Musings of a Mad Musician!

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This is just a collection of thoughts and ramblings about music, the wedding and party business, running a music agency, and a host of completely unrelated things. Some people would call it a Blog, but I hate the term. Think of it more as a stream of consciousness (or perhaps unconsciousness?)

To put my musings into context, I've described how, from school and the county youth orchestra, I have ended up as a violinist & fiddle player and running the Midsummer Music Agency, when some parts of the route seems a long way off track. Even using the term violinist and fiddle player introduce some interesting issues of the two styles of playing, playing from music and playing by ear.

In one of my 'past lives' I was an engineer involved with the design and manufacture of industrial robots, and this has resulted in a somewhat different view of the complex dynamic process of playing violin in a string quartet and fiddle in a ceilidh band, viewing it from Newtonian dynamics and closed loop feedback theory. Now that's a new one for the music industry!

What of the instrument itself, and the strength of the bow and instrument itself, which can withstand all the violent force that a grown man (or woman) can inflict on it, not only when playing a civilised and stately piece of music during the processional or recessional of a wedding ceremony, but also when bashing hell out of the instrument to get people up and dancing at a birthday barn dance or wedding reception ceilidh. But the pain isn't just inflicted by the musician on the instrument, but by the instrument to the musician, especially as a pupil.

We move on to the actual fingering of the instrument and how notes at different pitch are created and tuned, more on the process of training the mind through instrumental practice (forming neural networks and brain plasticity. How many brides and grooms are thinking about 'neural networks' on their wedding day, even though it is their neural networks that got them to the wedding ceremony in the first place. But the brain structures that create and mediate emotions, from love - an hopefully this is the dominant emotion that the Happy Couple are feeling as they stand in front of the vicar or registrar, or Fear, which will undoubtedly be being experienced by the Bridegroom at the very least, is a subject for another very large section of musings, but that is as they say, for another day). But the violin is rarely played as a truly solo instrument, it is almost always played with an accompaniment or in a string quartet or larger ensemble. Here we examine the range of ensembles that a violinist has to cope with. Each size of ensemble presents its own challenges of coordination for the violinist.

Talking about fingering a violin makes me think of people who hire a string quartet to play at a winter church wedding ceremony. I've learned to wear my thermals to have any chance of playing for the processional and the music for signing the register and surviving without frostbite for the exit of the bride.

Then my thoughts wandered off to the weddings and parties of played at and wondered how many people, or musicians for that matter, give any thought when they book their string quartet or jazz trio, how their instruments are made. It tends to be a 'take it for granted thing. I know for my the violin, but am was ignorant of everything else, so I decided to find out for myself how this was done. Here we are:

Trumpet: used in jazz bands and wind ensembles

Clarinet: used in jazz bands and wind ensembles

Flute: Used in flute & string quartets, ceilidh bands, barn dance bands and jazz bands



Then, of course, if you make a musical instrument, you have to be able to hear it. As you stomp to a jazz band, or dance to a barn dance band, or relax to a String Quartet concert, how and why do you hear them. With your ears is too simplistic. The question is, what is really going on. This is something that I have explored in some detail.


What about hiring a live music group? It's no good knowing all about playing the instruments and making them if you never book a string quartet or hire a jazz band for you wedding, birthday party or wedding anniversary. Most people have no experience of hiring a live band. You may be trying to plan your Wedding or birthday party on a budget and are struggling to find ideas that keep within your budget. Everyone should get the best they can at the lowest price available, so there are things to know about when when ceilidh bands, jazz bands & string quartets are the cheapest? So, some tips about finding a string quartet or jazz band. It need not be as difficult to do as many people make it, it can be really easy to find a good ceilidh band if you go about it the right way. Just rethink how you hire a barn dance band or a string quartet for your wedding and it can be organised quite painlessly.


Then I got onto thinking about all the questions I get asked by people who are trying to think of wedding and party ideas. So I cogitated for a while to come up with some different musical ideas for weddings and parties. While I was doing this in my nice warm office, the rain was lashing down outside and I thought I really ought to make some comment about seasonal wedding reception ideas, to try and help prevent brides booking inappropriate music groups for the season, or expecting them to play in impossible conditions. Just after I had finished this section, I saw out of the window (through the lashing rain) that there was an enormous mobile crane doing something up on the Malvern Hills, so I donned my waterproofs and went out to look. This is what inspired my little ditty about wondering if being a musician, whether it was playing in a string quartet or jazz band, ceilidh band or barn dance band, was a cushy life. (It's not!) After I had dried off and warmed up, I finished the day with a some ideas for wedding receptions. Then it was time for tea!


