Food poisoning, Stuck in the Himalayas and Professional Responsibility

Food poisoning, Stuck in the Himalayas and Professional Responsibility – One of the most common questions we’re asked by potential clients is ‘what happens if one of our musicians is ill on the day of the wedding?’All our players are in demand and generally get booked up by orchestras in advance, so how do we go about finding another musician of equal quality and ability at the 11th hour? After all, performing as part of a wedding string quartet at someone’s wedding ceremony is a serious commitment, it’s not like calling in sick to an office job where work colleagues can take messages on your behalf for a day.

The solution is to have a pool of outstanding, trusted players to call on, all of whom are familiar with the pad of music, fantastic sight readers with great ensemble skills (meaning they can fit in accurately and with sensitivity around other players), in other words – they’re professional.

Well, over the last few weeks we’ve had a couple of chances to test this out, with a player waking up with food poisoning on the morning of the wedding, and someone else coming down with flu the night before.

With the food poisoning case, another viola player managed to deputise a West End show he was in later on that evening and arrange childcare to fulfil the wedding commitment and with the flu situation, another player was already free so all we needed to do was text him the timings, dress code and name of the venue.

Over the years, we’ve had a violinist trapped in the Himalayan mountains‚ due to low cloud grounding all the flights home, a violist breaking her wrist, a cellist stuck behind an accident on the motorway and a few sick bugs. On one horrible occasion I was rushed into hospital 3 hours before a wedding reception and my colleagues still managed to pick up the prepared folders of music, spend two hours on the phone trying to find someone to cover for me, find a fabulous replacement, rehearse with him and go on as if nothing had happened. Here is our group performing Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’:

Given all this, it is perplexing that we receive 3 or 4 phone calls each year from panicky brides who have been let down by their quartet a couple of weeks before the big day. It’s hard to understand how that can happen and probably means one of two things has occurred.

Firstly, it sounds as though the clients didn’t have a proper signed contract with the quartet, detailing the commitment and covering basic issues such as cancellation, deposit paid, timings, agreed fee, insurance of instruments and musicians requirements.

Secondly, it’s possible that the musicians were simply offered more lucrative work, a longer booking or a tied period of dates (such as an overseas tour) and not being bound contractually were able to cancel the wedding without any liability.

Neither situation should ever happen – as any professional quartet will issue a standard contract protecting both parties, and any professional musician with integrity will always honour the first engagement they are booked for on a specific date.

When planning the schedule, I usually call and book the other players for quartet engagements about 2 months in advance and with several violinists, violists and cellists who play with our group regularly, we’re rarely stuck for a player in the event of an emergency. If a musician who has been booked in for a quartet commitment with us does get offered a block of lucrative, tied work, he or she will know about this a few weeks in advance and can call around the other players on our list to find a replacement ‚Äì before saying yes to anything else.

When brides and grooms are browsing the internet looking to hire a string quartet, they are often overwhelmed by all the different options, prices, player biographies and sound samples. Anyone looking for a trouble free experience should make sure the musicians are professionals with rigorous standards, plenty of back up, public liability insurance (wedding venues will frequently ask to see this), a good selection of music and that they’ll issue a proper contract protecting everyone!