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September 17, 2008

Bob's Thoughts on Playing for Weddings

First of all, the wedding is about the bride (and, to a lesser extent, the groom). Unless it is 100% financed by Mom and Dad, It should be about the choices of the couple. When I got married, we looked at the reception as the only time we would have all our friends and relatives in the same room. We wanted to have a party that everyone would enjoy. We figured the next time all these people would join together will be when one of us dies, and that party would not be as enjoyable for the surviving spouse.

For most guests, the fun of a wedding comes from 2 things. First of all, watching the 2-minutes of so of the ceremony where the Bride and Groom profess their love and finally kiss. Secondly, folks like to visit with friends and relatives they may not have seen in a long time. Do whatever you can do to facilitate this. Keep the ceremony short (sorry, Catholics!). Make sure the reception is condusive for mingling and having fun. A plated sit-down dinner traps people at a table for a long stretch of time. Folks mingle at a buffet, and small children will get ansy waiting to eat. Have folks give toasts while folks are eating: if the toasts get boring, folks go back to eatting and pretend to listen. This will also prevent toasts and speeches from cutting into mingling time.

One item that Mandragora has always noticed is that open bars are always happier receptions. We're not just saying this because we are borderline alcoholics: an closed bar gives your guests a subtle message against drinking. If this is your attitude, more power to you. But think about this: if the first thing you'd to when a guest came to you home is to offer them a drink, why would you not offer them one at your wedding? Unless you have a lot of really inappropriate friends and relatives, you may want to consider an open or semi-open bar for at least some of the evening. If money is tight, you may want to serve a keg or a large quantity of cheap boxed wine available for free until it runs out. Consider a buffet-style dinner instead of a plated one to save money for the bar. Also, consider putting a bottle of cheap wine or two on each table for the guests to share. There is something absolutely hospitable about sharing a glass of wine and a nice meal with friends and family.

Wedding planners are seldom as helpful as you'd like. Any musician can tell you horror stories about wedding planners who forget to tell the band important details (like start time and location!). Many wedding planer's complete "training" has been acting as bridesmaid at a half dozen weddings or marrying off all of their adult children. I'm not saying all wedding planners are like this, but you need to be super-careful. You should vet a wedding planner by talking to recent clients who had similar receptions. If you want a Martha-Stewart-Perfect wedding, you may need to use a planner (or have a Mother of the Bride with an insane amount of free time). If you are looking for that storybook wedding with planning down to the minute, Mandrágora Tango may not be the best fit. If you are looking for quirky music performed by a very flexible band, give us a call.

A lot of people expect there to be dancing at a wedding. Sometimes this happens and sometimes not. It all depends on the makeup of the crowd and the DJ/Band/Combo. The guests will take their cue from the bride and groom (and, to a lesser extent, the head table). If none of them are dancing, you have a sit-down wedding on your hands. Some DJs make it a point to work the crowd to get them dancing. They'll invite people up and play crowd-pleasing songs. It usually works, but you have to ask yourself: if you put a lot of work into designing a ceremony that is uniquely you, do you want the "Top 40" of wedding songs ("Shout", Celebration", "Chicken Dance", "Y.M.C.A.", etc...) played at your reception?

Mandrágora Tango is one of the top tango bands in North America. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of people who can dance tango. Most people hire us because they want beautify, quirky acoustic music at their ceremony, cocktail hour, or reception. Few people, if any, dance at these gigs. We also play a lot of weddings for ballroom dancers and their friends. At these functions, more people dance. Mandrágora Tango can play latin, rock, and swing, but it is like hiring a carpenter to fix your plumbing. If you want Mandrágora Tango and you want your guests to dance, consider our "Minimal DJ Service". We play your CDs or plug in your iPod to play your music. You don't have to rely on the musical sensitivities of a 22-year old wedding DJ to get your people dancing. Since we have to have a full sound system for our playing, it is really no extra trouble for us to plug in your iPod when we are on break. We promise not to do any annoying DJ banter.

