Reception Music: Selecting the Music and Finalizing the Details

Martha Stewart Weddings, Spring 2002

Selecting the Music
Though you needn't compile a 10-page playlist -- in fact, bands and deejays are fond of swapping horror stories about couples who do -- it is a good idea to discuss genres, decades, and artists you do and do not want to hear at your wedding. Bandleaders and deejays are probably more adept than you are at reading crowds and coaxing parties into full swing, so for the best results, give yours a bit of creative license, advises Robert Vickers, leader of the San Francisco-based Robert Vickers Orchestra.

The music at a reception ushers guests from space to space and moment to moment, providing aural cues about what to anticipate. So it helps if you outline an order of events for your music provider. The standard sequence -- though you are free to depart from it -- is a cocktail hour filled with a light, soothing style of music, such as jazz or classical, followed by the first dance. This usually segues into a more upbeat block of music that encourages guests to take to the floor.

Indeed, brief periods of silence or soft music can punctuate a wedding reception beautifully if they are well timed. Toasts call for soft background music or none at all, for example, and dinners require only the most muted sounds, especially if you have poured a great deal of effort into designing a wonderful menu and want the food to be the focus. You would hardly be pleased to have a 12-piece band distracting diners with rousing dance classics and overpowering the meal. Once dinner has concluded, dancing customarily recommences with the bride and her father taking the floor and crescendos into a more rollicking, festive atmosphere until the last slow ballads signal that the celebration is coming to a close.

Finalizing the Details
Unless the music provider is familiar with your reception site, you should arrange to visit it together to discuss acoustics, to ascertain whether electrical outlets will be adequate (if not, an extra generator may be required), and to arrange the logistics of where the band or deejay should set up.

Be sure to discuss the amount of verbal input you want from the deejay or bandleader. Some behave like talk-show hosts, tossing in ad-lib witticisms and instructing guests when to do what. If you would rather have the catering staff or your wedding coordinator subtly inform guests to, say, move from one room to the next rather than having it announced over the microphone, make that clear.

"Ambience was everything to Paul and me, so we needed a band that would be a part of it rather than overshadow it," says Cara Smith of her wedding in May of 2000 to Paul Magliaro at Napa Valley's Beaulieu Garden. "I explained that we wanted a very elegant wedding. The bandleader understood, and everything he said was low-key, very subtle."

Other important issues to cover include: any additional rental fees for equipment; backup procedures in case the deejay or a featured musician doesn't show up or becomes ill and has to leave; and what the musicians or deejay will wear (they should be appropriately dressed for the wedding's level of formality by the time the guests begin to arrive; you might even provide them with ties to match the color scheme).

Be prepared to feed your music provider something, though it needn't be the meal you will serve guests. Arrange vendor meals with your caterer, and go over where and when the band or deejay should eat. While deejays normally do not require additional breaks, most bands do -- an hourly break of ten or fifteen minutes. If you prefer to have continuous music, ask the bandleader if he can play CDs to fill the silence, or see whether band members can take breaks in shifts. With these points in mind and the right music provider, you should be able to create a truly harmonious reception.

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