Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The i(pad) doesn't lie, Volume 2 - wedding music

Bless this day,
Tragedy of life,
Husband joined to wife.
The heart sinks down and feels dead
This dread-
ful day.
Bless this bride,
Totally insane
Slipping down the drain,
And bless this day in our hearts
As it starts
To rain.

("Getting Married Today," from Company, by Stephen Sondheim)

Why am I even writing this? Nothing but grief will come of it. When it comes to wedding music, as "Bart the Genius" Simpson says when at a loss in school to offer an example of a paradox, "Well, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."

But no sense in not coming clean. My late friend and mentor John Gallen used to joke that a theologian's role was to make you feel better about what you're already doing. The Jesuit in him, I think, wanted to both find a path to the truth and compassion for himself and for the rest of us who had a hard time sticking to that path. Like you, I know the ideal about what wedding music should be like. But, like marriages, weddings rarely achieve the ideal. We keep trying.

The technique I use for trying came from Mary Prete during her tenure directing music at Old St. Patrick's before Bill Fraher arrived, which was before I arrived in Chicago as well. At St. Jerome's in Phoenix, I had always planned the music for every wedding individually with the couple, from beginning to end. I can't remember how many weddings we did in those days, but it couldn't have been the number I'm doing now, or there wouldn't have been time for anything but wedding meetings. When I got to St. Anne, I must have mentioned this or heard about Mary's strategem (which was very successfully adopted by Bill when he took over at OSP) and we started using it as well: the wedding fair.

We just had one last Monday night. I schedule them twice a year, once in the fall, and once in the spring. Truth be told, there aren't that many weddings scheduled between now and the spring wedding fair, and most of them have already been planned, but people work differently, and some whose weddings are a year away want to get a jump on these things. Most of the weddings at St. Anne fall between the time after first communions in mid-May and the end of October. Last weekend, we had five, which is exhausting with the rest of the weekend schedule, but rare.

In the twenty-plus years I've been at St. Anne's, it's clear that this technique of introducing couples to wedding music has spread around a lot, not because of me, but because of Mary and Bill and the influence of networking through NPM and other gatherings of music types. We invite everyone with a wedding scheduled to come to the church on a Monday evening. I give everyone a copy of Pastoral Press's (OCP) wonderful Celebrating Marriage, edited by Paul Covino and others, along with some worksheets of my own devising. I give the couples a 15-20 minute "users' guide" to the book so they can see how valuable it is and easy to use, and then we do about an hour of 30-60 second pieces of options for wedding music so they can hear the songs in context, know their names, hear about suitability at different times of the ceremony, and hear them with a variety of instruments. My wife Terry Donohoo and I do the singing, and we have a flutist, trumpet player, and string quartet there as well, playing arrangements I've done myself or purchased over the years. 

I make it clear that what we're doing musically isn't meant to be exclusive at all, just that the pieces we present tend to be the ones most often requested. This brings up the iPad system, which I mentioned in the title of this blog post and in a similar one a couple of weeks ago about funeral music. In my iPad wedding songlist, I move the songs I use for the nuptials-du-jour to the top of the list, and put them in order. New songs will be added, though some that are unique to a particular wedding will not be in ForScore, but only in the MusicNotes app. (MusicNotes is a handy online sheet music store that both allows you to print a copy of the music you purchase and offers an iPad app that lets you keep an electronic copy which is, in most cases, transposable.) The songs near the top of the list, say the top twenty-five or thirty, would be most frequently played. At the wedding fair, we do pieces of between thirty and forty songs. 

We have two worship spaces at St. Anne. Our daily mass chapel has about 150 seats, and is architecturally speaking about half of our old stone church, high ceiling, stained glass, and really excellent acoustics. The main worship space is much larger, with two levels of seating, about 1000 seats on the floor and another 300 or so in a mezzanine. My estimate would be that our weddings are divided about half and half, and generally along the lines of numbers of guests. As for music, we have done just about everything, from occasionally me having to do the entire wedding alone as cantor and accompanist (I hate this, but will do it especially because it doesn't cost the couple any more money than their church stipend), to having a cantor and one or two other musicians, to one wedding that had a twenty piece orchestra, two cantors, and a children's choir. Weddingpalooza.

