The topic of the value of background music has been addressed by me in this forum before and I witnessed a prime example of its power at a recent wedding. There was an outdoor wedding ceremony on the second Saturday in January and that should not sound abnormal for people from Arizona but we experienced record-breaking cold temperatures that week. Nights were in the 20s and days were barely reaching into the 50s. Trees froze, pipes burst, one car skidded through a patch of ice on the street near a prominent auto dealership in downtown Phoenix and totalled a Camaro and a Corvette on the lot. They don't really sell "Winter" coats in Arizona. The cold wasn't much by Toronto or Minneapolis standards, but it's something we are not acclimated to or prepared for around here. One young bridesmaid stood at attention and was shivering so severely in her tiny spring dress that I though she might collapse- at least the goose pimples on her arms and legs might have poked somebody's eye out. I hope it didn't ruin any pictures, but I gave her my jacket for the 15 minutes of the ceremony because I was standing nearby on sound duty. I walked up behind her and took it back just as the minister was introducing the new Mr. and Mrs. I was cold too, but at least I had long sleeves and long pants... I was glad to get the jacket back too.
I'm not much for New Year's resolutions but it's kind of a natural time to consider your lives when the people of the world mark the passing of years together. Does what I do really matter? Am I contributing something to society? Am I just paying the bills? Am I doing this because it's the only thing I know?
Generally, I live life on the importance theory. If the wedding or other event is not important enough to them- such that they will not act poorly during it- it can't be MORE important to me. That philosophy is tempered however by the fact that my next couple of customers are in that room and I have to act well from a marketing standpoint, contractual standpoint, from an ethical and moral standpoint and, well, that's what decent people do, they act well in spite of other people not acting well.
I had a bride a couple of years ago that I thought was a real sweetheart. She had been widowed some years before and this was her 2nd marriage and I was really looking forward to her wedding. In the 2 or 3 times that we met to work on details, I started having some doubts. She wasn't belligerent or anything, but I started to think she may have had a drinking problem or was even using drugs or something. She was really uneven and loopy and even did a couple of embarrassing things that made me uncomfortable. It was way too late to send her packing at this point so I pressed on. In the days leading up to the event, while working on final details, and I mean the little behind-the-scenes details, I learned about several tragedies that had happened in her family and in the extended family in addition to the tragedy that had taken her 1st husband. This was a family that had suffered a lot in the last 3 years. There were accidents, a suicide, disease, loss of employment and there was the blame and guilt and other feelings that go with such things. This family NEEDED a happy occasion and this wedding was it. (She was taking some prescribed drugs under the care of a doctor and they were having a hard time finding the right dosage at the time.)
So how do I help them celebrate this wedding without disrespecting all of the hurt? I remember when Saturday Night Live went back on the air a few weeks after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks. They began the show by honoring those who lost their lives and the brave fire fighters and policemen and then producer Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?" Mayor Giuliani said with a straight face, "Why start now?" and the audience cheered wildly. There's a technique that I learned from an actress that I knew in LA many years ago. She said you don't 'act' drinking a glass of water, you just drink the glass of water. You don't 'act' walking across a room, you just walk across the room. You don't 'act' speaking to your friend, you just speak. You speak the moment. That concept of speaking the moment has really served me well. The concept came up similarly in a Master of Ceremonies seminar I participated in once.
Could a hobbyist or other beginner DJ have done it? Maybe. I look back at where I was 25 or 30 years ago, playing at drunken backyard parties and weddings at the crummy decrepit no-name fraternity hall or wherever and I say no! I didn't have the expertise to do it. There would have been ended up being lots of tears and there might have been some little accusations and arguments in the lobby and everybody would have left shortly after dinner- frustrated and sad- from a wedding that should have been a happy occasion!
When I play piano at a restaurant or bistro or something, the opening notes of any given song may be met with absolute jubilation. People can be instantly moved to tears by a few notes of a loved song. They are tears of joy, of course. It's a song that has deep meaning to them. The lyrics of that song got them through a tough time in their life and they celebrate where they are now relative to where they were then. A restaurant experience isn't the same structured occasion that a wedding or corporate event is, but they came there to feel better about something. It may be on an entirely subconscious level but when they leave they feel better and I contend that it was the music. There are spiritual, mathematical, ethereal components of music that help us rearrange the hurt somehow. It files the hurt further back in our minds somewhere and we either pull some more pleasant memories to the forefront or move the hurt to the back and replace it with the memories of this night instead. Theres a song by Lawrence Gowan about letting go of the past and making way for the good: "Every time I lent a hand, the angels sang some Dixieland. With every hug and every kiss, another hurt dropped off the list."
I'm no fan of politicians but after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, several members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and spontaneously sang "God Bless America" Why music and not some other expression? Was music was perhaps even more universally acceptable than prayer in that situation?
There's a world-class museum in Scottsdale AZ called the Musical Instrument Museum and I've spent about 5 afternoons there in the year that they've been open and I still don't feel like I've seen it all. There are historic musical instruments from all over the world and from every ethnicity and nationality. One thread that I've been able to discern in my visits is that even in the face of complete oppression or poverty, the people find some way to make music. They'll use tin cans, sticks, dried vegetables, animal bones, animal skins or whatever they can find. The most interesting instruments and musical styles that I've seen there have come from or been born in poverty or because of some tyrant dictator telling a people that they can't have music. It finds a way!
There are a couple of brilliant bakers in this town that make beautiful and delicious wedding cakes, but they dont' "fill" the room. I've seen genius event designers bring incredibly colorful and interesting event decor that doesn't "fill" a room. I've seen guests eat a celebration feast prepared and served by the best chefs in the West- and those plates didnt' "fill" the room. Music always fills the room. All of the elements come together to make a lovely event and it's the music that ties it all together. Those cold wedding guests, whispering like they were in an elevator, didn't start celebrating that wedding until music allowed or instructed them to do so.