Another day, the sun is shining and the frost is on the ground (No, it is not August!) I mused on live music for Corporate Hospitality and some questions about Live music for your party, then wandered off into thinking about our great British  Folk Dance Traditions. Corporate hospitality is a big subject where standards have to the at their highest, and only certain types of music group are typically used. Starting with the The Scottish Ceilidh (I lived in Scotland for 15 years, but have played far more Ceilidhs for Scots in England - the nostalgia or asserting the difference perhaps? The English Barn Dance or Country Dance tradition is not homogenous across England, and there are many interesting variations.


Nothing though is as different to perform (for an English man) than Jewish, Greek and Eastern European dance traditions and music for them. Wow, it is good stuff! But coming back home to The Welsh music and dance tradition, which is very pretty and nice in comparison to the wild music I've just mused about.

For an absolute mix of everything there is American Howdown tradition which is a mix of all the above and more played with acoustic bands. Then back to Ireland, where a lot of Americans hailed from with The Irish Ceili & Session Music, split into Irish folk music and dance, Irish ceilidhs and Irish Dance Styles. This is such a big subject that I went on to look at more questions about Irish ceili music and the fascinating array of Irish folk instruments

There was frost this morning when I looked out of the window and began to music on the various kinds of pianists-classical, jazz & evergreen, then the more specific Jazz Pianists & Classical Pianists for weddings and how difficult it must be for a bride or groom to find what they are looking for. How many pianists do most people know? The whole issue of hiring  Live music for the wedding or civil ceremony (i.e. Booking live bands for weddings) can take a non expert down many blind alleys. It is no easier to to Book a wedding barn dance & ceilidh band, Hiring & Booking string quartets. so I've spouted some thoughts on
Booking jazz bands for your wedding
Booking string quartets for weddings
Hiring a string quartet for the wedding ceremony
String Quartet hire queries


After I had done that, the frost on the grass had melted and the sun had come out. Beutiful!


The other week I played at Eastnor Castle's wedding Showcase. It was a damp Sunday afternoon and I must admit I had some trouble dragging myself out of bed to get everything set up for the event, as I had been playing with my ceilidh band until after midnight at an Oxford college, for their Burns night celebration. But never mind, the life of a musician is a hard one!


He did however inspire me to write one of my musings about playing at Eastnor Castle, basically because Eastnor Castle is such an inspiring place. I was manning the stand at the wedding fair (actually I should term it their wedding Showcase, that how they refer to it). We had 2 string quartets playing there, one in the morning and a different one in the afternoon, to spread the workload of the playing. There were a lot of other suppliers to the castle, so we weren't just playing to advertise our live music offerings, but we were playing to set the atmosphere for the other suppliers.


Sometimes we play at Eastnor church, then moved to the castle for the wedding reception. At other times we play for civil ceremony in the castle. Because I wasn't playing in the music group on the day, I was able to discuss not only differences between a wedding at the church and a civil wedding or partnership at the castle, but I was able to fill people in on how we play their with our ceilidh and barn dance bands, our jazz bands and sometimes are function and party bands.


but before I talk about the music, I thought it was sensible to describe the magnificent range of rooms at Eastnor . Having set the scene I go on to describing the various aspects of weddings and how the music fits to them, at Eastnor Castle.. The ceremony itself is in the Gothic room, and if I recall correctly we have only ever had our string quartets of flute and string quartets playing in this room, ceilidhs and barn dances being held mostly in the octagon room, but sometimes in the great Hall if there are a lot of guests, or outside on the veranda in a marquee that can be erected the.

It struck me other day that I have played at something like 1200 weddings over the past 15 years, either with my string quartet of Mike ceilidh band or barn dance band. Yet I have virtually no idea of the history of weddings, or about wedding traditions. I sit through wedding ceremonies playing for the processional, the signing of the register and the recessional, a ceremony full of symbolism yet I'm ignorant.

When I started trying to find out about the myths and legends and beliefs, the first thing I stumbled on this information about aphrodisiacs. Nothing has changed! And as I write this is just about coming up to St Valentine's day and I'm going to be in severe trouble if I don't keep with the tradition. I also realise that many of them weddings and I perform for have the children of the couple present, sometimes acting as bridesmaids and page boys, sometimes being the best of dancing at the barn dance in the evening. I thought that this was the legacy of the swinging 60s was the swinging 80s, are not really sure, but the idea of trial marriages is as old as marriage.

Similarly, being in the Internet business the idea of the Russian mail order bride over the Internet is something that is been around for the last 10 or 15 years, but the origin of the mail order bride is much much older.

