Giving the iPad a rest and getting an actual live musician or band for your big day is a fine idea… until you realize that your band is only playing Bryan Adams tunes, and just deep cuts at that. Hiring live music for weddings is encouraged, but you should make note of a playlist that will appeal to your wedding party.
Don’t give your band the green light to play whatever they want, because chances are you’ll piss off grandma or bore everyone else… Of course, this goes for both the ceremony and the reception.
Two wedding band veterans, trumpet player Nick Mauro and piano player and singer Nate Hopkins, talk us through nuptial noise, giving their best tips on narrowing down your music selection.
At some point, grandma’s gonna want to sit down. Things need to become a little more contemporary, to ensure that people who are still paying into social security will keep the party going. The key: In the first stage, get the more mature members of the audience excited enough they’ll roll with it when a song plays they don’t instantly recognize.
Mauro, who has played everything from strictly traditional weddings to ones that featured “only Serbian folk music,” notes that there are generally two core pieces of music for the ceremony itself.
For the processional, weddings typically play Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin—a.k.a. that piece of music where you think, “Here comes the bride/Big fat and wide.”
For the recessional, weddings typically go with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”—a.k.a. what plays in every movie as the bride and groom head to the waiting car.
The advantages of playing these pieces are that they are universally known and make everyone instantly think: We are at a wedding. The downside: If you’re looking to bring any surprise to the ceremony, they won’t do the trick—unless you do what their composers actually intended and play “Wedding March” at the processional and “Bridal Chorus” at the recessional, but these songs are so deeply embedded in those particular roles the swap may trigger rioting.
If tradition’s not for you, Nick has played weddings featuring new arrangements of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II),” and YouTube is filled with videos of couples tromping down the aisle to the “Imperial March” from Star Wars.
If you’re not ready for the full John Williams, Nick also suggests literally anything by Johann Sebastian Bach. Dead over 250 years, the German composer still has a fan in Eminem, who sampled him for “Brainless.” And who knows marital bliss like Slim Shady?
With the ceremony is done, it’s…
Nate Hopkins has played weddings throughout New England, the Northeast, and the Midwest both with a traditional band and in the dueling pianos format. Here are his guidelines for getting the party off on the good foot…
Start universal. If a person sees the dance floor’s empty, they’re less likely to get their freak on. If the dance floor’s packed, however, it’s that much harder to ignore your girlfriend’s request to put down the beer and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Begin with songs your parents love (and the other generations know and like) to ensure as many people get down as possible. Nate says Motown is always a solid bet: think Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
Bringing in the younger demographic. At some point, grandma’s gonna want to sit down. Things need to become a little more contemporary, to ensure that people who are still paying into social security will keep the party going. The key: In the first stage, get the more mature members of the audience excited enough they’ll roll with it when a song plays they don’t instantly recognize. One warning: Don’t overplay your hand initially. Nate advises a safe, widely known and liked choice along the lines of Katy Perry’s “Firework” to start shifting the mood. (Save Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” for after the cake.)
Should you need to take it down a notch… If there’s a toast where everyone else needs to shut the hell up and pay attention, Nate suggests “All of Me” (the jazz standard, not the John Legend tune) to ease the room into a quiet moment, as opposed to feeling like the plug was suddenly pulled on the good times.
Should you need to take it higher… To the surprise of no one who has watched a certain movie about college, the song “Shout” remains a surefire way to get people to lose their damn minds.
And should “Shout”ing prove insufficient… Humanity remains powerless before the unstoppable force that is “Don’t Stop Believin’.” (If you’re looking for a slightly less Tony Soprano choice, Nate suggests “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness.)
Regional Favorites. When in doubt, there’s no harm in nodding to local tradition. (Indeed, guests get pissed if you don’t.) That means “Sweet Caroline” and Dropkick Murphys in Boston, “Empire State of Mind” and “New York, New York” in, er, New York, and if things are slow in the Midwest, bust out the University of Michigan fight song, which inevitably spurs immediate requests for the Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame fight songs in response.
Unexpected Cultural Favorites. Don’t know Lulu’s “To Sir With Love?” Then according to Nate, you have not attended an Asian wedding recently. He says,“At first I thought it was a coincidence it kept being played for father-daughter dances, but after the fifth time it happened…”
The Wildcards. Requests will come in for songs people of a certain age know and love, but that aren’t typically played by wedding bands. (Looking at you, “Humpty Dance.”) Get the room going before getting too jiggy with it, as a cover of “Anaconda” that segues into “Baby Got Back” can incinerate a dance floor if it happens when people are already happy and a little tipsy…but if it comes too early, you will witness great-aunts being traumatized by the lyrics of Nicki Minaj. (“He did what to her salad?”)
Whatever Happens, Don’t Stop the Music. Someone crashed one of the first weddings Nate played. This was not a fun Vince Vaughn crasher; it was a neighbor who got high and decided to hop the fence, go up to the band and attack them, with the result their sax player was forced to pin him down until the police came. How did the band react to the drug-fueled assault? “We kept right on playing; only the people right next to us even noticed anything happened.”
Let that be an example for every wedding band (and every marriage in general).