String quartet playing for wedding ceremony
At this point, give little thought to the poor musicians. A typical time for the wedding ceremony, particularly if it's a church ceremony, is about 1 o'clock. The string quartet has to be at the church to play for half an hour before that, and so would maybe arrive at 12 o'clock to 1215 to set up. Perhaps there's been an hours car journey to get to the church, meaning that the musicians had to leave home at about 11 o'clock in the morning. Getting dressed in tinted jacket or long dress and getting instruments and music ready what happened at about 10.30, said that time nothing but a cup of tea perhaps since breakfast at 8.
By 2 o'clock the ceremony would be over in the quartet would be packing up their instruments, bracing by car to the wedding venue, getting set up ready for the guests to arrive there at 2.15. There will be no time for the musicians to eat, just enough time to beat the guests to the wedding venue. When the guests arrive, they're expecting music to greet them, naturally. Perhaps an hour to an hour and a half of drinks reception before the meal.
Is getting close to 4 o'clock as the string quartet play as guests enter the dining room, pause briefly for the entrance the bride, then play for the meal, making sure that there is music as the guests settled themselves to avoid any danger of uncomfortable silences. By an hour into the meal guests will have had plenty to drink, will be chattering loudly, and it's time for the string quartet to relax. By 5:30 musicians might be packing up, and ready for their hours drive home, getting home at 7. If nothing is done to save their lives, the string quartet won't have eaten for nearly 12 hours. They will have been performing physical gymnastics, (is very hard work playing an acoustic musical instrument, you wave your arms around frantically for a few hours and see what you feel like. Aerobics doesn't even get a sniff in by comparison.)
Clearly it's impossible for a string quartet to spend a whole day out without any food, and this is why it's so important to feed the quartet, indeed all musicians, unless you want them to faint on the floor for you, which wouldn't really add to the day. It's a part of our contract the food is provided, and 99% of brides and grooms understand this and and make sure the musicians are well fed. Unfortunately, there is the occasional bridal groom that takes the attitude that the band are being paid, so why should they feed them. Thankfully, this is very rare.
What is very important in feeding the string quartet, is to make it unnoticed by the guests. There are always breaks in the proceedings, perhaps the photographer taking the guests out into the gardens for some photographs in various locations. There are speeches of course, but unless things are planned, a string quartet might get trapped in the dining room during speeches, when they could be sneaking away to have a bite to eat. The photographs don't take all that long, so unless the venue has got its act together and has food ready to rush to the musicians during the few moments break they have, then everything goes completely pear-shaped. Oh yes, being a musician can be a hard and hungry life!
There are special foods for weddings. The English 'bride's pie' with a laying hen and eggs, beneath a stout crust, was an essential dish, without which a couple had scant chance of happiness. At Cypriot weddings husband and wife eat roasted doves, birds which commonly decorate bridal chests. Doves were presented to the priest by Russian brides and were an auspicious gift for newlyweds in Cambridgeshire, (see Cambridgeshire wedding string quartets) to promote their happiness. If doves are seen on the wedding day (especially if perching on the church roof) a harmonious home is assured. Number one of a limited edition of Royal Worcester porcelain white doves, after a model by Ronald van Ruyckevelt, were presented to Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh for their silver wedding. This association of doves with weddings seems to be a clear survival of the cult of Venus.
Tradition is sustained by the Californian company Doves of Happiness, of Inglewood, which provides cooing and pirouetting white doves as decorations for weddings — many of socialites and show-business celebrities. Doves also appear at every wedding in the Doves of Happiness wedding chapel. Mrs Edie Steinmetz, who founded the business in 1959, says that for a dove to lay an egg at a wedding 'is considered the best luck in the world' and this fortunate event occurred at the Dean Martin—Cathy Hawn wedding, where thirty doves were on display in flower-decked cages flanking the entrance to the bridegroom's house, in tall 'gazebos', and in hanging baskets.
"Gazebo" is a word that brings out anxiety in my mind. Nothing to do with food, the string quartets often have to play in the gazebo in the gardens for wedding venue. Several years ago, we had a very warm summer, (yes, honestly we did, you probably don't remember it will bad summers without of recent years). Somehow we seem to be playing at wedding venues that always had a pond or lake or stream running through the grounds. Very picturesque, but great for breeding midges. We got bitten to death that year. I even went out and bought some packets of Jungle Mosquito Wipes, and those burning coils that you use at night in southern Europe keep the mosquitoes off. It is very difficult to fight off midges and mosquitoes when you're supposed to be playing music. Every moments rest, even if it's only for a beat or 2, is used to swipe away the vermin. We had one gazebo whether a taken pity on us, and it was fitted with mosquito nets that could drop down around the outside of the tent. This was all right for a bit, but it soon became unbearably hot, and the perspiration was dripping onto the instruments making the fingers slide all over the strings, so we had to open the mosquito nets again and just grin and get bitten. Oh yes, indeed, as you've heard so many times, it is a hard life being a musician.
