music biz

Music for a Joyous Occasion?

After it became apparent that the ad agencies of Michigan Avenue (the Chicago version of Madison Avenue) weren’t going to pull our scorched jingle company from the fire, it was time to make a new plan. Our pastor suggested we use our musical skills to play weddings and funerals, so we did some research, asked friends who had played those types of gigs, got feedback from other clergy, constructed a song list of the most requested religious and secular titles, bought 2 new VERY heavy amplifiers and began marketing ourselves. We made hundreds of cassette demo tapes, took out ads in the Chicago Wedding Guide magazine and sent out thousands of the following pamphlets to every church within 20 miles:BrochureCovers  BrochureBlurb


The wording for this sort of thing can get dicey, (especially with funerals) because we’re talking about providing music for…. death. Grieving people are at their most vulnerable and it’s important to strike the proper note of concern and compassion, while projecting sufficient confidence that the music you’ll be adding to the service will be reverent, inspiring and tender. Interestingly enough, the few funerals we were called to play (all at our own church!?) were relatively easy gigs.

The weddings, on the other hand…. ah, the weddings!!  The term “Bride-zilla” had not been invented but such things did exist!

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We met more than a few GROOM-zillas, too….

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not to mention PARENTS of the happy couple….

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While we had our own ideas, wedding music is generally “chosen by committee” and everyone has input except the musicians! Thus we wound up adding a LOT more titles to our song list.

I know now that even by late 80s’ standards, we were charging way too little for our services – but we really needed to get some gigs, and we hadn’t figured out how much actual WORK was involved in providing music for a half-hour service, let alone a (gulp!) 90 minute Catholic wedding mass, complete with communion for the entire congregation!  We also underestimated the toll schlepping those 2 amplifiers, keyboard, EVI gear and mics, stands, etc. would take on our bodies and our spirits – especially when we got home and still had to carry all that gear up the rickety winding stairs to our 2-flat apartment.


backstair stairs

We DID have a few nice moments playing weddings; there was one where the happy couple wanted “their song” performed during the mass AND during the reception right after AND during dinner. (They had hired a DJ for post-dinner dancing so we actually got to go home and feed and walk our dogs after 5 hours). “Their” song was  ALWAYS by Atlantic Starr – and we sang the played the duet over and over, to their obvious delight! By the end, all of the guests as well as the complete wedding party were singing along with us!

But most of the weddings were grueling – a high-stress situation with no relief until the check finally cleared.  Brides and/or their mothers were always adding MORE special songs we had to perform, and higher choir lofts we had to schlep all our stuff up to… not to mention waiting until everyone was gone before we could break down, pack and head home, where another schlep  awaited us. It got VERY old VERY fast.

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The end came after a June wedding at a Catholic church. We’d agreed to provide an hour’s music, collected 50% down of the $150 fee we were charging and then things got more and more bizarre; MANY midnight phone calls amending this song and substituting that song, micromanaging every detail imaginable. It was hotter than Hades on the wedding day as we schlepped all of our equipment to the choir loft where I was to play on the out-of-tune organ as well as my keyboard.


We were there early, before any of the wedding party had arrived, so we got to really “case the joint” – and this was turning out to be a BIG wedding! Outside the church was parked a huge video truck and inside were no less than 7 cameras, each with its own cameraman.

Of course the wedding didn’t start on time, but we were instructed to entertain the guests until things got going. 45 minutes later we got to play Lohengrin, and then there was the lighting of this candle and that candle, the mother-of-the-bride’s special music, the groom’s family’s music, etc. etc. etc.  The mass went on for almost 2 hours and then we FINALLY got to play the recessional, pack up and head home. As we got to our car, we noticed the arrival of a huge stretch limousine with a hot tub in the back!!!

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That was the final straw. We had just sweated and played and sang for almost 3 hours, (not to mention all those midnight phone calls) for a payday of $150 for both of us, and this couple was going to ride away in a hot tub!?

And what was waiting for us at home? More schlepping up 2 flights of stairs!  And two very sweet schnauzer dogs, thank heavens!



5 thoughts on “Music for a Joyous Occasion?

  1. Great descriptions, funny pictures Marilyn, and I can sure relate to the schlepping and what I call, “Oh by the way” last minute midnight calls as in, “Oh by the way… could you play this extra request just like the recording, rehearse with the bride’s niece who will sing it (and she doesn’t know her key or how to sing without the Celine Dion CD), AND have a special tune for candelighting, seating of the grandparents, and a sand pouring ceremony, and, Oh by the way – you will need to set up 3 hours early and park your cars 2 miles away so the valets can accomodate the guests”! But the hot tub for the bride and groom is a new one to me – haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey! It was a JUNE wedding in Chicago – and it’s pretty hot and humid then, Debbie! I’m kinda sorry we didn’t stick around to watch the newlyweds disrobe to get into the hot tub! (not really!!) 🙂 XO – M

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lsrry says:

    We all have our stories. I know you have some great ones I just played a solo gig with a terrible flu virus, but they did let me leave early since no one was listening. They also had a DJ and a casino.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Right! Here! No Regrets. | Celebrations Of Failure

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