The Wedding Singer

OK, so I play a lot of weddings.  And invariably, the wedding organizers will request that the band play a number of songs at key points in the evening – the bride and groom’s first dance, the bride and her father’s dance, the groom and his mother’s dance, and so on.

Now, I’m all for dancing at these pivotal moments to songs that are special to the dancers (e.g., a song that the bride and her father love, the bride and groom’s “song” or a particular song that perfectly captures the way the bride/father, bride/groom, or groom/mother feel at this special time).  But …

1.  There are a LOT of really maudlin, overblown, sentimental and let’s face it, poorly written and tritely phrased “wedding” songs out there.  Most of them, particularly the country music ones, try to illustrate some special bond (between father and daughter, especially) that really only exists in fairy tales, greeting cards, Disney movies and 1950s TV shows.  Do you REALLY want this moment (which will be captured on film for eternity, and hopefully will be in your hearts and memories even longer) accompanied by a cheesy, forgettable Hallmark song that usually, if you listen to the lyrics carefully, is more about control and stereotypical gender roles than about true love and the commitment it takes to make a relationship (let alone a marriage) work?  How about something timeless?  At least something well written?  Not something you picked off a popular “Wedding Compilation”?  If you’re going to pick something (and you have to, because these dances have to occur), if there’s not a particular song that is “your” song for this moment, at least pick a great standard – like “What a Wonderful World” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love” or “You Are So Beautiful”.  These songs may be old and moldy, but at least they’re well written, succinctly emotional and not overly sentimental, and most wedding bands can execute them passably.  Don’t pick a song like “When a Man Loves a Woman”, because it’s not really a happy song, it’s about a guy’s who’s miserable.  THINK about the lyrics, because they are speaking FOR YOU at this wonderful time.

2.  Speaking of lyrics, most of these songs are written in first person.  That is, they are from the point of view of the father letting go of his precious darling, the husband holding on the for the first time, the bride saying goodbye to her dear daddy or hello to her true love, etc.  Do you really want these words (and by choosing these songs to represent you at this time, you’re saying these words are what you would really like to say) spoken by someone else?  In particular, so many of the father-daughter songs seem really inappropriate when sung by someone in the band who is at best an impartial, uninvolved and probably a little uninspired observer of this momentous occasion.  If you really mean these words, you ought to be singing them yourself.

3.  However, if you can’t sing (and since you’re dancing, it may be difficult anyway), IF you really love the song, and it really means something to you (both you and your dance partner), why would you want a cover band (who probably first listened to the song on the way to the gig) to blunder through and butcher it for your entertainment?  I know you’re paying the band for live music, but isn’t the importance and poignant nature of this moment worth the price of the band NOT playing one or two songs, and letting the version that touched your hearts in the first place do the talking?  I for one as a wedding band member would not be offended in the least if asked to pop in the CD or start the MP3 player.

4.  The CD or MP3 player is EXTREMELY important if your song is deep in a particular genre, especially one like country music that probably uses instrumentation, arrangements and studio overdubbing that the live band you’ve hired cannot possibly duplicate.  If they do better than stumble through it, it will be their own arrangement of the song, not the version that you and your dance partner (and/or wedding party) have come to know and love.  While it may be sweet that they attempted your request (like Americans visiting Paris who attempt to butcher French at a sidewalk bistro), ultimately you need to put your trust in the interpretation that speaks best to you.  It’s your call, of course, either way.  But if you’re going to trust the band for your soundtrack, do the right thing and give them ample opportunity (at LEAST a week, and a copy of the CD would be extraordinarily helpful) to attempt to learn the song.

Just a few thoughts from a wedding band singer whose repertoire (and vocal range) includes Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Joe Cocker, Tim McGraw, the Righteous Brothers and quite a few others but does not, and will never, include Rascal Flatts.

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