Wedding ceremony time change

This is an example of a situation that  happens rarely. In fact, this was the first time it occurred with our wedding musicians. 

A client booked musicians (a string trio)  from 5pm to 6pm for a wedding ceremony.  Two days prior to the wedding ceremony, while discussing last minute music details with the client, he realized that he needed the musicians to start playing at 4:30 for the prelude music as guests are being seated.  In the section of our contract related to booking times it states “total time the musicians are on site”. The mistake was on client’s part which he readily admitted. 

After contracting the musicians that were booked for this wedding, it turned out that a cellist could not come earlier due to the previous playing engagement that was scheduled to finish at 4pm.  Based on the original booking time, an hour would have been enough time for her to get from the previous job to this one, with the start of 5pm.  However, with the start of 4:30 it was not feasible due to traveling distance between the two playing engagements.  

A different cellist was hired to play for this wedding ceremony that now has a start time of 4:30. The client had to pay for two cellist: the originally booked musician and a newly hired one.  Why?  The originally booked cellist had set the time aside for this job, arranging her schedule and possibly not taking another performance. She deserved to be paid for the time. 

The moral of the story? Review the contract for musicians carefully, calculating the time not only for the wedding ceremony itself but for the prelude music as well. Also, do not hesitate to call and ask for an advice for booking times.  Our musicians have done their jobs for many years and will provide you with a solid advice on times for your event.  

On being a musician and a human

Quite often at different playing events musicians are asked questions such as “How did your group meet?”, “How long have musicians known each other?”, and other questions that will show people the relationships between the musicians. 

It is a somewhat interesting issue from a “get along” and “not get along” point of view. Whether or not the musicians in the same group get along with each other can greatly affect their performance level.  I have performed with groups that reflect both sides. 

Only this past summer a violist was needed to play at a wedding in Pittsburgh and I got the job. By any standards of professional classical musician, the music for the wedding ceremony was very easy.  The musicians played the famous “Canon in D”, “Wedding March”, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and other very standard wedding pieces. In my opinion, we sounded pretty bad and if I were the bride or the guests at this ceremony, I would have formed a very low opinion of the musicians. Why? Possibly because two of the four musicians in that string quartet (myself and a cellist) did not know the other two violin players. When we arrived at the site of the ceremony, the cellist and I have introduced ourself to each other. Upon our mutual attempts to introduce ourselves to the two violin players, we were met with somewhat cold attitude, both players barely said “hello” to us. In fact, one of the violinists did not make eye contact.  They continued to chat amongst themselves as best friends while the cellist and I tried to figure out where the negative attitude came from.  That set a very negative tone for the following an hour and a half of the wedding ceremony, during which even the easiest music just did not sound well. I don’t think it was only my opinion.

In most cases, after playing for such a long time, the guests will come up to us expressing their thanks and liking of our performance. It did not happen this time. Moreover, at the end of the job, even one of the violinists muttered “well, that was rough..” I am sure she did not even realize that her ignorance and unwelcome attitude towards the two “new” musicians played a major role in the outcome of the performance. 

Within the music groups that I organize in my business, we had a string quartet job outside of Pittsburgh, about an hour away.  The entire string quartet car pooled in the same car! We all talked and laughed on the way to the gig, talking about music, lives, children, politics, dogs…. We had to play somewhat challenging music that was arranged for our musicians on request: “Here Comes The Sun”, “Paperback Writer”, “If I fell in love with you”. These are not standard pieces for classical musicians, nor are they very difficult. However, they do require the musicians to pay a bit more attention while playing.  Our string quartet sounded fantastic that day! We could not leave afterwards – people crowded us and were asking questions about music, where we were from… I handed out close to twenty business cards. It was one of the best string quartet performances and everyone, especially the musicians knew it and felt it! 

These situations have proved to me again and again that as much as possible it is important upon forming a group to put together musicians that get along with each other.  

As a result, not only I try to put together musicians of the highest level technically, but also those that get along with each other which turns out to be a very important part of any performance.

