Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The Performing Teacher: Notes on Weddings

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.  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.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

4 Comments

  1. Remi

    thanks for your awesome note!

  2. toby fairchild

    Great Article, Ed. (as usual). You couldn\’t be more correct in your advice about getting a deposit. I would advocate taking it also as step further by using a performance contract as well. As you pointed out, weddings are one-time events and the \

  3. Toby Fairchild

    Sorry…my response got cut off somehow…here goes again…

    Great Article, Ed. (as usual). You couldn’t be more correct in your advice about getting a deposit. I would advocate taking it also as step further by using a performance contract as well. As you pointed out, weddings are one-time events and the “purchasers” are usually not familiar with handling entertainment and may not be on the same page with you (the performer) out of sheer ignorance of what is usual and customary. We musicians (I’ve played hundreds of weddings) take these things, sometimes, for granted because we are so use to the routine of how to get it done. The customer, on the other hand, needs some things brought to their attention and spelled out for them. This is one way a contract can be helpful. Back to deposits; Another reason to get a deposit is because in most states, a binding contract is virtually rock solid if three things are present: 1) a written contract 2) signature of purchaser, and 3)”consideration”. Consideration is a fancy legal term meaning that money has changed hands (usually from the buyer to the seller), and constitutes that there was a clear intent to purchase and can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in court.
    Also do yourself a favor and make the deposit non-refundable. If something should go awry on the purchaser’s side, which is out of your control and the performance needs to be cancelled, you and your bandmates should receive some compensation for tying up that date on your calendar. You could have been gigging somewhere else and so could your bandmates. I usually require a 50% non-refundable deposit. Only once have I needed to enforce it. The groom got cold feet and the wedding was cancelled 1 week prior to the event. I didn’t make the amount of money I would have if we had played but I got half the pay to take the evening off. Not a bad trade, all in all.
    One other reason to have a written contract (in addition to the deposit) is to ensure that your performance parameters are upheld. By this I mean that you can not be held to do something that you would rather not in order to get paid. I know that sounds rather vague and unclear, but here’s an example.
    1) What if the purchaser has an outdoor event and it begins to sprinkle rain. You begin to pack up your equipment to put it safely indoors or your vehicle and the purchaser says “Hey, don’t stop! It’s just a few drops.” You say no, we can’t play in the rain. Our equipment might get damaged. Legally, the purchaser (if you have no contract) doesn’t have to pay you. You did not stipulate that rain would prevent the performance. I know it’s common sense, but we are talking in legal terms here. Common sense does not always apply. SPELL IT OUT IN WRITING. My contract allows me to cancel the performance due to “bad weather” or “impending bad weather”, meaning…..it’s not raining, YET, but it’s going to start any minute…and I reserve the right to start packing up our equipment NOW…BEFORE IT RAINS…AS PER THE CONTRACT. Also, the remaining balance is due at this time (all these are clauses), otherwise you would have to wait until the contract finish time to get paid.
    2) What if your performance is supposed to begin at 7pm and you get to the gig at 5:30 to set up only to be told by ‘someone in charge’ that other events will be going on and you won’t have access to the stage area (right next to where they will be giving toasts) won’t be available for your to set up until 6:45. They turn to you and say…”that should give you enough time, right”. (FYI I am a drummer and my band’s soundman). “Oh, and also, Mr. Fairchild, the stage is up on the balcony on the 2nd floor….the stairs are over there.” My contract says that we don’t do stairs. If a performance is not on the ground floor, there must be a freight elevator or other elevator of some sort or we don’t perform and the balance of payment is now due.

    I don’t want to get to someone’s wedding and not perform so I send a gig “checklist to the purchaser to help them rectify any potential snags that they might not have (usually not) thought of that could prove disasterous to the the success of their event.

    I have available to anyone interested a copy of my standard performance contract and the ‘gig checklist’ that I e-mail to purchasers. You may freely use either as you wish. If anyone has a logo or would like their own logo put onto the contract with your own contact information and so forth, I can do that and also I can add or delete any parts of the contract that you would like to help suit your particular needs. Just e-mail me at toby@tobyfairchild.com

  4. Toby Fairchild

    One other note about the contract. I’ve received quite a few e-mails requesting a copy of my gig questionaire and or contract and I have sent each asker an e-mailed pdf copy. With regard to the contract, when you edit the contract to suit your needs, one clause in particular is extremely crucuial. The clause that states: “Should any term or provision herein be declared unenforceable by a
    court of competent jurisdiction, the other terms and provisions herein shall remain in full force and effect.” must be in the contract for one simple reason. If any of the clauses are not enforceable in your jurisdiction (for instance California law may be slightly different from Virginia law where I live)then the entirety of the contract is null and void. This clause states that if in the event that a particular clause or clauses in the contract are unenforceable that the remaining clauses are still applicable and enforceable.

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