“Is it a wistful melancholy?”
That was my music history teacher’s go-to line whenever he asked his students to describe the mood of a particular piece of music.
Musical training involves learning to discern nuanced emotional expression. As a former piano major, I learned that a musician must have a good ear in order to prepare for a successful performance.
Weddings are one of my favorite venues to use my piano skills. You have to be willing to spend hours and hours for weeks on end practicing alone, but it pays off with a happy, thankful bride and groom.
One of the pieces I performed at a wedding ceremony last year was the second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine. It is a piece I learned when I was studying music in college, and as a student, I had even written the words “wedding bell” underneath one of the notes to indicate the rich, joyful sound that I thought the music ought to communicate.
My personal experience as a wedding pianist has helped me understand why people enlist creative professionals for weddings: We naturally look for people who have a relevant artistic skill to express the kind of beauty that fits the meaning and significance of the ceremony.
Traditional wedding music, for instance, is designed to express festive, joyous beauty. Listen to common wedding themes like J.S. Bach’s transcendent Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring or the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Pianists have spent countless hours working to carefully express the spiritual, prayerful memorial to lasting love that sings through these timeless works. They have listened to recordings of master pianists, they have sung the melody to themselves hundreds of times, and they have played the same difficult passage over and over again.
Musicians channel those hours of practice toward making sure their music celebrates the bride and groom. They labor to evoke the proper emotional sensitivity for the public commitment of the two complementary halves of humanity coming together in marriage.
And musicians aren’t the only ones who labor to make the marriage ceremony a celebratory event.
- Ask Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka of Brush and Nib about how they choose the written messages and color schemes for their custom wedding invitations.
- Ask Jack Phillips about the sketches he draws to guide his initial designs for his custom wedding cakes. Ask him about the ceremonial significance of each wedding cake he crafts, or the range of themes he has been asked to create.
- Ask filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen about interviewing couples, filming their special day, using the proper lighting, vantage points, acoustics, and musical score, and then editing it all to produce a captivating film about their clients’ wedding.
Most people lack the developed ear of a trained musician or the eye of a calligrapher. But we all have moments in our lives when we need to enlist an expert who knows a thing or two about art and beauty. And the courts should respect those vocations by protecting them from government punishment when they decline to pick up their brush or their video camera for an event that violates their conscience. The First Amendment gives them that freedom.