The virtuoso fiddler Richard Greene once gave a workshop at a national strings conference and pointed out that in his opinion it was very important for music teachers to perform. It keeps us in touch with why we love music, puts teaching in perspective, gives us more to offer students, gives students more respect for their teacher, and attracts more students who want to play like you.
Weddings, parties, orchestras and bands, gigs with small ensembles at restaurants, or fully arranged concerts, are all good outlets, requiring varying amounts of publicity and preparation.
It’s great if you have a colleague or a group to play with regularly, because you can be seen as a known quantity, an entity to hire. But even on your own, there are opportunities to pursue–sometimes a student or a student’s spouse wants you to play for their birthday party or wedding. Knowing you, they trust you to arrange for others to play with, depending on the budget.
Handling a Wedding
Weddings are sometimes trickiest to administer, because usually (hopefully) they are a one-time affair, so the people hiring you are often not very experienced. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a deposit, to commit them to you. Once I thought I was hired by a bride only to find out a week in advance that the groom hired someone else. (A bad sign for their relationship?) I always asked for a deposit after that! Somehow giving you a check makes them take their decision more seriously.
It’s often quite reasonable to recommend music to those hiring you, and they may well just ask you to come up with whatever you want to play. Many people don’t feel the need to use the traditional wedding melodies. As long as the processional is somewhat stately and can be marched to, and the recessional feels celebratory and upbeat, your own suggestions can do the trick. On the other hand, it’s best to find out if the bride and groom have some favorite music they would find memorable. Nowadays a conversation about the choice of music can be done by email with recorded samples, though a personal meeting is best.
You might be wanted to play as the attendees gather, in which case you are a nice focal point for distracting, entertaining, and calming the gathering storm. A signal from someone in the wedding party should be pre-arranged so you know when to pause for effect, and begin the processional. Try not to watch all the people who have no idea how to walk in time to your music!
Some weddings include moments during the ceremony for a minute or two of meditative music.Â This can be drawn from a bride or groom’s favorite melodies, or just something you suggest. I find there are some beautiful and evocative one-minute melodies in the folk traditions. A beautiful piece of music can originate anywhere and be appropriate if well played.
Check with the couple or the person officiating to be sure you know what is the last thing said and done at the ceremony so you can start the recessional music with good spirit without any awkward pauses, and certainly without jumping in before the ceremony is finished!
There are many choices of music, from folk to popular to classical, and because weddings usually have a broad variety of people and interests, it is entirely appropriate to mix up the musical styles, unless of course a certain style is requested. Afterwards you probably won’t play for too long, because people leave for the pictures and reception. Or maybe they’ll ask you to move to the reception and play during drinks or while the bride and groom are having pictures taken.
Playing Well, especially in the background
Which brings me to one last comment about not only weddings but all sorts of parties and gigs where you are the background music. Never think people aren’t listening, just because it may look that way. There’s always those folks who are between conversations or who don’t do small talk, or who are only half involved in talking to people, and if you play well, even if it feels like you’re playing for yourself, you’ll find those are the people who come up to you later and thank you profusely for playing, and not just out of politeness. There’s a good reason people hire musicians to provide background music; it really fills in the colors of the mood.