Archive for August, 2007

Mr. Bandleader, Do You Know Any OTHER Tunes?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Nothing sets the mood at a Mardi Gras-themed party like walking into the venue past a band playing Cajun or Dixieland music. And many an event has gotten off to a sensational start by engaging Mariachis, a French accordion player, Hawaiian slack-guitarist, or Bluegrass band.

But, after an hour, most of your guests “get” the theme. Not all of them, however, want to hear that same highly specialized – and in many cases, highly repetitive – music all night long. So, what’s a party planner to do? How can you bring an authentic musical ambience to your night, without later being “stuck” with them? Here are a couple of ways:

1. If your budget permits, hire two groups. Most bands charge you for more than one hour, anyway. So you could start the night with your ethnic or regional ensemble. At the one-hour point you’d switch to a variety band. During the variety band’s break (2 hours into your party), bring back your mood-setting band for one more brief set during the variety group’s intermission. Afterwards, with your theme well-established (but not beaten to death), you can enjoy a wide range of music.

2. Hire a variety band with the ability to play some specialized music. Here in the Dallas area, the Crawfish band (which has 3 native Louisianans among its 5 members) can easily do an hour of Cajun, then switch to Variety for the remainder of the evening. Vicho Vicencio glides effortlessly from all-Latin to almost-endless Variety. And “The N’awlins Gumbo Kings” evoke the Dixieland flavor of the Crescent City, right up to the moment you wish to hear something more generic.

Chances are – if you are reading this entry from someplace other than North Texas – your area has musicians who can perform double-duty as well. Like the players mentioned above, their unique repertoire will get your chosen theme off to a dazzling start. And – unlike the one-style-only players, they can shift as needed to avoid your event suffering from “too much” of what started out as a good thing.

Pranks At The Wedding? NOT FUNNY, Guys!

Monday, August 27th, 2007

A few brides make it all the way through to the Honeymoon with their senses of humor intact. A majority, however, do not – and for reasons that even the most sensitive and caring of guys will never understand.

Men, the father-of-the-bride and the groom included, simply have no concept how much pressure the bride is under by her wedding day. Months of preparation, including (1) when and where the big event will take place; (2) who will be invited (or not); (3) who will be in the wedding party (or not); (4) how to keep food, flowers/decor, and music more or less within budget; and a couple of million other equally important choices directly impacting the success of the party all fall squarely on her shoulders alone.

Needless to say, most Best Men, Groomsmen, and male guests are completely clueless regarding how serious these decisions are to the bride. Consequently, they are totally unprepared when this normally sweet-tempered young lady is less than thrilled by any testosterone and/or alcohol-fueled antics they may cook up to make the nuptials “fun.”

Telling off-color stories about the groom at the rehearsal dinner or sabotaging his wedding wardrobe seems funny – to a group of inebriated males. But afterwards, when the bride isn’t laughing, they never quite realize just how juvenile and inappropriate their behavior has been.

So, let me put it in “guy terms” that they can understand. (Attention all grooms: relate the following to your fraternity brothers, old room-mates, and other would-be comedians. Repeat as needed. And memorize for yourself.)

Dude! You just won a new red Porsche 911 Turbo! It’s the one you always dreamed of, and is everything you ever hoped it would be. But – before you can even drive it – your ex-girlfriend and a bunch of her sorority sisters decide to prank you. With hot glue, feather boas, and a bunch of bumper stickers from some “leather” bars, they trick out your Dream Machine into a Gay Pimp-mobile! Now really, all the things they do can mostly be cleaned up. The permanent damage to your wheels is minimal. But the point is: that was your car, Man, not theirs. It was new and perfect. And they had no right to tamper with something so sacred to you! It wasn’t theirs to mess up – it was yours. I’m talkin’ yours, Dude!

Just like every wedding really belongs to the bride. It is the culmination of her life-long dream. And nobody has a right to disrupt it. Nobody. Ever. Got that, Dude?

Brides: Keep That First Dance Short And Simple!

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

One of the services I offer brides and their families is an evening of dance instruction. Anticipation of the First Dances can be a bit nerve-racking, because – for those few minutes – all eyes are on the Bride and Groom, then Bride and Dad. And, in my occasionally painful experience, there are many Grooms and Dads who aren’t quite ready to lead you in the Spotlight Dance (and will tell you so – loudly.)

