One of the most difficult and most important decisions you’ll make for your Jewish wedding is selecting the music for your ceremony.
The soloist or ensemble will serenade the guests while they wait for the processional to begin. And the musicians’ chords will signal the beginning of the ceremony. The musical selection will dictate your walking pace and as well as add to the moment. The music will be preserved on your wedding video. A lot to consider!
So we asked Laura Goldstein, harpist, to share her expert advice on selecting ceremony music and share some of her tips for the bride and groom.
One of the most ancient of instruments, the harp is also one of the most mysterious. The fact that there are so few people who play the harp only adds to its allure. Yet it is a versatile instrument that can create many moods and an ambience of elegance. To have an idea of what the harp can do, think of a piano, but add the sweetness of plucked strings. Also, most people have never seen a harpist play, so by including this instrument in your plans you will be creating an event that everyone will remember.
Recommended Jewish Wedding Ceremony Music:
The harp adds an air of elegance to every event, but is especially suited for a wedding ceremony. The harp produces a sound that is full enough for everyone to hear, yet also creates an ambience of intimacy. Unlike many other instruments, the harp can stand alone and does not require any accompaniment.
View Laura Goldstein as she plays two Jewish melodies, Chorsha haEucaliptus and Frailach, as arranged for harp by Sunita Staneslow.
Laura plays as a soloist for the vast majority of her events. However, the harp also sounds beautiful when paired with another instrument or voice. The most requested ensembles include harp and violin, flute, or voice, but many other combinations are available on request.
Depending upon your location, your musicians may or may not be familiar with the structure of a Jewish wedding or the type of music that is appropriate. But there are some wonderful resources out there. One of Laura’s favorites is Velvel Pasternak’s The Ultimate Jewish Wedding Book. Besides including the music to over a hundred melodies, it also comes with a CD and an informative overview of the wedding ceremony and suggestions for appropriate music. Here are a couple of Laura’s favorites:
For the processionals: Wedding March (a Hassidic-Bobov niggun) p. 39 Lev Tahor p. 44 Erev Shel Shoshanim p.48 Chorshat Ha-ekaliptus p. 57
Recessionals: Od Yishama p. 60
How to Find a Musician:
1. The best way to begin is to search the internet, especially sites like www.mazelmoments.com, for musicians in your area. Listen to the demos on their sites and read their bios. You’ll get a sense for their experience and playing style.
2. The next step is to contact the musician and see if they are available for your date and to ask about their fees.
3. If your event is a wedding, you will want to arrange a consultation to decide upon the ceremonial music. Some musicians will include the fee for a consultation in their price, others will charge an additional amount, and some will not have a personal consultation, but will talk over Skype or by phone or send a CD for you to listen to on your own.
4. Finally, ask for a contract that includes all of the pertinent details. Most musicians will require a deposit to book the event, with the balance due prior to the date.
When talking with the harpist, be sure to ask what type of harp that she plays. There are 2 basic types of harp: the concert grand pedal harp and the lever harp. The concert grand harp is the full size harp that is played with orchestras, while the lever harp is a smaller harp, often known as an Irish or folk harp. Both sound beautiful and all of the standard wedding repertoire can be played on both. Many harpists will only use a lever harp outdoors because they are easier to move and set up.
Pedal harps are also such an investment (they start at about $15,000) that most harpists do not want to subject them to abrupt changes in temperature and the chance of inclement weather.
Outdoor weddings: A garden wedding is a beautiful affair, especially accompanied by the sound of a harp gliding on the breeze.
But outdoor weddings do demand additional planning.
1- Musicians will have special requirements if playing outdoors, such as a tent or other cover to protect their instruments from the sun or sudden rain.
2- Some will charge an additional fee for outdoor weddings, because it always seems that something unexpected happens when playing outside.
For instance, Laura recounts a story. “I was once playing the processionals at a wedding when I felt an insect crawling up my leg. I had to keep my composure, playing without ceasing, although I was dying to jump up and scream. I was so thankful that I was in the back, behind the guests, so that as soon as the bride was in place I could jump up and swat the ants off my leg! I’ve also had to deal with a wasp nest, 90 degree weather, an unexpected cold front, or the time that I couldn’t see the music because the sun had set.”
What not to do: If you make major changes in the plans, don’t forget to tell the musicians. Laura tells of a harpist who showed up at the venue only to find out that it had moved and she hadn’t been informed. There have also been times when small changes were made to a wedding service and she wasn’t told – like the time she was playing a processional for the seating of the grandparents, only to find out that they had decided not to walk down the aisle for a formal seating. Most of these types of experiences are minor and can be covered by the musician so that your guests have no idea anything ever happened. Yet it is still better to keep your musicians informed of any changes you make, no matter how small.
We’d like to thank Laura Goldstein for her great advice and contributions to this article. To contact Laura view Laura Goldstein’s profile