A busy bank holiday weekend….and a day in the life of a string quartet
It’s been a busy bank holiday weekend for us with three weddings, one was a wedding at Loseley Park near Guildford, the second wedding was at the Elvetham in Hampshire and a third (much nearer to home), was a wedding at Stowe House which is ideal for as as we are a Buckinghamshire string quartet.
All three had unique requests and in the case of the first two, music had to be especially arranged for each ceremony.
It occurred to us that a lot more preparation goes into a string quartet performing at a wedding than many people would realise and here’s a little synopsis of what we do (apart from playing itself).
Firstly, over the months leading up to the wedding, there are often up to fifteen phone calls and emails from the bridal couple or their wedding planner, often seeking suggestions of pieces of music that might work well, or instructing us about special requests they might like to have played. Although we’re happy to draw on our experience and give advice, many couples really enjoy choosing a ‘playlist’ of favourite pieces they’d like to hear on the day itself – often giving thought to pieces of music enjoyed by various family members or pieces which are going to create exactly the ambiance they are looking for. Many couples choose us because they want a completely modern wedding string quartet and we are happy to perform a selection of contemporary pieces to delight and entertain guests.
From our point of view, one of the main plus points of not working through agencies is that we get to build an ongoing relationship with each client and can make sure all these little details and ideas are arranged for the day itself, without going through a third party who might misunderstand something or forget to pass on a message.
It only takes a quick look at our string quartet repertoire list to realise that we have literally hundreds of hours of music - from more formal chamber works, through popular classics, light music or more contemporary pieces of modern music for string quartet, and we can’t possibly bring them all with us (we would probably need a truck!). If a couple have chosen 40-50 pieces they’d like played, each piece of music has to be taken out of its file and all four parts have to be put into the same order in each musicians folder - this can be quite time consuming and great care has to be taken so that music is correctly ordered and any special choices for the ceremony earmarked with instructions written in. These notes might say something like ‘ introduction, then four verses of this hymn’ or ‘also play this piece if there is time during the signing of the register’ .
Quite often, the week before the wedding, the venue might get in touch and ask us whether we have any requirements. They will also frequently ask to see evidence of our public liability insurance and occasionally stately homes will ask to see a health and safety risk awareness document, which will also need to be supplied before they will allow us to play.
We’ll have double checked the route and location of the venue, to allow enough time to get there early. We’ll also have been given a dress code for each wedding (usually either black tie / black evening dresses or suit and tie / coloured dresses) and a time schedule for where we’ll be playing at each part of the day. For example, we might be required to play at the top of a staircase during a drinks reception or receiving line, but then be asked to move through to the main reception room to provide background music during the wedding breakfast. Plans go more smoothly if we can arrive ultra-early and make sure chairs are already set up in each place so that we can just move quickly between rooms and keep the music as continuous as possible. We’ll be listening to traffic reports on the radio before setting off, so that we can hopefully adjust our route if there are any particularly bad jams.
On the day of the wedding itself, the string quartet may arrange to meet up an hour earlier to quickly rehearse anything new or challenging - particularly if it’s been especially arranged for the day. Once guests start to arrive though, we’re ready to play and are usually required to provide some light, classical music to set the atmosphere as people are seated. Because all the players who work with the quartet perform with a great deal of energy, when we are booked for four hours of continous playing, it can be both physically and mentally tiring, so we do try and co-ordinate short 2-3 minute breaks with quiet times in the day – such as during a speech or whilst everyone has disappeared out to the garden for a photograph.
On busy weekends over the summer, we frequently play at 3-4 weddings per weekend, so of course all this organisation has to be run with almost military precision. As we’re often back home quite late at night and set off very early the next day, the individual folders of music for each wedding need to be prepared several days in advance and if there are any pieces needed for more than one wedding, we have to quickly switch those over first thing on the morning of the second wedding so that nothing gets left out. Clothes need to be planned ahead as well – there’s nothing worse than getting home at midnight and waking up early the next morning to discover you’ve run out of clean white shirts, or you have left your bow tie in someones car last night…!
In essence, providing 3-4 hours of music at a wedding will usually mean an additional 5-6 hours of ‘behind the scenes’ organisation, rehearsal and travel - and this can literally double if a special request has needed to be arranged, or music has needed to be sourced, brought in (sometimes from overseas) and rehearsed. The cost of a string quartet does vary enormously and people are often surprised at the variety of fees quoted by various groups. Obviously, each ensemble works in their own way but our fees do reflect the enormous amount of extra work which goes into personalising each wedding, travel costs, time spent arranging, the extremely high standard of players and all the work we do with the couple in the run up to the wedding itself.
People do sometimes ask us whether playing at weddings can ever get repetitive- and in all honesty, because each one is so unique and personalised, with different music and at different venues - it is anything but repetitive.
This week, our other company ‘StringSection‘ are busy in the studio recording string parts for a singer songwriter, and next weekend, we’ve got another two weddings – so it’s time to put all the music from the last folders back in the filing cabinets (just a couple of hours work) and start the preparation work all over again!