One of the great pains in our business is that if you put 'wedding band' into a search engine, you're much more likely to find websites about wedding rings then you are to find site about live music groups for weddings, i.e. wedding bands in English. The trouble is that we have become Americanised, and what once used to be called a wedding ring is now so often termed a wedding band. What a horrible term.

The dowry is something that one associates with Asian weddings nowadays, but it is something that is common throughout the world both in the present day and in the past. So is the concept of the the trousseau. Indeed wedding presents has become big business for retailers like Marks & Spencer's and many others.

Calling the banns is something that now has legal connotations, because way back in tradition and must be done before the eve of the wedding.

So does it matter when you get married? Is it all right to go for a cheaper mid week wedding venue hire price, is a Monday as good as a Friday, what about Saturdays and Sundays, is it just about when it is easiest for your guests to attend? By now you should know the answer which is, certainly not. There are auspicious days and in auspicious days. You have to make sure that you get married on the right day and in the right month.

Now that you've settle your wedding date, what about the weather? If it's December, you're not going to get much joy, but neither are you in the middle of August if the weather stays as it has been for the last few years. But are there practical things you can do to improve the weather? Yes there are, some scientific and some definitely not scientific. So you should take all the precautions necessary, that are defined by tradition and folklore, then you're bound to be okay. Wedding day luck shouldn't be left to chance!

Then there is the wedding dress, use or just a matter of what is in fashion, is it going to be a Disney dress or frothy meringue dress? Oh no, it never is as simple as that. There are course American traditions connected with the wedding dress and a myriad more to do with the accessories. Then there are the flowers. Most of us are familiar with the meaning of flowers at funerals, and what flowers can and can't be used. At the other end of the scale of the happy used of flowers, flowers for weddings, flowers in the bridal bouquet, carried by the bridesmaid and adorning the church or registry office, but woe betide the bride who gets the flowers wrong, it could perhaps lead to an early funeral!

Another adornment of the bride could be the wedding veil. This is steeped in myth and ancient legend, after all, unless you're in a Muslim country it is rare to see the face covered, other than by bank robbers. So dire are the consequences of getting the veil traditions wrong, that at my wedding I was terrified to look over my shoulder at my wife to be as she came down the aisle wearing a veil, why? Because of all the scary stories told me by my Cornish father-in-law. Cornishman are steeped in mysterious superstitions, even when they're not pirates. A wedding veil may be one way of disguising the identity of the bride, but it doesn't hide the fact that she is the bride, so the traditions of disguising the bride, of her dressing as a man or hiding other ways, goes a step further.

We used to the bride arriving in her Rolls-Royce and a guest driving in their cars, but that's only been possible in recent times. In the past, horses, carriages and of course feet was the mode of wedding transport.

White people get married? (Perhaps some brides and grooms, several years down the line, wonder this.) Of course there are many reasons. The Kings and Queens of old it was to gain territory and power. For arranged marriages it may have been to cement family or business ties. In other cultures it has been to keep religion pure. More often one hopes, it is choose one. But in most, though not all of course, cases it is to produce children. Without that, the human race would not exist and I wouldn't be writing this, and of course you wouldn't be reading it.

For most people, this aspect of marriage isn't a problem, but for some it is as is the continuation of the fidelity needed to bring up children, so of course there are a raft of charms and potions specially for this purpose. You'd expect all these charms to be on the positive side, the jilted lovers and those treated in business might wish to bring bad luck to the couple and impotence to the groom.

But let's get back to positive things. We must all be familiar with the idea of the bride throwing her wedding garter, but possibly not so familiar with the traditions of the wedding cake, (is not just a tasty thing to eat and make you fat).

As this is a website about live bands, necessarily I want to talk about the long traditions of music for weddings. Not just about the string quartet that plays at the wedding ceremony itself, without doubt the barn dances and ceilidhs that have been a part of village and town weddings for hundreds of years, and more recently (if you call the late 1800s recent), the jazz band.

The wedding and wedding celebrations, important though they are, only last one day (or possibly up to a week in some cultures), but whatever the culture, the wedding is a fleeting moment. The happy couple then moved to their new home when they may well bring up a family, so it is important, indeed it is vital that there are whole raft of wedding traditions to bring good luck to the new home and ward off any evil spirits.

Everything has been about the bride and groom so far, the bride traditionally thinks of her bridesmaids when she is fully hitched, one example of this is throwing the wedding bouquet to ensure that at least one of her bridesmaids will get married soon. And as I mentioned in the last paragraph, the wedding is over all too soon and that expensive wedding dress gets packed away, possibly never to be got out again. What a waste. In past times people have sometimes had a much better attitude to this. Don't make the wedding just one day, continues a little bit longer in the coming out bride tradition.