Complicating matters further is your wedding gown itself, which – even when its train is “bundled” – is more dress than most young ladies have ever worn for dancing. Sometimes too late, the bride learns that quick moves, fast turns, and rapid changes of direction are nearly impossible while encased in so much fabric. “Wardrobe malfunctions” are another ongoing threat. If the Groom or Dad place their foot on the hem of your gown, then give you a spin, you can dance yourself right out of your skirt. (It’s happened more than once, and gives new meaning to the term blushing bride.)

To prevent seeing your First Dance as husband and wife wind up on “You Tube” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” here’s what I recommend:

1. Rehearse In Something Long. A dress you once wore as a bridesmaid, the full-length slip that goes under your wedding gown, or even your Dad’s bathrobe can help give you an idea of what your range of movement will be. (While you’re at it, have your Groom put on dress shoes for the rehearsals, too. No flip-flops.)

2. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Since you will be the only ones dancing, the easiest thing to do is a slow and regal leftward-turning circle around the entire dance floor. If your chosen song has 4 beats per measure, do your steps (Note to Groom and Dad: small steps) on beats 1 and 3, giving your Bride’s gown beats 2 and 4 to catch up with you. If you have chosen a waltz, move on the downbeat of “1″ only.

3. Keep Your Groom At Arm’s Length. Dancing cheek-to-cheek is fine, when the only thing your partner can step on is your feet. To keep him off your gown, assume the “Open” or “Formal” position. (At my son’s Catholic school dances, we used to refer to this as “leaving room for the Holy Spirit between you.”) You will have the rest of your lives to snuggle – now is not the time.

4. Keep Your Eyes On Each Other. There is no need for either of you to look at your feet. They are still down there – at the end of your legs – just where they have always been. Remember that during the First Dance, photos and/or video will be taken. Gazing dreamily into each others’ eyes makes a much better keepsake photo than a shot of the two of you examining your shoes. (Another Note to Groom and Dad: If you have to count each beat, try not to move your lips.)

With a little rehearsal and some consideration for the bridal wardrobe, the ceremonial dances will soon be over – safely and without a “Janet Jackson Superbowl Moment.” From there on, the rest of the reception is a breeze!

“Please, Mr. Please – DON’T Play B-17!”

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Certain songs have the amazing ability to take us back through the years to a particular time and place. Those of us who survived Disco only have to hear one chorus of anything by KC And The Sunshine Band (“uh-huh, uh-huh!”) or the BeeGees to be transported back to the days of polyester yester-years gone by.

Other memorable melodies, specifically love songs, remind us of a particular romance. Bandleaders like me l-o-v-e it when old ballads are recycled. For instance, I can play “Unchained Melody” and scratch the musical itches of couples who courted in the mid-50s (the Al Hibler original version), the mid-60′s (the Righteous Bros. re-make), and 1990 (Righteous Bros. again – in the film “Ghost.”) For a bazillion newlyweds, this was their first dance as man and wife, and will always be “their” special song.

However, for reasons of death, divorce, or simply distasteful break-ups, some formerly “special” songs no longer conjure up pleasant emotions. Pain replaces the joy once felt.

So – what if playing one otherwise harmless tune takes a guest at your party back to somewhere they would rather not re-visit? What if even hearing it may just about ruin their night? Furthermore, what if you know what song it is and how it will affect them? What should you do? (I think I have now used up my quota of “whats” for this entry.)

The answer to the last question is: alert your bandleader or deejay. Let them know in advance any songs that you absolutely don’t want to hear. (This is infinitely preferable to running up to the bandstand, flapping your arms, after the song has already begun.)

I had the opportunity to play for the second marriage of a dear lady who had been widowed at an early age. She didn’t want anything to mar the happiness of her reception. So – when her new hubby-to-be wasn’t around, she asked that I not – under any circumstances – play “What I Did For Love.” It had been 1st hubby’s favorite. I assured her that I would comply, even if #2 requested it. (He didn’t.)

Of course, even the best-intended plans don’t always work out. A bride who had recently lost her mother told me that playing “I’ll Be Seeing You” might cause her father to fall apart at the reception. So – who do you think requested the afore-mentioned ballad? That’s right – Dad himself asked for it mid-way through the evening. With the bride’s blessing, we started the song. Dad borrowed the lady in the wedding gown from the groom. Soon, father and daughter danced cheek to tear-filled cheek, applauded by an equally teary crowd. Far from falling apart, it actually seemed to be therapeutic for old Dad. The bride and crowd handled it well, too.

In fact, as I recall, only the bandleader lost it!

PLEASE Don’t Over-Decorate The Bandstand!