Hiring a solo musician

From our web site, it is very clear that our musicians mostly perform in groups of two, three and four players.  However, once in a while we send a solo musician. Most often it is for a very small wedding.  Last time we had a violinist perform at a wedding with a total of fifteen people.  Does is sound good? There is really no “correct” answer to that question.  It depends on your taste.  In this case, the bride herself was a classical musician and knew what to expect. For such occasion, there is also an option of playing along with a CD, which although not done often, does help with an overall sound and gives a better impression to the guests. It does not take a big effort to do so – all you need is a small CD player and an outlet.  The only issue is the limited repertoire for a single instrument with a CD accompaniment.  However, most of the standard wedding classical music IS available with a CD, and we can provide that with no problem. 

The fear of future…

I have brought up this topic before. However, it keeps coming up as the most asked question by our clients regarding our musicians: “If I hire your musicians, how do I know if they are going to play well? What if  my guests and myself will not like the musicWhat if musicians are not on time for my wedding?  What if I don’t like the combination of instruments that the musicians will play? At this point, I can only respond with this:

What if an asteroid hits the site of your wedding ceremony two minutes before it is about to start?

What  if someone eats the bridal cake before it gets delivered, or if it gets dropped?

What if a bride or a groom gets cold feet a day before the wedding? ( That had happened to our musicians, we still got paid!)

What if the flowers you ordered will come in not fresh but wilted and withered, and not even the ones you ordered?

What  if the bride spills wine on her dress an hour before the ceremony?

What if a photographer drops his camera and all your wedding memories are lost because he did not bring a back up one?

What if a groom gets abducted by an alien on the way to the ceremony?

What if a groom has a heart attack in the middle of the ceremony? ( That also happened while our musicians were playing the processional)

What if a bride gets in a car wreck on the day of the wedding ( We also dealt with that situation, moving the wedding to a different day)

What if a best man gets lost on the way to the wedding ceremony and arrives an hour  late ? (We saw that, too)

What if you decide two weeks after the wedding that the person you married is not right for you?

Please try to remember the old cliche: “IF” is the middle word in LIFE…. 

I don’t have the answers, nor does anyone else. The human race only plan ahead with good intentions and hopes in mind, quite often taking fearsome steps in life  Same goes for our wedding musicians and any other business owner. Life is a risk. Getting married is a risk. Living a risk. Let us all try to enjoy it while we can and do our best to open our hearts and minds to each other. In the process, I promise to play the best music we can, and if you don’t like it – there is always the wedding cake! 


Performing outdoors

Many wedding musicians are hired to play for outdoor weddings. The obvious unpredictable factor is the weather. In our contract it states that musicians will not perform  in the weather “under 60 or above 90 degrees”.  Not so long ago, our string quartet musicians were hired for an outdoor wedding ceremony in Fox Chapel, followed by a two-hour dinner to be held outdoors as well.  During the ceremony the weather held up, staying in the mid-sixties, although very windy. By the time dinner started – the temperature had dropped to low fifties, with gusty winds. The musicians had overhead protection which did little for wind protection. Usually, in this case the musicians will leave, following the clause in the contract. However, the client was very understanding and accommodated the musicians with two portable heaters, and a wide wooden panel that when put up, protected us from the wind. In this situation, we were able to stay and continue playing dinner music – it turned out to be very nice event! That shows that there are exceptions to the rule and musicians can be flexible towards changes. With the team effort the issue was resolved without having to adhere to contract. 

Musicians attending wedding rehearsals

 Several brides that have hired our musicians for wedding ceremonies have asked (and occasionally insisted on) them to attend wedding rehearsals, hence arises the issue whether or not musicians need to show up for these.

As a rule,  hired wedding musicians do not attend wedding rehearsals simply because there is nothing for musicians to rehearse and go over.  The wedding music  in our repertoire have been performed by them for many years, eliminating the need to rehearse.

