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Setting the Stage: Tips on Choosing a Group to Play Music for Your Williamsburg Wedding

One of the most memorable parts of your wedding in Williamsburg is, of course, the music you will choose.

Before you make any decisions about what kind of group or how many players you will need, wedding planning begins by considering the event as a whole. Will it be indoors or out? At a plantation? In an historic building or on historic grounds? In the intimate garden or courtyard of an inn?

Look at your location to determine how large a group of players you will need-and have room for. Is there perhaps a period theme or style of music that you would like? Do you want to complement the surroundings? What kind of atmosphere are you looking to create?

close-up of violin head laying on sheet music

Choosing The Right Mood

Weddings tend to have a more formal or introspective and romantic quality of music, but depending on the personality of the couple, the pre-ceremony music can successfully set a different kind of stage just as easily; one of joy, one for a colonial themed wedding, or one to emphasize an ethnic heritage, for example. With a quartet, you can make the ceremony especially personal and memorable, marking a wonderful transition into your new, married life.

A wedding ceremony is traditionally seen as a solemn and binding event, best accompanied by classical music. Couples looking for elegance often have a group of string players perform for half an hour prior to the ceremony, as well as for seating the parents and bringing in the wedding party.

In churches, they often switch to the pipe organ, just for the bride, to set her "theme" apart from everything else. (No group can compete in volume with a pipe organ that pulls out all the stops!) Other couples abhor the sound of the pipe organ and want the strings to handle the entire ceremony, which works perfectly fine.

This can be further enhanced, if desired, by bringing in a trumpet player to play along with them for the recessional music. For outdoor wedding sites or in places that do not have the possibility of using the organ, you must depend solely on the group for all your music. But what kind of players should you get, and how many?

Gimme Four!

The standard configuration for a string group playing classical music is the quartet. A combination of two violins, a viola and a cello roughly compares to the soprano, alto, tenor and bass of a church choir, and has great range and blend.

This is why there is music written for that combination by almost every major composer from the classical era to the present. A string quartet will need a space of about 7 by 9 feet in which to set up, and they will sit in two rows, facing each other, so that they can communicate as they play-a necessary ingredient for any ensemble.

Balconies in churches can also work, if the pews can be removed to allow them the proper amount of space. Be mindful that they can see the center aisle even when the wedding party is lined up and all the guests are standing, or they won't know when to stop playing the wedding march music. If you have the space and budget, a quartet is always the best choice no matter where your event is located.

close up of pews decorated with white flowers, ivy, and white tulle

How About Three?

If space and budget are a major consideration in planning your wedding in Williamsburg, you might want to consider a trio: a violin, a viola, and a cello (like the soprano, tenor and bass in the church choir simile). There is not nearly as much available repertoire written for trios that is suitable for weddings, and very little of it is available on recordings for you to listen to.

However, most of the standard selections used for seating the parents, bringing in the wedding party and the bride have been transcribed for string trios. You can choose what you would like for those parts, as long as you are willing to let your group choose the pre-ceremony music.

A trio, of course, is only 75% as loud as a quartet, and if your ceremony is in a large cathedral or outdoors where there is no stage or shell to reflect the music back towards the guests, you will need to keep the following in mind:

  • How many guests there will be
  • How long a walk you will have from where you enter
  • Whether or not you and your guests will be able to hear the music

If the wind is blowing strongly and everyone is seated on top of a bluff overlooking a gorgeous vista, the outdoor setting becomes another factor. Trios work most successfully for smaller weddings or in sheltered or semi-enclosed spaces where there is simply no room for a quartet. The trio will set up in a triangle, and will need a space of about 6 x 8 feet in order to accommodate their chairs, stands, and the cello.

How About A Double?

Duets (violin/viola or violin/cello-like soprano & tenor, or soprano & bass) can also be very beautiful, but work best for small, intimate weddings, such as those held in one's home. When playing outdoors, duets cannot generate enough sound to produce the kind of fullness and volume one would hope to have for the entrance of the bride and the recessional.

man and woman cello duet playing outside

Duet literature is even more obscure than trio music, so you would again need to be willing to allow the players to choose the pre-ceremony music for you, based on what you have chosen for seating parents, bringing in the wedding party and bride.

Most commonly used pieces for this have been reduced to their bare-bones elements, making the most of each of the two instruments playing the duet. Both trios and duets may have more trouble accommodating your requests for a particular kind of music or music from a particular style period, as there is simply not the quantity of music available for them to play.

Hey, We're On A Budget, Here! What About A Violin?

One violin alone is something like one person singing just by themselves. In general, since the violin is a "single line" instrument, it sounds best with an accompaniment-either from an orchestra, a piano, organ, keyboard instrument like the harpsichord, or even an accordion.

If you only have money for a single instrument, you would be better off investigating a solo harp for elegance, a pianist with a keyboard and battery pack who can set up anywhere, or even solo guitar, if your ceremony will not have many guests.

What's Next?

Once you have selected the number of players you would like, you will want to contact several groups that match your needs, and ask them for audio samples, references, and a list of their repertoire. Don't be shy: you wouldn't hire a caterer without tasting their cooking! And once you have the information, do contact some of the references and see what they have to say about them.

The more input you have, the more the ceremony will reflect your personality. Remember that the purpose of the wedding is to have the ceremony, not a concert for your guests!

And finally, remember that price is not the only consideration. Romantic weddings in Williamsburg are a once-in-a-lifetime event, and you want experienced people who not only sound fantastic, but who can elegantly handle any glitches or mishaps. Hire musicians that you feel comfortable working with, and who are concerned about making the ceremony special for you. Follow these tips, and you will have a wedding that sets the stage for many years of harmonious living together!

Check out Belle Arte String Quartet!

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