We also promise not to accept requests for "The Chicken Dance" from anyone other than the bride and groom. This protects both of us from that weird uncle from Wisconsin who thinks that a marriage isn't consummated until "The Chicken Dance" is danced. I'm embarrassed to admit that Mandrágora learned this lesson the hard way. iAlso, we will no longer accept requests from visibly intoxicated guests. (Also learned the hard way!)

If the bride and groom want to do first dance to live music, we sometimes ask them to select from our recorded repertory so they can practice to exactly what we are going to play. Several couples have choreographed elaborate first dances. Others just kinda lean on each other and sway like they were at a junior high school dance. When I got married, I wrote the music for the ceremony and the reception. I had my classical musician friends play at the ceremony and my jazz/folk/rock musician friends play at the reception. I wrote a waltz for our first dance. I wanted my wife to wear an accordion like a backpack so I could both play and dance our first dance, but she shot that idea down pretty quickly.

One small note: once kids take over a dance floor, adults will not dance again. If kids are running around, they will run into adult dancers, and no adult wants to be the one to break up the fun by asking the kids to go somewhere else. We see this play out all the time. If you really want folks to dance at your wedding, you'll have to keep kids off the floor.


Wedding Questions from our FAQ

Q: What kinds of music can you play for a wedding ceremony? Can you play something classical for the ceremony? A: We have several classical pieces in our bag of tricks as well as some tangos and milongas (Argentine 2-steps) that work well for meditations and recessionals. We are all classically-trained musicians. You can listen to snippets of us playing our most popular ceremony music here. Some of our suggestions are:
  • Handel's Hornpipe from the Water Music
  • The slow movement of Mozarts Piano Concert #23 (aka "Elvira Madigan")
  • Schubert's ever-popular Ave Maria
  • Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
  • Bach's Sleepers Awake Bonus wedding connection: the words (which we don't actually sing) are from the Biblical story of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the Bridegroom.
  • O Mio Babbiono Caro (O, my beloved father!) from Puccini's Gianni Schichi. A nice touch if Dad is paying for the wedding.
  • Astor Piazzolla's Oblivion or Milonga del Angel and Faure's Pavane make great meditations
  • Silueta Porteña and Comme il faut are joyous tango tunes that make good recessionals.

Q: Can you work with a wedding or party planner?
A: Yes and no. If a wedding is big enough to require a planner, it may be too complicated for our comfort zone. We are a tango band that focuses on playing danceable tango and unique, quirky background music. While we can work with an experienced, professional wedding planner, we prefer to work directly with the bride and groom. That way we will have fewer misunderstandings that a wedding planner can blame on the band.

Q: None of my guests can Tango. Do I have to dance?
A: No! Our music is just as enjoyable for listening. Many couples have hired us as cocktail/dinner music and had a DJ for contemporary dance music.

Q: Can you work with a DJ?
A: Yes! We do all the time.

Q: Can you provide DJ services?
A: We're glad you asked! We offer what we call Minimal DJ Services. If you just want CDs played at your event and don't want some kid asking "How's everybody doing?" every few minutes, we can save you some serious money. We can play your CDs, iPod, mp3 player, or make a special mixed CD just for the occasion.

Q: Can you teach Tango? Can you demonstrate it?
A: We're usually too busy playing music to dance, but we can provide dance instructors and/or demonstration dancers.

Q: Can you provide dancers? Can't you just invite your fans to our party?
A: For an extra fee, we can provide demonstration dancers or a core group of tango dancers to "seed" the dance floor and encourage your guests to dance. If you want to open up your party to local dancers, that is fine. Sometimes a few might show up, but we have absolutely no control over this. Unless the seed dancers are paid and have a contract, there is no way to be certain if they will show up or not.

Q: Can you perform the wedding ceremony for us?
A: Yes! Through the magic of the internet, we
are ordained ministers from the Universal Life Church, a California based church that ordains pretty much anyone who can fill out a web form. Nothing says "our Love can survive anything" like getting married by a bass player who was ordained over the internet. Note that weddings performed by ULC clergy may not be legally recognized in Connecticut, New York, or Virginia Mandrágora Tango suggests that you use the money you save on a "real" minister to pay for an open bar.

Posted by bbarnes at September 17, 2008 2:31 PM