It’s the perfect wedding. From your place in the pews you survey the stained glass, polished wood and sparkling candelabras. You admire the designer bridesmaid gowns and exquisitely detailed floral arrangements. The radiant bride stands beside her betrothed. Then, without warning, the piano repeats that oh-so-familiar broken chord pattern, vamping until the bride’s cousin’s best friend begins in a quavery voice, “He is now to be among us…”
NO! Not “The Wedding Song” again!
Wedding ceremony music is often the most neglected part of wedding preparations, yet it sets the mood for the entire event and can leave a lasting impression. “If inexperienced singers have offered or been asked to sing for a wedding,” says professional wedding music agent Barbara Pinto-Choate, “the results can be disastrous when Auntie gets stage fright and can’t sing, or Susie forgets to bring her music, or Henry gets lost in the middle of the song.” Mezzo-soprano Pinto-Choate has sung for hundreds of weddings, and regularly hires professional vocalists and instrumentalists through BJ Productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Business often comes through referrals from couples or wedding guests. “Folks will pay for professionalism,” says Pinto-Choate.
The three Rs for professional wedding singers are rates, repertoire and resources.
The singer’s fee is determined by experience, training and the going market rate. The local rate can be determined by making a few phone calls, says Pinto-Choate. Singers in large metropolitan areas, such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston, typically charge $100-$200 or more, while singers in smaller towns may earn $75-$100 per wedding. Pinto-Choate cautions singers not to under-sell themselves—their time is valuable, and the singer’s fee will still be far less than the cost of the wedding cake or bridal flowers. Pinto-Choate’s basic fee includes a brief rehearsal the day of the wedding and the wedding ceremony itself. Additional services, such as consultations or extra rehearsal time, are negotiated above the standard fee.
“Get everything in writing! The contract [either your own, or an agency contract] protects the singer from cancellation and ensures that both parties stay within the agreed guidelines and expectations of the employment.” Expectations include consultation, repertoire, beginning and ending times, dress, set-up [microphones, etc.] and the time frame for deposits and payment. Pinto-Choate requires a 50 percent nonrefundable deposit when the contract is signed, with the balance due no later than seven business days before the scheduled event. Collecting the fee up front ensures that the singer will be paid, and avoids the awkwardness of standing in a receiving line waiting for the groom’s father to hand you an envelope.
Quite often the prospective bride and groom are unfamiliar with classical repertoire and musical traditions. In addition, the church or synagogue may have restrictions on what music may be played and sung. Gerre Hancock, organist and Master of Choristers at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City, says, “We discourage show tunes and pop songs. It’s a worship service, not a civil service. Music is most often chosen for appropriate text. The soloist and organist usually work together to suggest repertoire.” Wedding soloists are chosen from the professional all-male choir on a rotating basis and Hancock has a list of substitutes when the wedding couple requests a soprano or mezzo soloist. “We have superb soloists at our call.” Old St. Mary’s Church in Cincinnati offers select vocalists and instrumentalists from the College Conservatory of Music who will also perform “your choice of music in your church.”
A bride may choose tried-and-true music for sentimental reasons, but more often it’s because she doesn’t know comparable, less familiar songs. This is where the soloist’s experience, research and power of persuasion come in. The bride who selects Schubert’s “Ave Maria” may be thrilled to hear the Bach-Gounod, or Saint-Saëns, or Abt version instead.
Joan Haff’s Ultimate Catalogue of Wedding Music lists five versions of “Entreat Me Not to Leave Thee,” and six settings of “O Perfect Love.” Haff’s database is available through her Wedding Music Website (www.nuwebny. com/wedmusic), and lists nearly 150 sacred and secular wedding song titles by composer and publisher.
Another good resource is the Wedding Music Guide (www.lib.virginia.edu/ MusicLib/collect/wedding.html), compiled by the staff of the music library at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Jane Edmister Penner, head of the music library, says the guide was originally written and compiled in the mid-1980s, after the staff received numerous requests for suggestions for wedding music from students and community members.
For even more daring matrimonial music, check the Vocalist archives or post on www.vocalist.org. When a list member requested “something slightly unique” for soprano and harp, repertoire expert Karen Mercedes suggested Four Chinese Love Songs by Emma Lou Diemer (Pub. Seesaw), Italian Songs for Harp and Voice by Maria Cosway (ClarNan Editions) and Welsh folk songs for voice and Celtic harp. Singers just entering the wedding soloist market would do well to invest in three easily available anthologies published by Hal Leonard: Wedding Classics (classical solos for high or low voice), Contemporary Love and Wedding Songs, and The Ultimate Love and Wedding Song Book.
Should wedding singers sign with a local agency, work through churches or represent themselves? Barbara Pinto-Choate says, “All of the above. If you want to work steadily, you’ll need to find some jobs yourself, and also be available when the contractor, organist or church music director calls.” You’ll need your own business cards and contracts.
However, she cautions, “If you are approached for a job while you are representing an agency, you must offer the business card of the agency.” Consider advertising on the wedding page of the local newspaper, offering demo tapes, creating a website with sound bytes, attending bridal fairs, and collaborating with local instrumentalists. If you are asked to recommend an organist or harpist don’t forget to subcontract and give yourself a fee! Oh, and if you can’t talk the bride out of “The Wedding Song,” remember it’s her special day, when all is said and done. Sing with confidence and heart, and smile at the bride’s cousin’s best friend sitting in the pew..