Monday, September 5, 2011

The Classics

Very often my clients ask for advice for processional and recessional music.  Below are the standard selections that I like to use, and why they work well.

Family seating:  Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

This classic music by J.S. Bach contains a beautiful 9/8 lilting melody, interspersed with a chorale melody.  The great thing about this music (besides it being Bach!) is that it can be stopped at a number of points and brought to a logical close, so when the family is seated, we are ready to move on.

Bridal Party:  Canon in D

This masterful piece by baroque composer Johann Pachelbel is familiar yet elegant.  It is written in four bar phrases that can be ended as soon as the last member of the bridal party is in place.  To get the true "canon" effect (a canon is a "round" like "Three Blind Mice", where melodies are played and then played again on top of each other), a second or third instrument is needed, like violin, flute, or cello, but it is perfectly playable as a solo.

Bride:  Bridal Chorus from "Lohengrin"

This is the classic "Here Comes the Bride" with which everyone is familiar, but many people do not know that it's origin is operatic, coming from Richard Wagner's music drama "Lohengrin", and is actually sung by a women's chorus during the opera.  Like the other two pieces mentioned above, it has a number of points where it can be easily ended, making it a classic and excellent choice for a processional.

Recessional:  Wedding March from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Incidental Music

The music played as the bridal party recesses at the conclusion of the ceremony is from Felix Mendelssohn's music that he composed to accompany Shakespeare's play.  This joyous piece makes everyone think "wedding" immediately, and can be repeated as often as needed to accompany everyone as they exit the wedding area.

Other choices:

For those couples wanting other choices, here are some other pieces that work well as substitutes:

Processional Music (for family, bridal party, or bride):  Any of the three pieces mentioned above can be switched around and used in place of each other ("Canon" for family or bride, :"Jesu" for bridal party or bride, etc..).  Other choices would include the Handel "Air", Purcell's "Trumpet Voluntary".

Recessional Music:  Other excellent selections include the Handel Harp Concerto, Handel's "Hornpype", and "Spring" from "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Harp at the (Royal) Wedding

Many friends and colleagues told me about the harpist that they saw at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  This harpist, Claire Jones, is the official harpist to the Prince of Wales (Charles), and often performs at royal events.  This, however, was the wedding of the century for any harpist!  In a recent interview, Miss Jones mentioned some of the beautiful repertoire that the couple chose, including pieces by Handel (his Harp Concerto, written for a former royal harpist in the 18th century!), C.P.E. Bach, and Tchaikovsky.  The instrument on which she performs is a special design, donated by the Italian harpmaker Salvi, and has been used by the Royal Harpist since the year 2000.  Here is a clip of Miss Jones performing and being interviewed shortly before the wedding:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Long Beach Chorale Concert Review

Jim Ruggierello's concert review of the Long Beach Chorale's season-ending performance on June 12, 2011:

    The Long Beach Chorale ended its 2010-2011 the other day at Grace First Presbyterian Church with a program called “Music of the American Stage,” and a good time was had by all.
    Especially the performers. It was nice to see this dedicated band of amateurs in somewhat casual dress (matching LBC polo shirts) taking on songs from the Broadway, concert and opera stage, all of it written by American composers. There’s some great stuff in there. I guess America’s got talent.
    Led from the keyboard, mostly, by guest conductor Bob Gunn, who is the group’s regular accompanist, and ably assisted on harp and flute by Brian Noel, the Chorale and soloists from its ranks delivered a generous, lively and varied program lasting close to 90 minutes to a large and appreciative audience which included artistic director Eliza Rubenstein.
    The songs ranged from the familiar (“Summertime,” in an effectively bluesy choral arrangement) to the not so much (“Pretty Young Men,” from a show called “A … My Name is Alice,” delivered with humor, energy and style by the delightful trio of Lisa Pan, Kimberly Hall and Denice Pearlman).
    Two fine tenors, Jim Howeth and Aaron Forbes, did a nice job with “Agony” from “Into the Woods.” The real-life married duo of Lee and Don Carlile (together for 37 years rather than the scripted 25) were just adorable in “Do You Love Me?” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Amaridis Quintana played “Glitter and Be Gay” to the hilt.
    Speaking of Bernstein’s “Candide,” I hope someday to attend a choral concert of Broadway selections that doesn’t end with “Make Our Garden Grow,” but this was not that time. Fortunately the Chorale sounded great, and ended the afternoon in triumph.
    The guys sang “There Is Nothing Like a Dame.” A substantial medley from Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” reminded us all what a skillfully crafted work of genius this score is.
    Musical highlights included “The Promise of Living” by Aaron Copland, from his opera “The Tender Land,” and two concert selections. The ubiquitous Eric Whitacre’s a cappella “Water Night” was beautifully done, and the concert began with “Sacramento — Sis Joe,” a bouncy riff on a couple of American folk songs by Jackson Berkey, a member of Mannheim Steamroller.
    You get the idea. There was a lot more. One came away impressed with the intelligence of Gunn’s programming, the excellence of his pianistic abilities and Noel’s masterful harp (and flute, in a selection from Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”) contributions. In addition, one marveled anew at the quality of Long Beach Chorale and at the solo talent within its ranks. And finally, one was reminded of the richness of the Great American Songbook.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Great Indoors

