Wedding String Quartet
Booking A String Quartet for your Wedding.
So the big day is looming, you’d like a string quartet for your ceremony and reception and you want your wedding music to be really special.........where do you start?
How do I spot a good quartet?
Fairly obviously, a personal recommendation is worth a lot – ask around, your wedding planner, the venue itself, even a local bridal shop may know of good quality wedding musicians.
If you’re looking online, try to hear them play! Many quartets will have a sample page where you can click and listen, or may be happy to send you a demo CD. Even if you’re not especially musical, you’ll soon start to notice that some have a better quality of playing than others.
Overall if you want to find our more about a quartet, talk to them on the phone to get a feel for them – if they’re approachable and helpful, that’s a very good place to start.
I’d like a quartet, but won’t my wedding music sound a bit formal?
Not necessarily. It’s true that many people choose traditional wedding music like Pachebels Canon, Wedding March, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, but you’re certainly not limited to these – in fact, you’re not limited to classical music at all! These days, some quartets offer much more modern music and are willing to arrange pop songs, rock tracks, your favourite ballads – with careful work, almost anything can be made to sound unique and special. There really is no need to have the same wedding music as every other wedding you’ve ever been to.
I want classical music, where do I begin?
Again the internet is a good place to search, or try the local library for CD’s of popular pieces. Listening to classic FM with a notepad to write down any pieces you like the sound of might also be a good place to start. Remember your quartet are also a resource and will have an encyclopaedic knowledge about different pieces. If you’re looking for something serene, inspiring, upbeat or celebratory, they should be able to advise you on music that will create the right effect. Try to find a quartet with a large repertoire – and the flexibility to source anything that isn’t listed. If you’ve got a favourite piece and they don’t have it, many musicians will happily prepare it for you.
Do all quartets offer modern music?
This is the way a lot of couples are choosing to go these days, many quartets are starting to offer modern music, but do check out the quality of the arrangement. A poorly written interpretation can sound dull and a bit lifeless. Again, ask to listen to samples of their more modern pieces and ask yourself ‘does it sound lively and accurate?’ If it has you tapping your toes, that’s a very good sign.
Quartets generally have a repertoire list you can choose from, look for musicians who offer all sorts of styles. If an ensemble list their modern selection as ‘Scott Joplin and Cole Porter’, they may not be able to offer Coldplay or Texas.
But I’ve seen sheet music available for pop music, can’t I just give this to my quartet?
In a word, no. Pop music is usually published for keyboard, voice and guitar so cannot be easily adjusted for a quartet. A good musical arranger will usually start from scratch, listening to the track and adapting the melody to sound right on stringed instruments. Extra phrases of music may need to be added, re-written slightly or orchestrated until the different instruments compliment each other. Strangely enough, a straight ‘note – for – note’ copy of the original song can sound quite inaccurate.
How much does a quartet cost?
In terms of cost, quartet quotes will vary hugely, and it goes without saying that you do pay for what you get. Although they may seem to just turn up and play for a couple of hours, you are booking four highly skilled, professional musicians who will have spent hours beforehand preparing and rehearsing your musical programme – the actual performance is only a small part of their job. If a quartet are dramatically cheaper than everyone else, do ask yourself why.
Also bear in mind if you live in Scotland and your favourite quartet are from Dorset, you’ll probably need to pay a fair bit in travel costs for four people!
How do I spot a poor quartet?
With literally hundreds of quartets out there, obviously some are better than others, but there are a few questions you can ask to help sort out the ones to avoid.
Like any business, returning calls promptly and showing a willingness to accommodate your special requests is always a good sign.
One pitfall may be you’re not actually getting the quartet you heard on the demo. Some people make their living by ‘fixing’ quartets and will just book four musicians for the day, sometimes regardless of quality and experience. The recording on their demo CD’s and online samples will have been played by the very best (and most expensive) musicians available, but they may not be the group who are turning up on the day. It’s not unheard of for music students to be employed at very low rates while the fixer takes a tidy percentage. Although many of them are absolutely fine, if you want to be assured of quality, make sure the musicians you are dealing with will actually be playing on the day themselves. Talk to them in person to make sure they understand your needs, including any dress code, favourite pieces and timings during the ceremony.
On the occasions when one or more players is unavailable, a professional quartet will book a musician of equal standard and rehearse with them.
Another sign of a poor quartet is a very limited repertoire. If they’re not prepared to source and rehearse pieces that aren’t listed, find a group who will.
How far ahead should I start looking?
Many quartets are booked up literally years ahead but you might find some who are happy to play at short notice. Bear in mind that you will probably have a more limited choice of repertoire if you’re booking them two weeks before the wedding! Having a piece of music hand crafted for you involves hours of careful work – most quartets will ask for several weeks notice for this.
I only want music for one hour during the photographs, is that ok?
This depends on your quartet and how far they have to come. Including travel and preparation time, one hour of music in the afternoon might mean the musicians aren’t free to take on any other engagements that day or evening so have potentially given up a full days work. For this reason some quartets are reluctant to take on very short bookings, especially over busy weekends in the summer, you may be asked to commit to a minimum booking of 2 hours or more.
Will I need to pay a deposit?
Probably yes – bear in mind your quartet will have reserved that date in the diary for you and probably turned down several other enquiries. You may be asked for a deposit to secure the date. Most groups will be happy for the balance to be paid on the day of the wedding, but do check individual terms and conditions on this. Professional quartets will usually have a contract that details their terms and cancellation policy.
Do they need any extra amplification?
Your quartet will be able to play softly or with enough volume to fill an auditorium, depending on your needs. If you’re planning on having background music during a meal, you may not want high volume anyway – with an ensemble so noisy that your guests have to shout at each other over the table.
Do I need to provide any special equipment?
Most musicians have very old and valuable instruments, which won’t cope well with playing in direct sunlight. If you want them to play outdoors, try to provide a shaded area such as a gazebo. Likewise they’ll need protection from rain, snow, excited children running around and particularly food fights! Many couples find it easier to have the musicians indoors with the doors open so the music can drift outside. The quartet will bring their own music and stands with them, but you’ll need to provide 4 chairs without arms and reserve enough space for them. Bunching them all up in one tiny corner behind the buffet won’t give very good acoustics.
Your quartet are portable, so it’s usually fine to move them from one room to another as your celebrations progress. If you want them to wait around for a couple of hours in between periods of playing, you’ll probably be asked to pay a small additional fee for this which should be detailed in your contract.
Written by Vaughan Jones of the Manor House Music String Quartet
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