Weddings. As a musician, I’ve been a fly on the wall at more weddings than I can count. On the one hand, I view the traditional American wedding ceremony as an outdated patriarchal ritual, a throwback to a time when women were treated as property (white dress = purity, Dad passes bride off like a relay baton to her next lord and master, signified by a name change, etc.). On the other hand, weddings pay really well.
Size and scale notwithstanding, most weddings contain the same key components: the Taco Bell (Pachelbel) Canon for the processional, the single bridesmaid who makes a big show of dancing with the little kids at the reception, and the rambling, awkward “you-had-to-be-there” story from the Best Man’s toast. (I’m not writing about your wedding, of course. Your wedding was unique and special and all the speeches were funny and original. Seriously.)
And the song requests! The songs that people request for their weddings provide my cynicism a feast upon which to feed. I mean, has anyone really listened to the words to “Wind Beneath My Wings?” The song basically says, “Wow, it must have sucked being my faceless supporter while I lived it up and got all the attention. But hey, thanks for everything.” How is that a wedding song? And “At Last,” which I will admit is pretty fun to belt out, is such a wedding cliche that Christina Aguilera sang it at her own wedding. She was her own wedding singer, which gives me great joy to ponder.
Okay, but here’s the real truth: I cower behind my cynicism when it comes to weddings. At weddings, I am a dewy-eyed sap. Even when I am just a hired gun, a “chick singer” making announcements about the buffet and the cake-cutting, I always get a little choked up at some point.
Sometimes my eyes well up when the Best Man is toasting the groom with rambling college reminiscences, bravado-laced double entendres, or (God help me) a poem. Yes, the Best Man’s toast is unfailingly awkward, but it’s also unfailingly sincere. He’s doing his very best to tell everyone how great his friend is, and it’s his earnestness, not his speech, that touches my heart.
Sometimes I get misty watching the single bridesmaid dance with the 4-year-old ring bearer. Remembering my own childhood of (relatively) unsupervised revelry at “grown-up” events, I know the kid is psyched to be dancing with the pretty lady. And I admire the bridesmaid, who, date or no date, has put on her dancing shoes and decided to have a great time.
I am always curious about the grandmother sitting quietly at a table, a lavender corsage pinned to her dress. While she watches the wedding guests dance, I watch her. I wonder what–or who–she’s remembering. I wonder if it’s bittersweet for her to watch her grandchild get married, or if she’s just wishing we wouldn’t play so loudly.
And, although I’ve tried to steel myself against the sentimentality of wedding songs, there have been a few that just kill me. A couple asked me to sing LeeAnn Womack’s version of “I Hope You Dance” at their wedding a few years ago. Halfway through the tune, I realized I had a lump in my throat. “I Hope You Dance” is a lot like every wedding I’ve ever attended: sentimental and schmaltzy, but also life affirming, poignant, and hopeful.
As long as there are weddings, there will be wedding singers. And as long as I’m a singer, I’ll be singing the occasional wedding. And that’s just fine by me.