Here comes the bride…and a gig…

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 On the one hand, I view the traditional American wedding ceremony as an outdated patriarchal ritual, a throwback to a time when women were treated as property (white dress = purity, Dad passes bride off like a relay baton to her next lord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.


9 thoughts on “Here comes the bride…and a gig…

  1. you could have given us a little more cynicism, hil. all icing and no black jelly beans. where’s the bitter? i have to go wash my mouth out with bourbon. blech.

    …but then again, i’m a sentimental sap, too.

    • I was worried this post was getting a little too cynical…believe me, my cynicism is just as real as my sentimentality. “Ambivalent” best describes my feelings towards weddings…no ambivalence toward marriage, but definitely toward weddings. I will never understand why a fully adult, educated, otherwise independent woman is so eager to put on a white Glinda-the-good-witch gown and change her name. I mean, how retro-patriarchal can we get?! Hm. Is that cynical enough? (-:

      • some insight? i was actually eager to shed my dad’s name..i never felt like i owned it. and by the time i got married, my dad was no longer a part of my life, so i practically ran to the social security office to get rid of it. oh yeah – i also got hitched in Vegas…. 10 years and counting ago 🙂

  2. I have been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and think you are the best blogger ever. Consider me a fan. As soon as I get done with doing a convention in Chicago and a vacation in Bali, I am going to top it off with night out to hear you sing.
    If you are at all worried about being cynical, stay away from Bar Mitzahs on Long Island – really – Lascate ogni speranza voi che entrate –
    I am a little embarrassed to admit that I like that song but whatsername does eveything possible to bring out the sappy side of it which is already there. . It could use a little of your cynicism to balance it out.

    • Hey, thanks for the compliment! I totally agree, the song is schlocky in a major way…but the lyrics are actually pretty powerful. I’m a sucker for a good power ballad. Thanks so much for reading!

  3. Loved this one Hil…especially the “thoughts on Grandma’s thoughts”. I read that and was reminded again how I so connect with you…as I have so many times done just what you described…observe the observers. Haven’t kept up with your blogs as I’d like..but am going to be home on vacation next week and plan to read them all.

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