Prenuptial Agreement

Here’s a head-scratcher I encountered last weekend: Say you’re a composer who’s about to get married. You’re planning a wedding ceremony (whether religious or civil) and reception. What do you do about music?

Having entered the period of my life wherein my friends are suddenly tying their respective knots en masse, I’m curious to see how my composer colleagues will deal with this question. Will they opt for the traditional wedding music of their church, ethnic group, etc.? Mendelssohn is pretty popular, and it’s hard to go wrong with Bach. Will they ask their friends to write pieces to be played when they walk down the aisle? (I remember reading about one composer who did exactly that a few years ago, but I’m afraid I can’t recall his name.)

Another obvious possibility is to write one’s own processional and recessional music. I don’t think I’d want to take this route, though. As regular readers have probably inferred, my music isn’t really wedding material, but the problem isn’t the jarring aesthetic disconnect between double-combinatorial quarter-tone hexachords and a lifetime of wedded bliss. I take music very seriously, but I feel that a major life event such as a wedding is somehow too important for me to dilute with my work. I’m only speaking for myself, of course, but I’d rather get hitched in silence. (I also understand that the decision may ultimately not be mine.) On the other hand, what if some bride’s family commissioned me, presumably with no knowledge of my musical leanings, to write some music for their daughter’s ceremony? I’d have to come through with something as a matter of professionalism. Fortunately, my sense is that it’s highly unlikely for a graduate student to be contracted to compose music for a stranger’s wedding—although I’m sure it’s happened!

I’d love to know what music (if any) our married readership chose; please share. I’d imagine that a few of you might have composed nuptial pieces for your own or for others’ ceremonies—how did you feel about that?

10 thoughts on “Prenuptial Agreement

  1. scottgendel@hotmail.com

    great topic!
    I just got married last year, and this was a tough issue to contend with, but I’m very pleased with the solution we came to. I felt that I would be unable to shut off the critic part of my mind if we had live musicians, and I’d be too busy listening to the music to just be at my wedding. And it’d be even worse if I’d composed something; I’m totally preoccupied and a bundle of nerves at a premiere, and I certainly didn’t want to feel that way at my wedding. Also, as we were getting married outdoors, in the middle of a big garden, pre-recorded music seemed crappy to me, like it would just sound tinny and definitely not setting a nice mood.

    So. What we did was find a set of 10 expensive wind chimes (two sets of 6 that I disassembled and re-arranged) that were tuned to a lovely scale. Then we disassembled them, mounted them each on a string so they could be hung from one’s hand, and bought 10 wooden dowels to be used as beaters. We gave each of the people in our wedding party a chime and a stick. Then, as we processed, one person started chiming, and as we got closer and closer to the “altar,” more people joined in until all 10 chimes were going. For the recessional, we repeated the same thing in reverse. And during the service, to punctuate the order of things, the whole group chimed in unison (3 times) between readings.

    Sorry, it’s hard to explain quickly. But I think it’s a lovely solution for a composer. There was no possibility of someone messing up or being out of tune. There was no skill involved, so I couldn’t critique the performers. There was just a lovely scale that I’d chosen and a beautiful, almost otherworldly cloud of sound that was perfect for an outdoor setting. It was wonderfully theatrical, and a big hit with our guests.

    Reply
  2. pgblu

    At my wedding last year, the slow movement from Mozarts Bassoon Concerto was the processional, the Finale of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was the recessional, and I contributed a musical interlude to be played while little or nothing happened.

    I really liked this in principle, but it was not very successful on the whole, nobody knew how to deal with music that was there for its own sake, or for the purpose of contemplation. In retrospect, I am not sure it was better than having the whole ceremony without any music at all. It would have been even more daunting to write actual purpose-oriented music such as a march…

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  3. John Kennedy

    Be careful…
    In my case the bride’s taste in music helped us choose, and so my own music was not performed. I was certainly motivated to avoid that because some years earlier, one of my dearest friends composed music for his own wedding. It sounded very much like a funeral march. The marriage lasted about 3 years.

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  4. Tom Myron

    Goin’ to the Chapel
    I wrote all the music for Jessica’s and my wedding. The idea of doing anything else seemed odd to us. I sort of felt like, “If I can’t score my own wedding what the hell do I think I’m doing anyway?”

    The instrumentation was soprano, piano, string quartet and bells/crotales. I composed a processional & recessional along with settings of Donald Justice (A Map of Love) and Wallace Stevens (Re-statement of Romance.)

    Several relatives & friends have since used the same music or asked me to write something new for their weddings.

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  5. kmanlove

    I truthfully wouldn’t put mine or my girlfriend’s family through that. That would be like putting a man interested in mass homicide at a heavily crowded event with biological weapons. I did push her once about it… to see what she’d say, and she politely responded that she would pick the music.

    After all, what would a texas wedding be without a drunk lady playing the organ and one of your “friends” poorly singing some contemporary christian song that no one knows. Well, either way, a wedding needs at least 10 min where people are forced to uncomfortably, yet politely, listen to music. I think I’m up for it.

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  6. Kyle Gann

    Mostly American
    For our wedding in 1983 I hired a string quartet and assigned them a mostly-American repertoire: the first two movements of Ives’s First Quartet, a shaped-note hymn (“I’m a Long Time Travelling”), and, as postlude, the final movement of Cage’s 1950 String Quartet. Also, since one of my brothers-in-law was a clarinetist, I arranged Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” for clarinet quintet, so that one of the contributions would be my own, in a sense. It all fit beautifully. I still have the arrangement if anyone wants it.

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  7. kmanlove

    Is it just me, or is there something cool about Kyle Gann’s wedding?? …especially with Cage and Ives.

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  8. Colin Holter

    Kyle Gann’s wedding sounds like it was awesome. I wish I could have attended, but I was busy being born.

    Seems like there are a lot of options out there, though. I’m pleased to hear that arrangements/sound rituals/savvy selections can work well even if one’s own music isn’t perfectly suited to a wedding ceremony.

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  9. lawrence

    For my wedding, I wrote the script and music. Rebecca and I performed the text, facing the congregation/audience, with a minimal role for the celebrant — we were marrying eachother, not him. We had flute, viola and percussion playing virtually the whole time — sometimes the music was cued off of our words, sometimes vice versa.

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  10. belindareynolds

    Well, when you have two composers tying the knot, and one of them that has played at way too many weddings, well…we opted out of all music except a cassette of Billy Holiday loaned by the justice at the last minute. As for a wedding, nope! A bar-b-que. And, we registered for audio gear at Sweetwater Sound. Much more useful than china.

    Reply

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