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Over the years that I’ve provided music for parties, I have arrived to find all of the following (and more) on my bandstand: forests of trees and plants, enough Greek columns to rebuild the Parthenon, glittering cityscape backdrops with real twinkling lights, multi-level platforms for “artistic” placement of the band, 20 chairs (for my 6 band members – all of whom stand, not sit), and more.

While all these items may be beautiful or have been intended as a courtesy, they tend to 1.) reduce the amount of stage space available for the band, 2.) use up electrical connections I need for my sound and lighting equipment, and 3.) cause me to spend an inordinate amount of time un-doing the decorator’s handiwork.

It is not that I am opposed to an attractive stage. But my band – like all others – needs a basic amount of electric power and contiguous space in order to perform at peak efficiency. When the decorator takes the rear 3 feet of a 12X24 stage to hang a backdrop, then places a row of potted plants along the front, our band is left with 2/3 of the space called for in our contract.

Similarly, when decorators plug Christmas lights into every available socket near the bandstand, our band winds up with none of the 6 outlets which are contractually ours. And – while Christmas lights are very pretty – you can’t dance to them.

How can we avoid these headaches for band and client? I suggest 3 ways:

A Bigger Stage. When elaborate staging is desired, you can accomodate both your decorator and your band by increasing the stage size. In this way, the band is not adversely impacted by space-eating decor.

Separate Power. Most venues have the ability to “drop” additional electric power (for a fee.) This ensures that your band still has all the outlets (and amperage) that your contract guaranteed. No brown-outs or blown fuses will mar your party.

A Group Meeting. You, your decorator, and your bandleader can meet together – possibly even at the venue. Let everyone hear the same things at the same time. Take notes, then send both of them a summary of your understanding of who-said-what. In this way, no one can later be unhappily “surprised.”

You have every right to expect your bandleader to uphold the terms of your contract. But – because agreements bind both parties – you have obligations, too. It would be a shame for your party to start late or be adversely impacted because your decorator put you in violation of your contract.

Children At Weddings? Oh, Behave!!

Monday, August 13th, 2007

A couple of recent Dear Abby and Miss Manners advice columns have tackled the touchy subject of whether brides have the right to ban children at their weddings and receptions. I have two comments:

1. Brides can invite or ban anyone they please. It’s their party.

But

2. The problem at weddings usually isn’t kids; it’s their parents.

It is perfectly understandable that a bride and groom would prefer not to have crying, or fidgety, or noisy little ones at their ceremony. And little ones will cry, fidget, or speak in inappropriately loud voices. But it isn’t the wee ones who are at fault when this disrupts the services. Parents of small children should be ready to remove their diminuitive distractions at a moment’s notice. Those who have failed in their obligation to do so in the past are the real reason this topic has even come up.

At receptions, it is – again – the parents who neglect to supervise their children that create problems. Little ones should never be racing or sliding across the dance floor, bumping into elderly guests, or going out into the halls unattended. But don’t blame kids for acting their age. It is their – supposedly – adult parents who have flunked Parenting 101, where they should have learned that your children should never be my problem, unless and until I volunteer to make them so.

It is a time-honored truth that parents cannot teach their children what they do not themselves know. Nowhere does this apply more than in the case of behavior in public. You simply cannot expect kids to have good manners – when their parents don’t. So my advice to brides who are considering whether or not to allow children would be: if you only invite parent-guests whom you can count on to act like grown-ups, the kid issues will take care of themselves.

For Parties, One Size Does NOT Fit All

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Even when I was growing up in the thriving metropolis of Gainesville, TX (pop. 13,083), party planners had choices: for venues – the VFW, KC hall, or Community Center. For bands – a Swing septet, a Country foursome, and 2 or 3 Garage-Rock ensembles (including my own).

Here in the Big City, such options multiply exponentially. So there is no excuse for having the wrong venue or music at an event. Somehow, though, it still happens with regularity. With foresight, it won’t happen to you. But please, read on.

Venues. The 2 main questions you need to answer before selecting your venue are: what is going to happen? and who’s coming? With regard to the first question, an event where speeches are expected (a testimonial dinner, for instance) requires a room with good acoustics (not a gym, train station, or museum), while a wedding reception demands a hall large enough to accomodate every guest at the same time (because they all want to see the First Dance, Cutting Of The Cake, etc.) But a location which fits this first criterion can still be unsuitable for who’s coming. If a significant number of your guests are older, getting in and out of the venue easily is essential. Should many of your invitees be from out-of-town, the site should be handy for them (either because of bus service you provide, or by using your host hotel as the venue.)

