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On playing with my organ at a wedding

May 11, 2011

Wedding season is upon us, and I really like wedding season. First of all, I get to sleep in on Sundays. See, there is no choir at my church for the summer. Besides the fact that a significant portion of the congregation spends their summers in Greece, once you start adding summer vacations and kids’ sporting events (baseball games & soccer matches are always scheduled for Sundays, oftentimes a great drive away, and, of course, for many, football is the only religion needed on a Sunday), you just don’t know what type of choir you’ll have. One week, we might have a well-balanced 20 person choir & sound great. The next, we might have an alto & two tone-deaf tenors…and that would, um, not sound great.

So, I get to sleep in on Sundays, which is marvelous. But, I also get to play weddings, which is a great way to make money. I charge a competitive rate for my area, but “competitive rate” is more money per hour than I’d make programming away, and it’s money that just kind-of appears. When budgeting for a family, the sudden appearance of cash is always appreciated.

Playing a wedding usually requires that I prepare an hour’s worth of music. About 20-30 minutes before the wedding, as the guests start to arrive, I’ll start playing1, then I’ll play somewhere between one and three processionals (the most I’ve played included a processional for grand-parents/parents, then one for the bridal party, and then one for the bride – though most weddings have two processional pieces: the bridal party & a separate one for the bride). Most services I play, for the service itself, I’m playing Angry Birds silent – and then there is the bridal party recessional, and then between 5 and 30 minutes of exit music as the congregation exits.

Like most organists, I kind-of get bored with the music for most weddings. Don’t get me wrong, the music is beautiful, but think of your favorite book or movie or song. Then, think that you had to read/watch/listen to it every single day2. It would start to become tiresome.

For about 75% of my weddings, I play (I’d include links to me playing each of these, but that would require a fair amount of work, so it’ll be some time before I can):

Every now & then, you run across couples who want to change things up. Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary and a few Johan Sebastian Bach pieces: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Air on the G String4, and Sheep May Safely Graze, and, purely as a recessional, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (from his 9th Symphony) are almost always the “change up” pieces. And, they’re all beautiful pieces, every one, but that doesn’t really fix the “want to do something new.”

The way to combat the “always playing the same thing” is to start playing new stuff for the entrance & exit music. First, I play some of my own compositions. That I’ve never been “called out” for playing something inappropriate when I’ve done this tells me that either I’m either playing to a roomful of people who don’t pay attention to what I’m playing or that my own music is half decent. And, yes, I know I need to include recordings of my stuff – I’ll work on that soon. Then, I’m always trying to find new arrangements (so the music is “new to me”) of the music that I regularly play, but I know people want to hear.

Then, every once in awhile, I have situations like the wedding I’m playing at the end of this month. When the wedding doesn’t necessarily take place in a church. And while it’s a “wedding” in every sense of the word, there aren’t the regular rules. The guidance I received was to play:

After some back & forth, the bridal recessional will be Can You Read My Mind?, the Love Theme from Superman. The couple really wanted something from John Williams, but was afraid of coming across as “too geeky,” especially if we played something straight out of Star Wars. This seemed the best compromise.

With the service music all locked up, I now need to fill in the entrance & exit music. So far, I have

But, I need more. So, suggestions from the peanut gallery?

And, while these selections seem a bit “out there” for a wedding, this is far from the oddest wedding I played – I swear, I played Rick Springfield’s Jesse’s Girl as the recessional at a wedding of (you guessed it) a couple where the groom’s name was Jesse.

1 For a Greek wedding, if both sides of the wedding party are Greek, I might start playing as late as 10 minutes before the wedding is supposed to start…and then continue playing up-to half an hour after the wedding was supposed to start. See, Greeks and promptness go together as well jackhammers and throw-pillows

2 I’m well aware that I’ll soon be entering a phase where my kids want to watch the same movie over & over & over & over & over again every day. In fact, they’re already requesting the same books over & amp; over & over again. So, I’m willing to admit, for toddlers, the idea of getting “bored” with something is different . . . but play with me here.

3 Not to go all composer-geek on you, but few composers piss me off like Wagner does (except for Aaron Copeland – I really dislike him). First, he was an antisemite, but he thought operas should take longer & longer & longer. As a performer, you get tired on stage. As an audience member, well, it’s difficult to keep your focus as the details are actually explored. It’s best to say “I saw you & I fell in love” than to actually explore the relationship on the stage. On top of all of this, the actual story of Lohengrin makes it kind-of interesting that it’s likely the most-played piece in Christian weddings.