Last time I took on outdoor venues, so I think it would be appropriate to discuss indoor venues now, especially with colder weather approaching.  The primary advantage to indoor venues such as hotels, chapels, and church sanctuaries is that event hosts have much more control in the environment.  Guests are sheltered from heat, cold, wind, rain, not to mention the noise of planes, trains, and automobiles.  Also, acoustically speaking, the natural acoustics are more conducive to your guests being able to hear the officiant or speaker of any kind, with or without a sound system.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you are looking at venues:

Size:  Will it accommodate the amount of guests you will be inviting?  It should be not too big, nor too small, but just right.

Décor:  Is the décor appropriate for the kind of atmosphere you wish to convey for your event?  If you event is elegant and formal, make sure the venue matches that vision.  If you are hosting a more informal event, then the environment should reflect that as well.

Staff:  Is the staff at your venue helpful and accommodating?  Make sure you get everything in writing before you sign on the dotted line, so that there are no surprises.

Music considerations:  If you are getting married in a church sanctuary, make sure you find out if there are any specific musical guidelines that the church requires.  Some may request only classical and sacred music be performed.  Others may have less stringent guidelines.  Once you know this information, pass it on to your musician (harpist, preferably!) so that he can make sure all musical selections are appropriate for the venue.  Also, find a good spot for your harpist or ensemble.  People love to see musicians performing (especially the harp, given its visual nature), so set them up front, but make sure you have a flat surface with adequate lighting.  If amplification will be needed, discuss this before the event.

Having performed as a harpist in Orange County and Los Angeles County for over twenty years now, I can state there are many wonderful indoor venues that would be excellent choices for any type of event.  Contact me if you need a recommendation.

Brian Noel

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Great Outdoors

Given the fact that we reside in southern California, it is to be expected of wedding musicians that we perform for outdoor weddings in both Los Angeles and Orange Counties, almost year-round.  As a harpist, I have had the opportunity to perform for many outdoor events over the years, and I thought it might be a good idea to share some ideas and suggestions should you decide to plan an outdoor event.

I think it is important to remember the practicalities of holding events outdoors, and to always keep in mind the comfort of your guests when doing so.  Are you getting married in August?  Do you have adequate shade and/or cover for your guests?  I recall performing for a wedding in Fullerton two years ago where it was 105 degrees out at 5 p.m., and the guests were sitting in the full sun (my flutist and I were in the shade, as it's mandated in our agreement).  Here were men in coats and ties, and women in formal wear, and the guests put them in the full sun on an August afternoon.

Similarly, I've done weddings outdoors in January or February, when the temperature has been in the 50s, and the family consisted of a number of elderly people who had to brave these temperatures, not to mention the bridesmaids in the strapless gowns, literally shivering in their heels.

