One of the most uplifting, and yet sometimes subconscious, first impressions a guest has of a wedding ceremony is conveyed via the music they're greeted with. The atmosphere live music creates at a wedding can be emotional, calming and magical.
Enter Amicus Strings; a professional string quartet founded in 1996 by Carolyn Lam. I've worked with the girls at several wedding ceremonies over the years and have admired their professionalism and polished performances.
Carolyn and I got the chance to sit down for a chat last week about what sets Amicus Strings apart from other quartets and how couples CAN afford live music no matter what their wedding budget.
Carolyn, how long have you and the other ladies in Amicus Strings been playing music for?
"We've been playing our respective instruments for well over 30 years, some of us for 35 years. And in 2016, Amicus celebrates a big milestone - it's our 20th birthday!"
So over the last 20 years, have you noticed any (good or bad) emerging trends?
"Musically speaking, we're noticing a growing number of requests for modern songs. I am quite busy with creating new arrangements for popular music.
There has been an increase in the number of photographers and videographers being hired. We've seen up to 4 photographers, 3 videographers and a drone at one wedding! Sometimes it seems as if the importance of recording the wedding almost overtakes the experience of the wedding itself.
We also think that nowadays, certainly more than 5-6 years ago, people are really watching their budget. We feel that the bridal industry must adapt to ensure that their products and services are more relevant than ever, without cheapening them. Amicus Strings strive to deliver the same level of professional service while being flexible to our client's needs - whether that be as a duo, trio or quartet. There's always a way to incorporate live music in the budget."
What is the most popular processional (walking down the aisle) song at the moment?
"Kanon, Kanon and more Kanon [in D]! But let's face it, it's a beautiful piece of music and perfectly composed for the entry of a bride."
Carolyn, perhaps you can explain a little about what makes it such a perfect and timeless piece for a processional?
"Sure! So firstly it may help to understand what a canon is. A canon is a piece of music in which two or more voices (or instrumental parts) play the same melody, just starting at different times.
So with Pachelbel's Kanon, the first violin starts the melody followed by the 2nd violin, followed by the viola and we are playing exactly the same thing, one after the other in tandem. This means we can stop at the end of any repetition or cycle and the piece sounds like it was meant to end there."
When should a couple be looking to book a string quartet?
"Top wedding suppliers are always booked early and string quartets are no different. The Adelaide wedding industry works about 12-15 months in advance, so my advice would be to book us early!"
What should couples be looking for in a great string quartet? i.e. how can they tell if you are any good?
"I can't stress enough that booking an experienced and professional string quartet will make all the difference. Amicus Strings prides itself on being a top professional group with an excellent reputation. We have played nearly 2000 weddings and functions since we formed!
This means that we are used to adapting to any situation on the day. For example, there was one wedding I remember, when the first bridesmaid started walking in and a microphone that was nearby starting buzzing extremely loudly. One of our musicians immediately stopped playing and turned the unattended microphone off so the entire processional wasn't affected by the awful feedback noise. There is simply no substitute for experience and we've seen just about everything!"
"Musically speaking, a great string quartet has an excellent and experienced leader with the other three players being solid, stable and flexible. Reading a ensemble's recent testimonials is also a good indicator of past performance.
And although it is important to consider how a quartet sounds, customer relations is also equally important. How are they when it comes to communicating with couples? It is a versatile group, are they polite to deal with, are they willing to work with the client to deliver on their expectations?
Having said that, a good string quartet will not promise something they can't deliver. Instead, they will diplomatically guide the wedding couple towards a lovely result that is still realistically achievable. There are some things that string quartets can do, and some that they can't (we aren't a rock band).
Finally, listen to the sound samples or demo CD of the group."
If you could dispel the most common misunderstanding about your profession, what would it be?
"That it's just a hobby for us, when in fact, it is our profession. It might look easy or sound great, but it takes many, many years of dedication.
It takes years of formal training, hours of practice a day, and tens of thousands of dollars for our degrees, teachers, accompanists etc. Not to mention how much our instruments and bows cost. Everyone in the quartet has worked extremely hard to reach the level they are at and this (of course) is reflected in the price. A professional quartet is naturally going to cost more than a student group."
If you could help educate your couples about wedding music, what would you want them to know?
"That with the entrance, it doesn’t matter how long the bridal party take to get down the aisle because the quartet will keep playing until you reach the celebrant, stop walking and take a deep breath. It’s a big moment in your life with all eyes on you, every camera snapping away and we really want you to soak up that moment rather than worrying about the speed you should be walking. You can run down, or crawl down the aisle, but it won’t matter because it's the quartet’s job to look after you.
I'd also love for couples to understand that, once they have chosen their music, they can trust in our experience and expertise to deliver the best possible result for them on the day."
What’s your best (music related) advice for brides and grooms-to-be?
"Listen to lots music samples to help you make good and appropriate music choices. Think carefully about the style of wedding you are having, and match your music accordingly.
If you are having a grand, vintage and classic-styled wedding in a historic venue, then U2 and Coldplay may not be the best fit. On the other hand, if your wedding is funky, contemporary and loud, then Bach and Mozart wouldn't be your first choice.
At Amicus Strings, we set the scene, mood and atmosphere for weddings by playing as your guests arrive for the ceremony or pre-dinner drinks. Let us, as experienced music professionals, help you to achieve a special and unforgettable celebration."