4 Yeah, the 12 year old in me is giggling at the “G String” reference

  1. Highway to Hell

  2. Thunderstruck!

    Walk Like an Egyptian

    Walk the Line

    That’s all I’ve got for now….I’ll keep thinking if you don’t get any suggestions that work.

  3. Gold Digger?

  4. So now I can’t stop laughing at the suggestions above – so romantic!

    I was GOING to say that I LOVE “She’s Got a Way” – one of my favorite songs and I’ve never heard anyone play that at a wedding. Love.

    Have you heard “True Companion” by Marc Cohn? I had that at my wedding and loved it. Also “Beautiful in my Eyes” by Joshua Kadison is lovely. But I don’t know how either of these sound on an organ…

    Good luck ~ getting paid to play with it sounds like perfection.

    • I have not heard “True Companion,” but I’ll check it out. And, I’ll actually be playing these on piano, so “Beautiful in my Eyes” will work well, but we’ll see if I can find an arrangement that sounds half-decent.

  5. “The Imperial March” would make a great, albeit geeky recessional. Or perhaps the version of the Rebel theme from the end of Episode IV as the heroes are honored for their role in destroying the Destroying the first death star for something a little more upbeat.

    I can’t even remember music from my own wedding…so I probably just had all the generic ones.

  6. jack hammers and throw pillows??? LMAO

  7. Bridal Party Processional: Pachelbel’s Canon in D
    Based on a friend’s rants about wedding music, I knew I was going to see this. It made me giggle nevertheless. (As did the title, unsurprisingly. ;))

    I’ll give the parting question some thought, but I’d wager I’ll come up with exactly nothing! I do love the thought of Storybook Story.

    • Yeah, it’s a beautiful piece that really grates on one’s nerves after the billionth time. I nearly wrote “Cannon in D,” but meta-music-humor tends to go over most heads.

  8. Wait a damn minute. First of all – you get to SLEEP IN on Sunday’s?????? You have two little ones. How the hell does that happen?

    Secondly – you play angry birds in the middle of all this?? I always thought you tweeted. Sigh. Guess I really don’t know you that well. LOL!

    No song suggestions – I’m still in awe that you get to sleep in! 🙂

    • During the summer, I get to sleep in. For now, I’m playing church services & tweeting from my organ. For a wedding? I play Angry Birds.

      So, for right now, I’m up at 6 every Sunday morning – I walk the dogs, get the kids ready, play choir practice, play the church service while tweeting.

      And, “sleeping in” when the choir season is actually over is relative, of course. The kids never let my wife, a stay-at-home-mom sleep in much later than 7, so – “sleep in” truly is relative.

      • Denise permalink

        I never get to sleep past 7 either. Usually not past 6. Sigh. I was super jealous for a minute!

  9. I think True Companion is a great idea. A really beautiful song.

  10. I know we had Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Pachelbel, Trumpet Voluntary and….I can’t remember the rest. We did not play “here comes the bride” and we did have one song for grandparents/parents, one for the maids and one for me.

    I guess I’d have changed things up.

  11. Oh! and the slow version of I’ll Cover You from Rent sung by Jesse L. Martin *sigh*

    I guess I need to start working on my divorce.

  12. “When budgeting for a family, the sudden appearance of cash is always appreciated.”

    I seem to have mastered the sudden disappearance of cash.

    I don’t have any song suggestions, but I suggest you find a priest who pronounces marriage as mawwiage.

  13. Do you know? I discovered the Magnetic Fields, and so The Book of Love, three weeks *after* my wedding?


    We had friends sing/play Tom Waits “Take it With Me” at our wedding, and on my short list, The Rainbow Connection, and The Wedding Song (There is Love). We danced to Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood.” And there’s REM’s “Be Mine” but I don’t know how that would translate for your organ.

    • I didn’t discover the song until it appeared on Scrubs. But, it’s really a great love song. The lyric “The book of love has music in it / in fact that’s where music comes from / some of it is transcendental / some of it is really dumb” makes me crack up almost every time I hear it. Such a silly little tangent 🙂

      My wedding gift to my wife was a song, that I played during the reception (to save money, we bought a PA system & ran the computer through it and had our more outgoing friends handle any announcements . . . but that meant that I had a professional sound system at my disposal). I wanted the song to be a surprise, though (she figured it out), so our first dance was to “Angel Eyes” by Jeff Healey band.

  14. I love your ideas – had two of those at my own wedding and sang one of them at my cousin’s wedding. I like to think that I’m “out of the ordinary!”

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