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Music Lessons

Seven keys to a harmonious reception.

Besides free and abundant libations, the music at your reception will be the most important factor in keeping guests from slipping out after the cake-cutting ceremony. While you can't magically bestow rhythm on any bad dancers or suddenly make your wallflower guests want to get their groove on, taking a few precautions will ensure that your hipster college buds and your grouchy Aunt Velma have a great time.

1. Think music for the masses.
Unlike house parties, weddings should feature music that's universally appealing. "Couples often want to hear the type of music they enjoy driving to, but it doesn't necessarily translate well to a reception," says David Swirsky, owner of Expressway Music & Events, a wedding- music agency. Blasting Death Cab for Cutie may carry cred with a younger crowd, but older guests probably won't want to join in the stiff eighties head-bob required to match the synthesizer. Likewise, four hours of klezmer music played in honor of the groom's cultural background may not keep people shakin' it on the dance floor. When choosing your musicians, pick a band or D.J. who can play traditional tunes as well as big band, Motown, disco, and other styles with a great dance beat.

2. Take the macro approach.
There's no quicker way to kill a party than by micromanaging the tunes. Instead, make a list of a few songs you must hear, a few you absolutely don't want to hear, and then let the musicians determine how the arc of the set should go. "It's the musicians' job to orchestrate the flow of the evening," notes Greg Schmidt of Duchin Entertainment. "They should read the crowd and see what it responds to." Beware of a bandleader or D.J. who shows you a final playlist; it probably means they're too lazy to improvise.

3. Buddy up with the bandleader.
Whether you opt for a D.J. or live music, it's in your best interest to deal directly with the person who'll be orchestrating the music. Some bigger agencies use salespeople who have little practical experience with the musical details. "When you deal directly with the bandleader, you'll get answers about venues, acoustics, and instrumentation," says Jon Simpson of Manhattan Rhythm Machine.

4. Get what you pay for.
A "screamer," as it's called in the industry, is when the musicians you hired aren't the musicians who show up - thus the bride (or groom) starts screaming. Screamers happen mostly with big agencies that "manage" many bands - managing in this case meaning that the company will send out a group of musicians who may have never played together before. (A tip-off that you have one of these howl-inspiring crews is when the band members shake hands for the first time onstage, reports Cal James of Cal James Orchestra.) To avoid this scenario, ask friends, family, and your wedding vendors for suggestions. "Caterers and photographers see lots of bands, and word of mouth from within the industry is the best recommendation," says Jill Prince of Hal Prince Music.

5. Know watts up.
If you're having an outdoor wedding or a reception at a private home, make sure the band and caterer are on different circuits. According to James, the combination of coffeepots, chafing dishes, and electric ovens uses far more electricity than an entire fifteen-person orchestra. "When the coffeepots are turned on, they could blow the circuit for both the food service and music," says James, who recommends having an electrician rewire the circuit or providing a separate generator for the band.

6. Keep Grandma from getting an extra charge out of the proceedings.
The frequency of electrical equipment can interfere with medical devices, such as hearing aids and pacemakers, causing a screeching pitch at best and a medical emergency at worst, notes Stan Wiest of A. Stan Wiest Music. To be on the safe side, sit guests equipped with such devices at least twenty feet from the band and speakers.

7. Have a plan B.
Life is never perfect - musicians will get sick and equipment is bound to fail. To prevent snafus, confirm that your musicians have backup equipment and a replacement if the golden-throated lead singer suddenly starts croaking like Kermit.

From the Spring 2005 New York Wedding Guide

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