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String Musician Essentials for Outdoor Wedding Gigs!

Posted by James Engman on May 20, 2015 2:39:00 PM

There's a lot that can go wrong when planning a wedding, so the live music should be the last thing the couple has to worry about. However, if you're the musician gigging at a wedding, it is your temporary raison d’etre and you owe it to your clients to be as professionally equipped as possible. Besides the wedding party and the officiant, the musicians are the most visible and involved people in the proceedings of the ceremony. You have to showcase your talent and musicianship while at the same time tailoring the music to fit the timing of proceedings. You must perform in an unusual space, and sometimes sight-read with musicians with whom you've never worked before. And you have to account for the weather and last minute changes. Luckily, having the right accessories can help you avoid minor and major embarrassments at your next wedding gig. Below are some music accessories (and tips) that are, simply put, essential to having a successful wedding season. 

  1. A sturdy, wind-proof and backlight-proof music stand is required. There are three main types of stand-related catastrophes that happen at outdoor weddings, and I’ve seen them all. The first is that the stand is too weak to simply hold up a heavy collection of music. Few wire stands can support much weight and they often have too Peak_Stand_with_Bag.jpgshallow of a desk for a thick stack of music. The second is that the entire stand tips over because it is top-heavy or the base is too narrow. Lastly, wire stands (as opposed to stands with a solid panel desk) are notorious for allowing wind to get through and carry your music away, no matter how well you secure it to the stand – I once heard of a bride being hit in the face by a flying page of music, as the violinist awkwardly improvised. Also stands with holes or a wire desk will allow light through a single-page of music, making it difficult to read music without a folder or binder behind it. My top recommendation is to get a portable but heavy-duty solid-desk music stand. The best options that are portable and easy to carry with you are the Manhasset Voyager, the Peak SMS-32, SMS-20, or SMS-50, or the Nilton Magic Stand.
  2. 53677 - Alternate Image 4Keep your music from blowing away! A big solid stand desk is not enough to guarantee your music will stay put in windy or even drafty conditions. A method of holding your music to the stand is vital, yet most “page-holders” that are built into stands will only hold the bottom corners. Manhasset’s Musiclips come two-in-a-set and can be used with almost any stand, but are best with the Manhasset Voyager or Peak SMS-32. They are fast and easy to use one-handed, and since you can see through them, you can put them wherever they’re needed. If you use a binder, sometimes Jumbo Paper Clips are enough to keep the pages from turning in the wind. The most versatile way to keep your music on the stand and open to the page you are playing is the new Wind Wynder. Invented by two string players, it's not only the easiest, lightest, least obtrusive, and fastest way to hold down your music, but it also allows to you turn pages still! No clips will do that!
  3. Be able to carry your gear efficiently. You might not 1443X.jpgreally know the parking situation for the next gig, and it’s possible that you’ll have to move from the ceremony to the reception in very little time. Being able to carry your instrument and everything else on your back or in one hand will allow you to open doors, shake hands, hand out business cards to those interested, and not bump into the wedding cake in the process. For cellists, the SHAR Cello Case Backpack System with cushion will not only save your back and shoulders, but will hold your music as you navigate through a crowd of wedding-goers. For violinists and violists, the SHAR Joey Case Carrier will add comfort and security to carrying your case, plus will free your hands of many of the accessories that won’t fit in your case. If you’re a bassist who gigs (or who doesn’t because you can’t imagine moving your bass out of the studio), try out a Xeros Bass Wheel. Having an extra sheet music bag like the SHAR Handi Tote isn’t a bad idea either!
  4. 1549S-1.jpgBe comfortable sitting quietly with your instrument. The Tush Cush isn’t just for cellists; it makes hard folding chairs easy to sit in for any player, and has a handle for easy transport. A violinist friend of mine says it was the best purchase she made all of last year! Playing a ceremony and a two-hour set before the reception? You will be prepared with a Tush Cush. For violinists and violists, it can be hard to turn pages or clip music to your stand with your instrument and bow in your hands, and your case may be tucked out of sight while the photographer is busy – the String Swing, attached to your music stand, will safely hold your instrument and bow for you as you sit silently or turn to the next piece on the program. For Cellists, the Acoustagrip Cello Pads allow for resting the cello against your body without uncomfortable pressure from the cello.
  5. Stay hydrated (or caffeinated), and don’t make a mess. Whether you rely on a constant intake of coffee, tea, or water, having an insulated and closing drink tumbler is necessary for hot or cold outdoor gigs.46964 - Alternate Image 0 52172 - Alternate Image 0I was once playing with a quartet at an outdoor wedding that promised water was provided. We were set up on the grass, and when a server came over with four crystal wine glasses full of ice water. No one knew what to do with the tippy, breakable glasses and no surface to set them on. The point is, always prepare to BYOB (bring your own beverage).
  6. NS_Clip_on_violin_tuner.jpgTune without disruption. If you’re playing outdoors or in a dry hall, your instrument might adjust to the change in climate by falling out of tune. Using a clip-on tuner like the NS micro-tuner or a tuner microphone like the Korg CM-200 or SHAR SP100 to tune can allow you to be nearly silent as you correct a string that went out of tune.
  7. Diversify your rosin collection. Rosin responds differently in different temperatures and humidities. The dark rosin you use in the winter or a dry air-conditioned studio might become too sticky at a golf course in July. Finding a harder, chalkier, light rosin to switch to in the summer months might prevent unpleasant bow response and noise as the temperature and humidity rises.RR20.jpgR1501.jpgGR1.jpg1198-V.jpg
  8. Have a good collection of music for last-minute gigs or instrumentation1896-075.jpg changes. Wedding gigs can and will pop up the night before the event – someone gets sick, injured, a group is double-booked, or a sub is needed. Having a collection of string quartet, string trio, various duet ensembles, and solo with piano wedding music is a great way to make sure you’re able to pick up an extra gig at a moment’s notice. Also, it’s not a bad idea to bring the lighter instrumentations in the car with you, should members of your ensemble have car trouble or an emergency.
  9. Consider having an “outdoor” instrument or bow. I started using a carbon fiber violin bow after I broke a fine Pernambuco bow by accidentally CPV146-X-44.jpgdropping it tip-first onto concrete. It happened when a listener came to shake my hand - talk about awkward! With the increased quality and low cost of even reputable brands like Presto or Coda carbon fiber bows are a great choice for players who can’t risk breaking their fine bow. Also, many players whose main instruments cost thousands of dollars will buy a second instrument that is nice enough to satisfy their artistic desires, but low enough in cost that they aren’t as worried to subject it to hot sun, possible rain, extra travel, or the increased risk of an accident. I’ve met professional wedding musicians who prefer Franz Hoffmann or Carlo Lamberti instruments as their bench made instrument’s convincing stunt double.

I wish you all the best as wedding season 2015 kicks into high gear. For additional reading on how to be a successful wedding musician check out Anne Roos’s book, The Musician’s Guide to Brides: How to Make Money Playing Weddings. I hope these suggestions will allow you to be fully prepared, and I’m interested in hearing your wedding gig stories and suggestions in the comments below. To browse all of the products listed in this article, click the link below!

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Topics: Violin, Viola, Cello, Wedding, Performance, Bass