So, with that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your outdoor event:

  • Is there adequate shade if there is a possibility of warm weather?  This is the biggest mistake I see at events.  If you are asking your guests to show up to your event and bring you a nice wedding gift, make sure that they are comfortable and do not have to tolerate an hour in the full sun.
  • Is there adequate seating?  Don't make your guestst stand for the ceremony unless it is very short.
  • Is there adequate shelter from the wind?  If you are at the beach, the wind may be blowing so hard that musicians may not be able to keep music on their music stands.  Your beach wedding that you saw on a soap opera might not go as smoothly as you saw on television if the wind is howling, your dress is flying all over the place, the flowers won't stay up,  and guests can't hear anything.
  • Are there flat surfaces for seating?  Harpists and other musicians can't play on slopes or tall grass.  Make sure that your surfaces are paved or at the very least, short grass.
  • Is there amplficiation provided?  This is another one of the biggest errors I see with outdoor events.  When couples do not use amplification, almost no one can hear the officiant or musicians.  Without some sort of natural amplification (i.e. a wall), sound dissipates very quickly, and I have seen events where no one except the bride and groom could hear the officiant because of the lack of amplification.  Make sure your venue provides it, or have a sound engineer on board to amplify (I always amplify when playing outside with a battery-powered portable amp).
  • Are you near any airports or trains that will be disruptive for the ceremony?  There are a few venues in Newport Beach that are right over the flight path to John Wayne airport, and although they are beautiful venues, the officiant has to usually stop two or three times during the ceremony to let a plane pass overhead because the noise is so loud.  There is another that backs right up to the Back Bay, and the sound of boat engines punctuates ceremonies I have done there constantly.  Visit your venue on the same day of the week and same time where you are planning your event.  You might be surprised as to what you see and hear.

In general, if you are considerate towards the comfort of your guests in mind, you can find a great venue.  See my previous posts regarding the Tivoli properties...all are enclosed, shaded, and lovely venues, as is the Wayfarers Chapel.  Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wedding Venues in Southern California

As a harpist who has performed in weddings throughout Orange County and Los Angeles County for over twenty years, I am often asked by clients what are my favorite venues, and why do I like them.  I thought I would list some of my favorite venues below and state why I like them:

Orange County:

Tivoli Terrace and Tivoli Too!  in Laguna Beach:  These venues are beautifully decorated, close to the ocean, and have friendly, helpful staffs.  Tivoli Terrace in particular has a beautiful upstairs chapel, with twinking lights and rustic, lovely decor that enhances their events.  They also offer catering right on site, so once your guests are there, they don't have to move to another location for a reception.  Tivoli Too! is also a great venue, staffed by the same great people with a beautiful environment, including a waterfall at the wedding altar.  This same compnay owns and operates The Hacienda in Santa Ana, which is another beautifully decorated venue with great food and service, and again offering the option of ceremony and reception in the same location.

Los Angeles:

My absolute favorite venue in Los Angeles for weddings is the Wayfarers Chapel in Ranch Palos Verdes.  With its glass walls, which makes the beauty of the surroundings completely visible, Lloyd Wright, the son of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designed this structure as a "tree chapel", so that nature could be brought in to the structure.  The strucutre is acoustically sound for great music-making.  Book well in advance for this chapel, which seats no more than about 80 people.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wedding Music

Having performed as a solo or ensemble harpist at weddings throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties for over twenty years, I am often asked for advice from both my friends and clients who are getting married as to what kind of music they should use at their events.  Generally, I tell them that the kind of music and musicians they use should refect everything else at the event.  If the ceremony is formal with tuxedos and formal gowns, I encourage them to use classical musicfor their ceremony.   Classical music helps to create a timeless, beautiful ambiance that matches the rest of the event.  If a vocalist is used, it would also certainly be appropriate to use one or two popular tunes (two of my favorites:  "Perhaps Love" and "The Gift of Love").

If your ceremony is less formal, still, classical music always works, but popular music can be a nice addition as well.  Some couples love Celtic music, and the beauty of that music is certainly appropriate for a less formal event.  I've done beach weddings with Hawaiian and folk music that were completely successful and lovely.

As for processional music and recessional music, the standard "Bridal Chorus" and "Wedding March" are always winners.  They are timeless classics, and the reason they are classics is that they work, as do standards like the "Canon in D" by Pachelbel, and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by Bach.  However, there are other options available...just ask your musician.  He/she can offer other options.  One thing I would recommend to avoid are silly or trite music.  Recently, I was asked to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the recessional, because of the couple's love of baseball.  Well, it went over like a lead balloon.  No one in the audience seemed to understand what it was all about.  It is certainly appropriate to play more light-hearted music at the reception, but stick with "formal" music to match your "formal" ceremony.

Let me know if you have any questions...thanks for reading my first post

Brian Noel