Tuesday, October 6, 2009

a wedding of classical standards...a win or loss for the future of classical music?

This past weekend I played for a wedding of a close friend of mine. The wedding was in Houston, and we had discussed since last winter my friend's interest in having me play for the wedding. She was intrigued by the idea of having a string quartet, but she wanted ideas from me on repertoire choices. Thus, in the early summer, I sent her some standard lists of wedding pieces that could be used for the prelude, processional, and recessional.

At first glance, these lists seem too standard to some brides. For instance, the pieces include, Pachabel Canon in D, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, Ode to Joy, among many other classical pieces the general public associates with wedding ceremonies. For my friend, Natasha, the bride, these pieces also seemed too cliche. She wanted to be unique, but still traditional in her music choices. I supported her in this thought process, but I was a little lost as to where to suggest she look for musical ideas. While I agreed with her that Pachabel can get old and tired, it is a beautiful piece of music and always pleases the crowd at a wedding.

When she checked back with me, after looking around for new choices, she had found a lovely idea for a prelude: Appalachia Waltz by Mark O'Connor. This piece has been a favorite of mine for a while, and even though I had never thought of it for a wedding, upon listening to it again, I realized that it could fit quite well in the ceremony. Natasha was still at a loss for ideas on the processional, but for the recessional, she liked the Charlie Brown song, "Linus and Lucy." While this is an adorable song, it seemed even more unsuited for her wedding than Pachabel. Also, in string quartet form, this piece would sound somewhat ridiculous. I warned her of this, but I didn't want to compeltely discourage her, as it was her wedding, and thus I wanted her to be happy with her musical choices. Luckily for me, the church vetoed "Linus and Lucy," as it wasn't appropriate for the sacred setting.

This led us back to the drawing board for the processional and recessional. I told Natasha to look back at the original lists I sent her and see if even though they seemed cliche at first, maybe now, with more thought, they may seem well suited to her wedding. After more thought, she did the unthinkable, and chose to have ultra-standard pieces: Pachabel, Largo from Vivaldi's Winter, and Jesu. I was pleased, but also shocked with her choices. She, who was so originally anti these standards, came full circle and more to pick the epitome of wedding musical selections.

The reason I bring this up in the blog is to look at it with the viewpoint of our class, and if it means anything, or nothing at all for the future of classical music. What I learned from this example, and perhaps what I already kind of suspected, is that even though classical music that is coined cliche or has even verged into the category of pop music, is still chosen to play a role in a siginificant milestone of their lives by the least likely people. This is perhaps good and bad: the future of some classical music lives on in certain cases, and is the first choice for mass gatherings of many willing listeners (weddings). However, this music is so standard, that even though it fits into the 'classical' category, some "high-brow" listeners may question if it has merged into a new category of pop-classical or even just pop music.

If the bride had requested we play contemporary classical music, like John Cage, who knows how the congregation would react, let alone if the church would even allow us to perform this music. In this way, the future of classical music question is still dodgy. But, if you look at the situation from a merely positive viewpoint and realize that despite our modern times, these standard classical pieces were chosen for a bride who likes to live ahead-of-the-times, then the future of classical music seems perhaps not so bleak.

1 comment:

Grace Allendorf said...

I definitely think a lot of the standard wedding rep has a lot to do with the standards of the church. I sang at my best friends wedding 4 years ago, and it was in a Catholic church with the full on Mass integrated in with the ceremony. When she asked me to sing, she told me I could choose whatever I wanted to sing at the ceremony, but that she would have to run it by the music director at the church. I also wanted to try and do something a little different. I felt that a typical standard was not special enough for my best friend. I picked "Du Ring an meinem Finger" by Schumann. I was going to perform it in English so everyone could easily relate and I wouldnt have to try to get a translation into the program. The song is about a wedding ring, which I felt was extremely appropriate. Apparently, the church did not. They vetoed this choice, saying it wasnt on their list of songs allowed, and I ended up singing "Ave Maria".

While the "Ave Maria" was beautiful, and everyone loved it, I felt that it was odd that a song of wedding rings and deep love was "not appropriate". So I definitely feel that churches themselves have a great deal to do with the wedding repertoire.

I also agree though that many people choose to use classical music even outside of a church. 2 friends of mine got married this summer and used "Carmina Burana" and "The Mission" as the entrance music for the bridal party. It was perfect.