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Music Scene | True confessions of a wedding singer

Music Scene | True confessions of a wedding singer

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Most everyone has been to at least a few wedding receptions.

For me, as a bona fide "wedding singer," I've been to 200-300 of these affairs and have seen it all.

Would you care to hear a few true tales from the trenches?

I'm from the suburbs of Chicago. For 12 years, I was the singer-guitarist and sound engineer for one of the most popular tuxedo wedding bands in the Windy City that played 20-25 weddings per year.

As a member of The Jeff Sandler Orchestra, I sang the "first dance" song, the "father-daughter dance," Motown hit medleys, Polish polkas, traditional Jewish Hora medleys, 1970s Disco tunes and a dozen more genres of music.

(I change hits to tunes because you say “hits” in for the Motown medley hits)

If you've ever laughed seeing a video of someone falling down on the dance floor, it's even funnier when you're there in person. I've witnessed dozens of these unfortunate, often embarrassing moments.

Sometimes it occurs when a wedding guest is over-served at the reception. Note that I did not use the word "drunk." However, as most adults know, alcohol has the tendency to release inhibitions.

I've seen wild receptions where the inhibitions of nearly everyone in the room were nonexistent. It's occasions like that where memorable wedding receptions happen because all the guests simply are joyous and in a great mood celebrating the union of the happy couple. But having a good time is not always dependent on alcohol.

Case in point was the wedding of my sister, Suzanne. Out of all the receptions I've ever attended or been hired to play music, hers was one where everyone in the room simply was bent on having a great time.

It was a Jewish wedding, which includes a traditional group dance where both the bride and the groom sit in chairs and are hoisted overhead by the men.

But, as you can guess, that maneuver can sometimes lead to disaster. I've seen a bride or a groom tumble to the floor when the person supporting one of the chair legs fails to uphold his end of the bargain.

"We played a wedding reception back in the 1970s where the beer was free but there was a charge for mixed drinks," Sandler recalled. "The guests were drinking so much beer that they ran out of room for kegs behind the bar and had to place them on the back edge of the stage. The entire evening, there was a line of men in leisure suits bumping into the musicians and spilling cups of beer all over the drums and amplifiers."

Whether or not a guest is drunk, it's half-funny and half-unfortunate when someone falls into the band, so to speak. This only happens when the musicians are performing at floor level and close to the dance floor. I've seen middle-aged ladies, as well as couples, not paying attention to where they were dancing or polka-ing. They then waltz right into the floor monitor speaker and fall backwards into the band area. I can remember predicting when an overjoyous dancer was about to tumble into the band and then catching the person to help avoid serious injury.

Humorous moments invariably arise at nearly every wedding reception when there's a guest in the crowd who fancies himself (or herself) a musician or a singer. When it's the latter, the person usually is a karaoke singer who figures his or her talent extends to when singing with a live band.

But it doesn't work that way.

A guest might interrupt the band leader, or deejay as the case may be, and ask to sing a song. Unfortunately, the momentum on the dance floor screeches to a halt as the musicians try to find sheet music or remember the chord changes to a semi-obscure song while at the same time determining what musical key the singer wishes to use.

That's why an experienced band leader will never allow such a disaster to happen in the first place.

But sometimes such moments are well-planned in advance. For one wedding reception, the groom surprised everyone in the room — including me, the band guitarist — by strapping on an acoustic guitar and then playing and singing a tender love ballad to his bride. This, of course, had been pre-arranged with my band leader, unbeknownst to me.

Just as when a band performs at a dive bar, I've played wedding receptions where, in the middle of a song, the electrical power to the stage suddenly goes dead. It took that happening a few times for me to instantly realize what happened, jump into action and search for the circuit breaker box or the stage power strip that tripped a fuse.

There also has been the hassle of moving band equipment from the location of the outdoor wedding ceremony to inside the reception ballroom.

"This is called a 'room turnover,'" Sandler explained. "We'd have violins, flute and piano at the ceremony, and other musicians waiting in the wings when it was their turn to play for cocktail hour. We were trying to set up the equipment inside the ballroom when a very nervous party planner opened the doors a half hour too early, allowing 250 people to stream into the room while the sound crew and musicians were frantically setting up equipment wearing shorts and tennis shoes."

As you can imagine, bad weather can drastically affect wedding activities that are held outdoors.

"It was a wedding in Elkhart Lake, (Wisconsin) where the cocktail hour and reception was to be held on a little stage right on the edge of the lake," Sandler said. "There was no road or even a path down to the lake and it took several trips with a small golf card to bring all the gear down a muddy hill to the stage. Following at least a three-hour setup, the skies quickly turned black and a light rain came down. We had to pack up and cart everything back up the hill to the clubhouse, where we somehow started playing on time. I never even had the time to change into my tux."

I can remember more than a few summer wedding receptions that took place in ballrooms where the air conditioning did not work.

But there I was, the wedding singer, dressed in a full tuxedo, singing at full voice while sweating bullets.

True tales from the trenches!

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