Thursday, July 10, 2008


So, since we got engaged . . . Okay, I'll stop there. I was about to tell a lie.

Since well before we got engaged, I have wanted a brass quintet to play for the wedding. Through all our many hair-brained ideas and scouted locations, I imagined live brass in each of them. Almost nothing could be more extravagant, and make even a little picnic on a goat farm into an elegant and uplifting occasion.

Well, we got one! Miraculously, we can afford it.

But that's hardly half the story.

I would say I know more about modern and contemporary chamber music than the average person. Which is not saying much. I am certainly no connoisseur. Those people are crazy. But I know enough to name a half-dozen important composers I admire and pieces that move me. I have known for years that I wanted a brass quintet with the talent and flexibility to play something fresh and unexpected. No Pachelbel, no Vivaldi, no Titanic.

I thought that graduate students (or talented college students) would be ideal for this. They are hungry for opportunities to perform and make a little money, and they have a still-youthful passion for music that might broaden their palate. And, let me tell you that "contact your local college" is the most prevalent piece of advice in budget/DIY wedding guides. So, obviously people have done this with some success!

Knowing that our local "kudzu league" university has a pretty strong music program and a renowned student orchestra, I sent an email to their student president (it operates as both a curriculum and a club). He replied within a couple of days, and forwarded my request to the whole wind orchestra. I got two nibbles from individual musicians (a trombonist and a flautist, which . . . anyway), and one very promising reply from a young man leading a brass quintet of his own!

As you can imagine, I replied right away, and enthusiastically. But then - surprise, surprise - only silence for several weeks. I left messages on his cell and at his home, I sent probably six emails. Finally, we spoke.

All my hopes for a cheap-yet-boundlessly-creative student ensemble were dashed.

Not only was this group of students wildly more expensive than the highest estimated price I had encountered for professionals, but they really couldn't play anything other than standard boring wedding fare. Or, more accurately, "Faire," as they also specialized in Renaissance weddings.

Finding myself back at square one, I followed up with some students who had replied to my initial request, but found silence there as well. Undoubtedly, because it's summer, they were off doing exciting things in Malawi and at various law firms.

I contacted a well-known trumpeter, recommended to me by our dear and lovely soprano vocalist (more about her later), but after a month of waiting, he replied that he would be playing another wedding that day, and that three of the five members of his ensemble would be otherwise engaged, as well.

Finally, seeing no other options - and coming to peace with a brass-less wedding - I called the music booker recommended by our caterer. As you can imagine, lacking faith in our caterer, I had avoided taking this recommendation. I assumed the booker would offer us something both expensive and uninspiring.

Oh, was I wrong.

The booker was absolutely delightful. Professional, respectful, prompt and efficient. when I told her our budget she firmly committed to find us a quintet for "a lot less," and she did. Hallelujah!

But what I had not foreseen was that my above-average yet quite-limited knowledge of music would be called upon immediately, and quickly proven inadequate. The quintet needs a set list in just a few days, at the same time we send our deposit. We have an idea what "sound" we want, but can we (could we ever) possibly come up with a specific list of pieces?

Let me admit that very little good work has come out of my office these past two days, although I look as studious as a philomath in my office with the door closed. Am I busily writing proposals? No, sir. I am listening to the great works of Adams, Barber, Copland, Dahl, Ewald, Ives, Ligeti and dozens of obscure others, in order of descending popularity.

I am trying to guess which string quartets, which saxophone concertos, which piano sonatas will easily and beautifully transmogrify into brass chorales. Of course, I have no idea what this group of musicians can play or are willing to arrange or learn.

But there are two things I am sure of: we are having a brass quintet at our wedding, and I know more about modern chamber music than I ever imagined, but still a little less than those nutty fanatics.


Anonymous said...

sooo persistent AND ambitious. I wish there was going to be video of your wedding :)

words and steel said...

Gah, I spent three hours to renditions of traditional wedding strings trying to figure out what we're going to do about ceremony music (hoping to get a string trio). Definitely no Wagner, Mendelsohhn, Mozart. I've actually always liked Canon in D (damn wedding-industrial complex) and Bach's Air on the G String. But processional music, at least the typical processional music, is TERRIBLE! The only thing remotely decent to me is Vivaldi's Gloria, and I don't think that's typically processional music... and it's Vivaldi. Where can a girl who's not listened to chamber music since piano lessons in the 3rd grade do for some inspiration?

words and steel said...

man, i'm tired. I mean recessional music (that's what it's called when you're walking back down the aisle with the new spouse and bridal party, right?)

words and steel said...

sorry for the mass comments...

and it has to be somewhat religious, or at least no pop /contemporary stuff. so classical classical. ha, like my terminology?

Emerson said...

So, I was thinking today that I'm sad we won't have a video, especially for the music! But, alas, we are sooooooo over-budget as it is. We just can't add another couple K's to the bill. Excel makes a groaning sound every time I open up that worksheet.

As for inspiration . . . this is such a tough question. Strings are easier than brass, for sure. But obviously, you get sucked into the pre-determined wedding sounds.

I have been using a combination of of iTunes and Amazon to search. iTunes is better organized and more searchable, but Amazon has better, more comprehensive information about each track.

I started out with sounds I liked, though I couldn't be sure they were right for a wedding. I started with John Adams "Shaker Hymns and Loops." I checked out other pieces on the same albums, and other albums bought by the same customers, and other recordings by the same ensembles.

There is so much good "liturgical" and liturgy-inspired music from the 20th century - both romantic and neo-classical. I would turn your attention to Arvo Part and Charles Ives. But don't just explore their work - find the associations via musicians, fans, and even record labels.

I hope that helps!