For the wedding of Jack Lemmon and Felicia Farr, the florist decorated the doves' cages with fresh lemons. These doves all have names, which in 1973 included Fancy, Polly, Mr Barnaby and Yellowbird (retired, since she unfortunately suffered from car-sickness and could not go on assignment). The doves Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon were hatched from eggs laid by doves on duty during a charity ball in Los Angeles attended by the royal couple. Doves of Happiness always rents doves in pairs to enhance romantic symbolism, and Mrs Steinmetz has discovered that people badly want the doves to coo at their weddings: birds of sufficient maturity must be chosen to ensure this. The flower-decorated cages of wrought iron may be shaped like wedding bells, or made to float upon the family swimming pool (as five cages did at the wedding of David Hemming and Gayle Hunnicutt).
The ancient Greeks believed that the newly-married pair must eat a quince together to promote their love. The idea was long-lived: a family memorandum book noted that at a wedding in England in 1725 the bridegroom's grandfather presented the bride with a basket of quinces, to signify that in accepting a fruit both bitter and sweet she accepted her husband for better or worse. (The custom clearly showed Mediterranean origins: there the quince ripens fully and may be eaten raw, which does not occur in England.)
In seventeenth-century England, Thomas Moffett wrote: 'When the bride and bridegroom return home, one presents them with a pot of butter, as presaging plenty, and abundance of all good things.' And in Brittany an elaborate table ornament carved from butter — a knight on horseback, a church (so heavy that two of the farmer's men carried it in) or a flower-decorated crown — rested between the married pair at the feast.
Dancing and weddings have always gone together. And thank goodness for that. Dances at weddings is a big part of the business of The Midsummer Music Agency, whether it be for a ceilidh or barn dance, or arranging for a jazz band or function band to play.
At Glarus, (Canton in east central Switzerland, but I'm sure you knew that already?) by old custom, the first three dances were by bride and groom alone, so that village gossips could observe them closely and decide if lovemaking had been premature. This would be absolute hell for many British couples. Many couples are terrified of the idea of having to do a first dance in public, and it barn dances we give them the option of doing a dance with a whole group of guests. Most take this option and are very happy to do so. We still make it very special for them, perhaps putting them in the centre of the circle for the first time through the tune, so that they have nothing to do but be shouted and screamed at, (to scare away the evil spirits, as you well know if you've been taking note will have been reading all this drivel,) and then they can join in with the dance like the rest of the guests.
Three musicians seated upon kitchen chairs played the flute, concertina and violoncello: (this is an old description of such a dance, and it's interesting that I concertina is put together with the cello. This is not common today, very few cellos being played in folk bands and very few concertina is being played in a classical ensemble similar to the string quartet. However concertina, piano accordion or button accordion was very much a central and Eastern European instrument, perhaps I've restricted to much, as Italian accordion music and French accordion music have exceedingly strong traditions and are wonderful and complex musical genres. Even the Scots take the accordion as standard instrument of a Scottish ceilidh band.
Nevertheless, it's interesting the combination of instruments that was reported in this time. With my own band, The Ostentatious Dance Band, with displays as you may have guessed, music of the Jane Austen period, we do include a cello together with flute, oboe or recorder, guitar and violin.
By each stood an encouraging bottle of Veltliner, the local red wine. One young man, asked at what time he had got home to his mountain hut in the summer pastures, said 'In time for milking at dawn.' Wedding dancing required considerable fortitude from guests. (And as I have have explained in earlier paragraphs, even more fortitude from the musicians, which people tend to forget. Perhaps it is in English tradition to forget the musicians, because in the Scottish ceilidh band tradition, the musicians are treated as the honoured guests at the dance and are always offered drinks and fed first, even at a wedding. In the Irish tradition, the musicians are traditionally a part of the whole group, be it a family birthday party, a wedding, or a public event. They are therefore not treated like a bunch of workmen have come to replastering wall. This means that the whole event is interactive, guests and musicians being equally responsible for developing the whole evening's atmosphere and making things go with a whiz.