With the start of the rainy season here in California, our wedding season has come to a close. This has caused me to reflect on some of the unusual music requests I received this year and was able to add to my repertoire. Let’s face it, some music just doesn’t translate very well to a small string ensemble - boring melodies once the lyrics are taken away, rhythmic motives that sound great when being passed around a horn section, but rather repetitive when played by a string duo or trio. Thankfully, in these situations clients tend to listen to my recommendations and change course accordingly. The following are some of the special wedding music requests I attempted this year, my take on how they turned out, and links the original songs on YouTube in case you are unfamiliar.
“This Year’s Love” by David Gray I arranged this one for violin and guitar and played it during the prelude music section of a ceremony. I was hopeful when I took this one on, but not quite sure how it would work out without lyrics to set the tone. The melody by this English singer-songwriter is very introspective and though beautiful, I wondered if it would turn out to be a bit too solemn for a wedding. Thankfully, it seemed to fit in just fine. The underlying pulse in the accompaniment and at times in the melody seemed to quite the guests and turn their reflection inward.
If you like the song I don’t see any reason not to include it somewhere in a wedding. Besides as Prelude Music I could see this song used for a Sand Ceremony, Unity Candle, or other special moment. For those who know the song, the lyrics are about moving on from old hurts to love again. Although the subject has renewed hope that this new love will stand the test of time, he/she now has the maturity to know that even if this one also doesn’t last, life will continue. Very life, and love, affirming.
“So whose to worry
If our hearts get torn
When that hurt gets thrown
Don't you know this life goes on
And won't you kiss me
On that midnight street
Sweep me off my feet
Singing ain't this life so sweet”
Original “This Year’s Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo-tp0JZvUA
“Somewhere over the Rainbow” by Israel "IZ" Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole I arranged this song for violin and cello earlier this year for a bridal processional and used it again, this time with violin and guitar, in October. Most people know this tune by the famous, though sadly deceased, Hawaiian ukulele player, and most people love it. Some colleagues of mine have mentioned that they’ve arranged and played this one recently for weddings as well. I guess it’s getting popular! After both the weddings several guests came up to us to say how much the song had touched them, bringing tears to their eyes. It seems to have that effect on people. A great way to break the ice and start passing the tissue box around! If you want a heart-felt favorite, choose this one for your wedding!
Original “Somewhere over the Rainbow”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O-LDea7SHY
“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty When envisioning how this one would work out for an attendants' processional I kept imagining this scene from the 70s - happy hippies prancing up to the alter through fields of poppies and lupins, braids loose and skirts flowing. The actual event was much less rustic - the dock at a beach house in Virginia Beach, VA, but the smiling faces were definitely there! "Wildflowers" is a really sweet and simple sounding song. The beat lends itself to a quicker processional pace then the typical fare. Great for a young bride and groom, or at least young at heart! The lyrics tell the object of affection that he/she deserves all the best in life - essentially to be free and happy. This turned out to be a very nice processional choice for the attendants.
Original “Wildflowers”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozgmyx919a4
“Rise” by Eddie Vedder Composed by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and part of the soundtrack to the movie “Into the Wild”, “Rise” turned out surprisingly well for a string duo arrangement. The pace is perfect for a processional and the fact that the original was recorded with only voice and guitar made it a fairly easy transcription to violin and cello. I arranged it such that the violin covered the guitar part and the cello took Vedder’s vocals with some additional low drones in between. The sparseness of the instrumental arrangement seemed to maintain this song’s simple, yet powerful message:
“Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold” (Chorus)
The success of this one was, for me, supported by the fact that we ended the arrangement exactly as the Maid of Honor, the last attendant, took her place at the alter - a perfect timing that can be a rare occurrence during processionals!
Original “Rise”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXVpjjpwNss
“Throne Room Theme” by John Williams Though it would have been more royal with at least one other instrument to accompany me on violin, I still thought this one was a success - and a humorous one! If you are familiar with this classic “Star Wars” piece you’ll recognize that its beginning is very similar to Mendelssohn’s classic “Wedding March” (or the start of most fanfare type music for that matter). At first, all the guests at this wedding seemed to think it was the standard March, until a few measures in when, to much laughter and applause, it became very clearly “Star Wars”. I loved the cleaver switch! Original “Throne Room Theme”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSZB0NjRqzc&feature=related
“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles This was actually a 2009 request that I arranged first for string duo and later in the year for quartet. However, since I also did "Here Comes the Sun" five times in 2010 for either a recessional or for the dismissing-of-the-guests I thought it was worth a mention. What can I say...this is a really nice piece for an unusual recessional! Uplifting, everyone knows it, most everyone really likes it, and yet again, the theme is about moving into better, more happy times. A great send off to the bride and groom! Original “Here Comes the Sun”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6tV11acSRk
Special moment during the ceremony:
“Lonely Shepherd” by James Last Also a 2009 request, but I thought this one worked so well for a sand ceremony at a beach wedding in Carmel, CA that year that I recommended it to a few other brides in 2010. This song can be found in the soundtrack to the movie “Kill Bill” and was originally played on the pan flute. I’ve found it to be a good choice for a special wedding moment. Simple, introspective, yearning...with a bit of an edge. There’s a strength behind this song that I think can be really powerful for a sand ceremony or unity candle. There's something solidifying about it - like this act of joining two lives in marriage.
Original “Lonely Shepherd”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBws-gApi0A&feature=related So, if you are planning or playing for a wedding, consider making an unusual choice or two. They don’t always work out quite as well as a Classical standard might, but you’ll never know until you take the risk. Some turn into gems that become an integral part of a musician's unique repertoire!