I made a wedding website at the parish site, so that couples could download the worksheet and grid that I give them at the wedding fair in case they get lost. On the website, the grid is expanded, and the song titles are links that allow them to hear clips of recorded versions of those songs for reference. If you'd like to check out the site, go to

So back to the top, to the wedding music, and "damned if you do." What I mean is, everybody has their bugaboos about this wedding thing. I try to walk a middle line, but I'm sure I have my trigger point and prejudices as well. I don't deny people the ability to use the Wagner or Mendelssohn marches because of the secular origins of those pieces, because frankly, most people, nearly all people, don't have any idea about the secular origins of those pieces: their frame of reference is just the wedding repertoire. On the other hand, people do know the frame of reference for songs like "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera and whatever that hit-du-jour was from Jekyll and Hyde, and I am reluctant to allow songs that can barely be qualified even as romantic (as though murderous obsession were romance) in a sacramental celebration. Reluctant to the point of obstinate, I guess I would confess. In a hundred years, maybe, when all people know of Lloyd Webber is "All I Ask of You," and the rest of his nachtmusik is forgotten, maybe. Instrumentally. Maybe. I probably won't have to worry about it. Probably.

Mostly, we try to give lots of options, including a less monarchical runway option processional, like a song ("We Praise You") done as a stately instrumental, followed by singing the music when the procession is over as a gathering song. I really do believe that wedding music should be liturgical, with communal singing, but the church has bigger problems with weddings than the music. In any case, none of these problems will be solved by intransigence about music selections. Pretty much the first three rules of the reign of God applies to wedding music as well: invite, invite, invite. 

OK, here's the list from my iPad, and I'll add on the music we sampled at the wedding fair that is not on the top 30 list with a (*).  For the record, our parish uses Gather, Third Edition in the pews, so the hymnody, while pretty universal, is oriented toward that book. Also, note that these songs aren't in any particular order; the ones nearest the top were simply used most recently. Nearly every one of them was used during the past weekend's five wedding marathon.

* Bach - Third Brandenburg Concerto
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach)
Canon in D (Pachelbel)
I Say Yes, My Lord (Peña)
Psalm 34 for Weddings "Every Morning in Your Eyes" (Cooney)
When Love Is Found (Wren, O Waly Waly)
Be Thou My Vision (arr. Cooney)
Here I Am, Lord (Schutte)
Ave Maria (Schubert)
Trumpet Voluntary (Clarke)
On Eagle's Wings (Joncas)
Ode to Joy (Beethoven)
Song of Songs (Cooney)
Cloud's Veil (Lawton)
Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin (Wagner)
One Bread, One Body (Foley)
Wedding Song (Stookey)
Allegro Maestoso from Watermusic (Handel)
Psalm 103 The Lord Is Kind (two settings, Cooney and Cotter)
Salmo 23 Nada Me Falta (Peña)
March from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Mendelssohn)
Lover's Waltz (Unger and Mason)
Lord of the Dance (Shaker Hymn, Carter)
I Have Loved You (Joncas)
Taste and See (Moore)
No Greater Love (Joncas)
I Will Never Know (Kendzia)
Psalm 128 All the Days of Our Lives (Cooney)
Covenant Hymn (Daigle and Cooney)
Le Rejouissance (Handel)
I Found the Treasure (Schutte)
* May We Be One (Daigle and Cooney)
* Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)
* We Praise You (Balhoff, Daigle, Ducote)

And don't get me started on singing the Glory to God. We'll sing it when the priests threaten to speak it if it's not sung. I should safely be retired by the time that happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment