We are sometimes asked whether we can accompany a singer at a wedding. The short answer is, ‘Yes’. And under the right circumstances, it can be very beautiful. But the true answer is longer and more complicated. Before you make the decision to incorporate a singer, or to ask the quartet to accompany them, please consider the following.
1. Singing in public is hard, even for professionals.
People are often surprised when a professional singer bungles the National Anthem. I am not. Singing in public is scary and difficult. You are the sole focus of attention of the entire audience. At a wedding, you are in front of family, friends, and strangers. You know you are being videotaped and recorded. The hall, and your voice in the hall, may sound nothing like what you are used to. Singing well is all about control – breath control, voice control, pitch control – and control is exactly what nerves take away. Your friend/sister/co-worker who “has a really nice voice” and “sings karaoke all the time” may find themselves utterly overwhelmed in the actual moment. Their otherwise lovely voice may disintegrate. This is uncomfortable for the audience and humiliating for the performer.
2. Singing with an instrumental ensemble is nothing like singing with a pianist, a karaoke track, or the radio.
Compared to a piano (or organ, or guitar): A pianist can adjust to the singer, including their mistakes. An ensemble cannot. So, if the singer comes in early, there’s nothing we can do. If they come in late, there’s nothing we can do. If they skip a section, there’s nothing we can do. There is absolutely no way for me to figure out what the singer has done, communicate it to three other people who are also playing, and then get everything back together. A pianist can, with minimal interruption, make corrections.
Compared to karaoke/radio: Our accompaniment will sound nothing like what the singer is used to, unless they are singing with string quartet karaoke. We will not have the mass, the volume, the instrumentation, or the harmony vocals. This alone can be enough to throw even an experienced singer. I know, because I’ve witnessed it.
3. Singing with an instrumental ensemble will require rehearsal time, which may increase cost.
There is no way around this. Even a professional singer wants to do a couple of takes with the group. Practically speaking, this will need to be on the day of the ceremony, well before guests arrive, so we will need an earlier arrival, and unhindered access to the space (I’m looking at you, wedding photographer…). If your singer is also a member of the wedding party, they may be involved in photographs and other pre-wedding preparations. This can complicate rehearsal, and may require additional booking time.
4. Singing with an instrumental ensemble may require music arranging, which will increase cost.
The quartet cannot play from a piano part. The music must be specifically set for strings. If the music is not already within our repertoire, this will require an arranging fee. Even if the music is within our repertoire, the singer may require a different key (i.e., a higher or lower version), which may also mean a new arrangement. We must know this well in advance, and the result is fixed. We cannot adjust if the singer decides they want the song higher or lower on the day of the wedding.
5. If you still want to use a singer, please consider these options.
1) Hire a professional wedding singer — There are professional singers who make a side career out of regularly performing The Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria , etc. at weddings. They are used to singing specific repertoire in the wedding environment, and working with a variety of accompaniments.
2) Use a single accompanist or pre-recorded backing track — If you are not using a professional wedding singer, you should consider having the singer accompanied by a pianist/organist/guitarist or a karaoke-style backing track. The advantage of the backing track is that the singer can practice with it as much as they want, and it will be exactly what they are used to. This will help them to be more comfortable and confident in the moment of performance.
3) Use the quartet — We will be happy to play, of course, provided that ample time can be allotted for rehearsal. In the event of an new arrangement, I can also provide an mp3 for the singer to use as a practice backing-track, to help make the transition to live string backing as comfortable as possible.