It’s a little known fact that I sing at weddings. Over the years, I’ve seen probably hundreds of weddings which is a relatively low estimate for wedding musicians. I’m still green in this side-hustle. And in those years, I’ve seen the exponential growth of what I call (and probably others do too) “The Wedding Industrial Complex” (WIC). In fact, I’m a cog in that machine, showing up to get my “little rectangle” (check, of course) for shilling out purely mediocre versions of the Schubert Ave Maria and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. I’m not being humble or modest; the truth is that mediocrity is all that the WIC requires. Show up in mostly clean, black clothes, do your part, get the hell out. Stay out of the pictures. That’s rule #1.
In fact, I’ve come to embrace my little slice of that world as not a sweeping performance of my artistic talents, no, but more like riding the moving sidewalk of wedding day. There are clear entry and exit points, you run to get on and brace yourself in getting off, and it’s not stopping for you so just roll with it. I longingly hope to glimpse the frazzled wedding planner, all tight-bunned and walkie-talkied, whisper-yelling at the rumpled photographers (they are always rumpled…it’s amazing and bewildering. Photographers, ironically, are always the least pulled together of the WIC staffers). The videographers stake out their spots early and hold ground–these skills could also transfer to holding down a parking space in Streeterville during festival season. They hunker at professional levels. The organist usually extremely proficiently plays a repertoire list that has entwined itself into their DNA. It’s an exercise of efficiency, sometimes to the point of totally losing it. You know that thing that happens when you say a word so many times in a row it becomes a pointless series of sounds? That’s what happens with the music. There’s only so many times a human can play Pachelbel’s Canon in D before it starts to erode.
I most look forward to seeing other instrumentation, first because it’s a novelty and second because their parts are usually amazing. Violins work hard, trumpets are always a darkhorse for me…it’s exciting to see how well they’ve got it together…sometimes masterfully, gloriously together and sometimes…just not. My own pure glee ensues when there’s a bagpipe. We all leave deaf and thrilled. And I just do the church part, so the next phase of the WIC will introduce the caterers, DJs, and all the other human resources accountrement–all equally mediocre and why? Because no one is paying a lick of attention to you as a cog. They’re blissfully, anxiety-ridden, and probably well-alchoholed in their float above the fray. As long as the dress and hair stays pristine…all good.
This year, however, has completed upset the WIC. As just a cog, I’ve felt the pinch of every mechanism seizing up as venues have postponed ceremonies out, in some cases, a year or more. I went from regularly singing probably 20-25 weddings a summer to singing none. Cancellations are running rampant. Thankfully for me, it’s a side hustle; I can’t say that’s the same scenario for everyone even remotely mentioned here. Wedding people are hurting.
The flip side, though, is that the ceremony has returned to its rightful (or should I say riteful…) size. I sang my first wedding of 2020 last Saturday. There were twelve people in church. The bride wore regular hair and make-up with a lovely but simple white dress and…wait for it…white sneakers. The groom, a blue suit with no tie. The wedding party: what I assume were assorted nieces and nephews wearing their own clothes and carrying simple bouquets of red roses, potentially arranged at home. The music, wonderfully simple (thank god) and ceremonial without pomp or circumstance. The singular photographer had two cameras and looked incredibly clean and laundered. I literally smiled through that whole damned thing under my mask, worn when not singing and distant from the “crowd.”
It felt like what it should be. No, it felt like what they wanted it to be. It felt like what a wedding looks like when you put it together yourself and pay for it with dollars actually in the bank and not loaned by your favorite credit company. It felt intimate and serious, like an actual meaningful vow of something and not a circus, complete with ribbons and fire-breathers. It was definitely my style.
As I left, I couldn’t help but hope that one of the very few upsides of this pandemic, of the tighter belts and less social gatherings, is the death of the Wedding Industrial Complex. I say that as part of it. Ask me to sing because you want music there and not because it’s part of the package deal. If you’re not religious, I question bringing in pieces that have no meaning for you. Why pray to Mary when you don’t believe in Mary? (In fact, why get married in a church if you’re not religious? What kind of pressure is working there?) Bring a photographer who will capture the day like you want it to be captured and not with a shot list taken from Instagram Weddings. Wear something that is special but that means something. Do you really need the entire altar dressed in flowing field flowers when one or two in your hand will do. Show up as you, not as an idea of you built by someone else telling you that if you don’t spend $10,000, you’re not right. And for god’s sake, ask yourself if you really need a video of it? Isn’t that purely just a way to allow yourself not to be present on the actual day?
I left feeling hopeful. The bride and groom looked happy. The day felt right and not overdone or overspent. It looked like what they wanted. And I was just happy to be a part of it. No tight-bunned, frazzled wedding planner required.