of humanity…

…A phone call from a bride who was concerned about the walkway being icy in front of the place where she was getting married. She said the night before during the rehearsal dinner it was icy and she thought of musicians, who would be caring instruments, stands, music. She took her time on her wedding day (!) to call us with a warning about it! The other spectrum – brides who don’t know until the last minute where the musicians should park and don’t give us good directions to the locations.

… Some members of the audience who take a second to come up and thank us for the music, making small talk about the pieces that musicians have performed at their event. The other spectrum – very ignorant bunch that would bump into our instruments, spill their drinks on our bows, knock off our music stands – all without an apology or help in gathering the dropped music.

… Most often, after the cocktail hour (at weddings) classical musicians are replaced by DJ’s, a pretty regular wedding routine for music transfer.  Our groups have dealt with DJ’s who would unceremoniously kick our music cases with their feet to make room for their own equipment, even though we are still playing. Other DJ’s went out of their way to help us set up in such a way so that when we are done – it would be easy for our musicians to pack and the DJ’s to start, all the while having a light conversation with music jokes in between.

… Wedding coordinators: these are tough and very unpredictable creatures, existing only in two shades, black and white. They are  either on top of their game and know every details pertaining to the wedding ceremony, or they know absolutely nothing, some even were not aware that musicians were coming to play at the wedding ceremony.

…Waiters at cocktail hours, dinners and other “food-oriented” events. At some places musicians would be offered water, tea, even alcoholic beverages. At other places – after asking for a glass of water (on a 90 degree day, our string quartet was playing at an outdoor wedding ceremony), we overheard through the staff doors  “these musicians should bring their own darn water!”.

…Although we are acoustical instruments, violins, violas and cellos, our musicians still have to carry in instruments, music stands, big bulky music folders, jackets, purses, etc. Those that are observant – try to help and at least open doors for us. Some, however, very curiously will continue stare at us as we struggle to open the doors while thinking about not dropping the instruments and other gear. Ignorance can be a virtue for some!


No matter what event our musicians are playing yet, kids are always polite, always curious about our music, some even try dancing to classical music, some sit right in front of us and listen.  They can be running all around the place after the extra intake of a cake or sweets, but their “emergency brakes” work really well when they walk around us – they have an understanding that instruments are vulnerable and they slow down! They come up to us and ask questions about the instruments, we are humans to them, not just musicians. Thank God for kids!

Old dogs – new tricks!

Category: Music and Life

This fellow is not actually old – he only wants to learn how to hold a violin bow in his paw!

I can play, too!

I can play, too!

On cruising and musicians

Category: Music and Life

Winter season is usually the slowest for classical musicians as far as weddings go.  During that time musicians mostly perform with various orchestras, teach and play at events other than weddings.  Our musicians have played this winter at several Christmas luncheons, a couple of private parties at the local lawyers firms, as well as a surprise 50th birthday party.  Winter gives us more time to reflect, to slow down, to create, to think..

My husband and I just came back from a 12-day cruise to the Carribean, stoping in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Haiti and a couple of other islands.  We cruised with Royal Carribean Cruise Line. We have been using them for the past nine years, and are amazed how drastically the service have declined while the prices are going up. After talking to many people on cruise ships, overwhelming majority seems to feel as we do: the quality of food menu has gone down, it is much harder to book things through the Royal Caribbean web site, events that were originally on the ship’s schedule get cancelled all the time. The latest – a big issue with all RC ships having illnesses throughout cruise ships to the point where cruises are cut short and ships are returning early, not able to handle sick people on board. The same goes for musicians on board.  I have heard string trios comprised of violin, cello and piano, violin, piano, accordion, violin, flute, piano. I am sorry to say that most of my private students high school age play so much better!!! As a matter of fact, the same applies to violin and viola students of my colleagues. I was somewhat ashamed that Royal Carribean could not invest into better qualified musicians, or may be they simply do not know what good musicians sound like! My husband who is a police officer with a very limited knowledge of classical music, made several “lemon-like” faces when he heard some of the classical musicians on our cruises.  Personally, I would be ashamed if my business provided musicians to weddings who have such low standards and such minimal training as what we hear on our cruises. When we get home from these vacations, it really makes me feel good to look around Pittsburgh and see the caliber of our local musicians, realizing how good most of them are, how much time and energy they put into their continuos training, and how serious they take every job opportunity, from playing the easiest Canon in D at a wedding, to performing a complicated violin part of a Shostakovich’s Symphony in an orchestra.  It seems as if overall level of classical music training has gone up in the United States in the past few years, starting with the fact that orchestral instruments are being introduced in pubic schools as early as second grade.  Also, there seems to be an increase in children whose parents start them on a violin, viola and cello lessons at a much younger age, around five or six. I really hope the classical music is not dying, as some might attest, but prospering with every year, producing more and more classical musicians who keep music in our culture for generations to come.

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The best ring bearer ever!

Category: Music and Life

Being a dog owner myself I could not help but to take this photo during one of the weddings we played at. Yes, the dog IS the ring bearer, and a very well behaved one from what I saw!


The tree choir…

Category: Music and Life

Not  only our bird accompanies me when I play at home, but within a last week I found this quartet (quintet if you count the mom) in the tree next to our house – they were so loud when I started playing my viola one day that I had to go and find them. If only I could figure out if they are approving my playing or if they are annoyed by it and in their bird language are begging me to stop!

Some are still curious…

Category: Music and Life

I hear a lot around me about classical music being a dying art. Public schools cut back on Music and Art programs, favoring football and other sports. Kids that are involved in music have a tendency to quit because playing an instrument is challenging and requires time, patience and dedication.  However, amidst all this bleakness, some kids are still curious about classical music and its’ sounds.  Our string quartet played at the wedding in Youngstown, OH past weekend and these two kids were glued to us while we played music for the reception.  The older boy had the guts to stop us and was talking about Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – shocking to us that he knew the piece! It was really sweet and refreshing to see the interest in the young kids.  My husband took the two photos below while we were playing…

… A little treasure…

Category: Music and Life

We all deal with stress regardless if we are musicians, lawyers, moms, dads, construction workers, bankers, janitors… list goes on. This is what I click on when I am stressed, and I am not the most religious person, but I do know that some unexplainable and undeniable energy is there – God is just one name for it…

Christmas Eve. service

Category: Music and Life
Christmas season is one of the busiest time for musicians in Pittsburgh.  For past several years I have been a part of several Christmas services that take place at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sewickley, Pa, a small historical town north of Pittsburgh.  The church music director hires musicians from Pittsburgh to form a chamber orchestra including violins, violas, cellos,bass, flute,clarinet and trumpet, and we perform along with the church choir.  We usually play at two evening services on Christmas Eve. with about thirty minutes of music program prior to each service.  In between the services musicians have time for a break and also for food that church and choir members so graciously provide for us!  It is one of those jobs that never quite feels like a job but more like an annual fun event, where we see the same group of musicians and friends in both, choir and orchestra.  Since I was part of the orchestra, I had no way of taking photos of us playing, but during the break I took a couple of photos of Christmas decorations at the church. It is a wonderful place with very friendly people full of energy, smiles and warm hearts. Thank you to all of you for having us play at your church for all these years!

Private entertainment

Category: Music and Life
Amidst all the hectic rehearsals, concerts, weddings, and teaching commitments, we try to have fun once in a while. Last week the two of us played an impromptu concert at a local hang out in South Park called Dorido’s. My husband and his friends go there after their respective police shifts, to hang out, eat, drink a bit and have fun. I guess my friend cellist and I decided to expose them to some culture, giving them an earful on classical music to their already “gun-trained” ears… They seem to like it! 

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