Music. When the guest list has a limited demographic (like a class reunion), the band or deejay’s job is fairly simple. But at corporate events (like conventions or the company Christmas party) and weddings, multiple generations of very different guests should – at the very least – not hate the music. Tempo, selection, and – especially – volume are critical components in their enjoyment. Any band or deejay who ignores even one of these ingredients guarantees that you will have unhappy guests. And, since you cared enough about them to invite them in the first place, don’t you want all of them to have a good time?

So, no matter how charming a venue or band might seem to you personally, if they don’t fit your purpose or your invitation list, they are wrong for your party. And ultimately, keeping your guests’ comfort and enjoyment paramount in your planning is your best guarantee of a successful event.

And Sometimes, EVERYTHING Goes Right! (Why?)

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Once in a great while, a party clicks from start to finish. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, so when it does, I find it instructive to look at the individual elements of the event to see if we can learn why this particular evening was such a success.

Saturday night, my band played at a 75th birthday party. As at many such gatherings, the guest list included family, business associates, and old friends. This particular honoree happens to be a James Bond fan, so his wife and daughters decorated each table with photos and memorabilia based around the titles of various 007 films. A lot of thought went into making each table unique. All night long, guests table-hopped to see the story of an interesting life told chapter by chapter, table by table.

Just before the doors opened to the ballroom, the grandchildren were reminded that this was “Pop-Pop’s” night – not theirs. The warning was heeded – they remained well-behaved throughout.

As soon as the guests were seated, one of Pop-Pop’s beautiful and talented granddaughters sang an emotion-charged rendition of “America The Beautfiul.” A prayer followed. 5 minutes into the night, the tone was already set for an evening of fun, but also one which reflected the honoree’s values of God, Country, and Family.

After dinner, the lights dimmed, and a very respectable copy of Sean Connery (complete with Scottish burr) entered to pay tribute to Pop-Pop. Toasts from the crowd followed, but they were divided in such a way as to reduce repetition. One of the five children spoke for all, as did the oldest grandchild for his generation. A business associate and a life-long friend rounded out the speakers.

Then it was the Pop-Pop’s turn. He was genuinely moved by the outpouring of affection. But he put it all in perspective by telling us that every word which had just been said about him, he would say about his own older brother and mentor, seated nearby. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, my own included.

Swing dancing, the honoree’s favorite, followed. Whatever their own musical tastes, the grandkids kept their requests to themselves. It was Pop-Pop’s night, indeed.

James Bond may get the girls and gadgets, but I doubt if Pop-Pop feels even a twinge of jealousy. He has something far greater – family and friends who love him enough to make his special night one that all of us will remember with affection. And one which any of us who are planning a similar event would do well to emulate.

Something Old, Something New… And Something Unique

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Most brides want to personalize their weddings so that they are not carbon copies of every other nuptial event. Some are more successful at this than others. But I can’t recall one with more distinctive touches than I saw this past Saturday night.

To begin with, beside the traditional bridal portrait at the registration table was an honest-to-God oil painting of the bride, given as a wedding gift. It captured not only the image of its subject, but also her spirit and personality. As such, it made for a dramatic and memorable entrance to the reception.

The bride and groom’s entry and first dance were traditional, but – an hour later – the bride disappeared for a few minutes to set up the next surprise. Soon, she appeared at the top of a grand stairway. Escorted down the steps by her father for the “Daddy Dance,” she now wore her own mother’s wedding gown. The following song was a sentimental Golden Oldie the groom’s mother had sung to him as a lullaby. Only this time, as the groom danced with his Mom (who was still singing the words to him) nobody napped.

Even the departure varied from the norm. I’ve seen rice, rose petals, and bubbles used to shower the bride and groom as they leave. But this time, each guest was handed a 3-foot-long wand, at the end of which was a little wedding bell and a streamer. Standing in two lines, the guests formed a musically-ringing archway through which the bridal couple stepped out into their new life together. It was emotional, exceptional, and terrific!

Now – not every couple has a talented painter for a friend. Nor can every bride fit into her mom’s wedding gown (if Mom even had such a dress.) Sentimental songs from childhood might or might not be appropriate. But it wasn’t these elements in themselves that made them so special at the reception. It was the imagination that went into each facet of the evening. I wouldn’t have noticed the stairway, but this bride had – and saw a perfect way to incorporate it into the night. What separated this reception from so many others was the spark of creative energy that visualized how – and when – to depart from the ordinary.

I no longer even pretend to remember every single wedding I’ve attended. But this one will retain a treasured place in my heart for decades to come.