When a song is requested to be played at the wedding that is not in our repertoire – the client will usually mail us the music a few days prior to the wedding ceremony to give musicians a chance to look it over.

However, quite often wedding musicians encounter situations where unfamiliar music has to be performed on the spot, without having a chance to practice it before hand; such performance is referred to as “sight-reading” and most professional musicians (ours included) are trained in sight-reading during their education period.

If, despite our explanations, the client still insists on musicians attending a wedding rehearsal, the hourly fee will be charged for each musician, including not only the time spent at the wedding rehearsal, but traveling to and from as well. 

On a personal note as a business owner: I have seen many music agencies advising their clients that musicians SHOULD attend wedding rehearsals, since in their opining musicians ARE part of the wedding party, hence forcing their clients to spend more money on musicians; the manager ends up getting a larger cut of the fee, and the client – spends unnecessary money on musicians. 

Hiring a soloist verses several musicians

 Probably the most common combinations of players that we are hired for are duos and trios, with string quartets being reserved for very large weddings with many people in attendance where three wedding musicians just won’t be enough to be heard.

Clients who have decided to hire two wedding musicians will often consider to get only one violin player even after their decision has been made about hiring a duo.  The obvious question here “ Is one musician better than two?”.  Money wise – yes. It is cheaper since you are paying for only one.  Sound wise – it is up to your taste. However, if anyone has a budget to hire two musicians – we strongly recommend to do so. Imagine a soloist singing with a chorus backing him up throughout a song, verses a soloist singing the same song without “ a back up”.  In this case the soloist can only sing the melody line – not the “decorative”, additional lines which in music terminology are called alto- tenor – bass.  As I mentioned in other posts, many wedding music pieces simply don’t sound complete when performed by one musician.  The “richness” of the sound is not present with just a violin, viola, or a cello.  With an addition of even one instrument – the sound picture changes completely.  That is, our opinion based on many years of experience and playing the same wedding music with different combinations of string instruments.  Another good judgment of that opinion is public.  We are yet to play at an event as a group where people don’t come up to us with some sort of a praise and compliments for performances.  However, there were a couple of weddings where a bride decided to hire a solo violin player and the reaction from her guests was not what we expected – the violinist was barely heard and noticed.  It was one of our musicians with over thirty years of performing throughout the country, and even he didn’t like the set up.  It was even harder due to the music selections that the bride asked for her wedding.  The famous Canon in D simply does not work with one instrument! All of the above are the reasons why we try to promote at the minimum two musicians so that your event, especially a wedding has a comfortable and a pleasant music setting which leaves both, our client and his/her guests with good memories after hearing our performance.      

Seating of musicians for wedding ceremonies

This might seem as a very small issue, but to us it is somewhat important – where should the musicians be positioned for certain events? 

In my opinion – it depends on the event. If the musicians serve as a background effect for a cocktail hour, dinner reception, or any other private gathering, then they should not be placed in the middle of the room, or any place where people will bump into them, or where musicians will be too loud.  Also, placing them near the bar  where the drinks are served is also not a good idea.   For such events it is usually not a big issue. Wedding ceremonies, however, present a more important issue of visibility. At least one of the musicians has to be positioned in such a way so he/she may see the bridal party and the bride walking down to the site of the ceremony. That is how musicians know when to stop or fade a piece of music currently being played.   Many times our musicians were placed next to the ceremony spot  in such a way that after the bridal party walked down, they blocked our view of the bride and it was hard to see her coming down. The solution? Either the musicians should be placed where the bridal party and the bride are visible to them, or someone else (wedding coordinator or ceremony administrator) should give musicians a cue to when to stop playing.

