Lots of brides and grooms-to-be get stuck in the band versus DJ debate, forgetting an additional musical possibility that can make their wedding day absolutely gorgeous: A chamber ensemble. If you haven't yet considered some live classical music to add a touch of grace and elegance to your wedding, here is everything you need to know to get started.
To get myself -- and you -- up to speed, I spoke with Duane Large, the Artistic Director of Philmore Ensemble. They've played tons of weddings and shared valuable advice for engaged couples.
Which instruments should we request to play at our wedding?
Your budget will probably determine that, because the more musicians you request, the more that will cost you. The typical ensemble for a wedding is often just a guitar and one other instrument, although this weekend we're playing a wedding with a violin, flute and cello trio. The lower budget option is a solo guitar.
What extra equipment does our venue need to set up for you?
We don't need any fancy set up, because we can play anywhere. I often get emails just before the wedding asking what we need, and I always say, 'Two chairs and an outlet nearby.'
What if our wedding is outdoors and there's no outlet?
We play acoustically all the time, both outdoors and in smaller venues.
We enjoy classical music but really know nothing about it, so how do we decide what songs you'll play?
Your musicians will offer suggestions. I have a list of material that works well for the different parts of the processional, for example. I know what brides tend to like for the family's entrance, and then for her own entrance (the Pachalbel Canon in D is a popular one). Also, Mendelssohn's Wedding March is a popular piece for the recessional. If a couple doesn't like these more typical ones, they should definitely ask the musicians to look into other repertoire. I just played a Spanish 16th century recessional piece, and the bride loved it.
When we're interviewing possible ensembles, what questions should we ask?
If you have an outdoor venue, then definitely ask how they would position themselves to be heard. Also ask how flexible they are in terms of changing their repertoire at the last-minute if you have a sudden change of heart. And if you want them to play more contemporary music doing your cocktail hour, ask them if that's something they're willing to do. Many ensembles will do that.
What's the most important tip you can give us regarding our ensemble?
Work with your musicians all the way through the wedding. In other words, don't just hire them and then forget about them and expect everything to run smoothly. Ideally, designate someone to be in charge of the ensemble and to show them where they'll be stationed, and to cue them when it's time to change the music. I played a wedding recently where the groomsmen were placed right in front of us, so we couldn't see anything and had to guess when it was time to change the music.