Another issue, mostly visual. Especially for weddings, our  musicians know that wedding photographers will be taking photos of them for the bride and the groom, and having our cases, purses and bags laying around us is not a good visual on a photograph. Many times it is unavoidable due to the lack of space. Our most recent job at Robert Morris University presented just that. It was a beautiful chapel with incredible acoustics, but limited space. So, musicians ( violinist and a cellist) had to have their cases right next to them due to the lack of space. Sometimes, we ask if there is a room near by so we can leave our cases there. In this chapel there were none. Again, it is not a major issue in the big picture of wedding preparation, but it does make a photo more attractive without the clutter of our equipment!

Paying musicians for “in-between” time

This is a topic that  comes up very often for our wedding musicians.  Many times a bride will book our trio or a quartet to play not only for the wedding ceremony but also during a cocktail hour or a wedding dinner.  

As an example, here is an actual job that our string quartet did last summer in Pittsburgh area.  The musicians played for the wedding ceremony from 3pm-4pm, then drove about fifteen miles south of Pittsburgh to a different location, to play for a two-hour dinner reception which started at 5:30 in the evening. In brief, 3pm-4pm – wedding ceremony, 5:30pm-7:30pm – dinner reception at a different location.  

The bride who booked our string quartet for that day was surprised at first that she had to pay us not for three hours of playing time, but for 4.5 hours, which include playing AND traveling time, so-called “in-between” time.  After my fairly reasonable explanation, she did pay us for 4.5 hours and it turned out to be a great job for us – people were very friendly and attentive to our music, we played some songs on requests, and even got fed by the caterers!

The explanation is the following: even though musicians are not playing during the time that they travel between the ceremony and dinner reception sites, they are still on the job, committed to that period of time (in this case from 3pm until 7:30pm), without the ability to go home or anywhere else.  That traveling time becomes part of our job, and part of the fees that musicians will charge, since their time, gas money, wear and tear on the car IS devoted to that job.  

Another short example similar to the above happened when a bride asked us to have a string quartet play for one hour on the boat during her wedding.  However, we were going to be on that boat for six hours total and she refused to pay us for six hours. I suggested that we can also play for dinner on the boat, but she refused the offer.

As a different example: our trio played at a wedding ceremony (also in Pittsburgh) where the wedding dinner took place the following day – the family had unusual circumstances that had to be accommodated. Obviously, in this case we charged for one hour of wedding ceremony music and for three hours of requested dinner music the following evening. We treated that as two different jobs even though it was for the same family, and we charged for the total of four hours of playing – nothing for “in between” time.  

A tip for saving money if your wish to hire musicians for ceremony and dinner is this: hire a string quartet to play for the wedding ceremony, and hire a trio for the reception or dinner.  You will have one less musician for the dinner music without losing the quality of the group, but it will save you a good amount of money.

Playing time for wedding musicians

One question that I get a lot from my clients is “..for how long should I hire the musicians… an hour, two..” Obviously, the price will change with the duration of playing. Here is a little lesson from one of the jobs our string trio did this summer. You read it and decide for yourself.
One of our string trios(violin, viola and a cello) was hired to play at the wedding in Pittsburgh for an hour and a half, from 2-3:30. Beforehand, bride was not sure if she should hire us for one hour, or for 1.5 hours: her ceremony was very short, with guests going to a different location for the dinner. Finally, she was set on 1.5 hours, and stated so in the contract. Our string trio started playing at 2:00, fully expecting to start the music for the ceremony at 2:30, after 30 minutes of prelude music. As it turned out – we didn’t start the ceremony music until 3:05, 35 minutes later than was scheduled: bride’s father fell ill right before, and had to be attended to. The lesson? If she booked us only for one hour, from 2-3, we would have had two choices: either walk out without playing for the wedding ceremony at all, or stay and charge the family overtime (which is more than a regular fee)… Again, I am not attempting to scare clients  and force them to book us for longer than needed. However, unexpected circumstance do happen, and it might be prudent to keep them in mind, especially for such events as weddings, where you have so many people involved that you don’t know much about. During another wedding, we had a minister coming 45 minutes late, almost giving a bride a nervous breakdown. Again, this bride did book our quartet for two hours, leaving enough time for the unexpected…
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