Elegant Wedding: Music: Laying Tracks

LET’S FACE IT: AFTER YOUR WEDDING, people are going to remember three things: how pretty you looked, how good the food (and drink!) was, and whether they had a fantastic time rocking out on the dance floor.

Music makes moments more memorable by adding emotion and texture. And it’s with music in mind that you should plan your wedding reception, as carefully as you’d pick your gown or cake. So how do you plan your wedding-
day playlist? It’s not as easy as making one on your iPod, perhaps. But we asked the experts — four of Philly’s most experienced and talented proprietors of sound — so you can create a playlist that will have your guests humming for years to come.

Meet the Music Makers

Before you can start picking out songs, you’ll need to decide who will be performing them. If you’ve got a formal reception in the works and want to dazzle your guests with the romance and elegance of live music, the
classic sound of a big band may be the way to go. “A band really reacts to the crowd and brings a whole live element to the event,” says Carmen Tomassetti, CEO of CTO World Entertainment Productions in Manayunk. Or, if you’ve pictured the dance floor filled with your friends and relatives getting their groove on to the dance-inducing sounds of your favorite hits, you probably should go with a DJ.

Once you’ve chosen your music makers, make sure you meet ahead of time to discuss the proper tone for the party. Bring a list of the songs you know everyone will love — and of the songs that need to be on the “Do Not Play” list (see “Save It for Saturday Night on page 75”). Ask them questions the same way you would talk to a florist or baker — these musicians are, after all, skilled professionals. “It takes years of training to become a bandleader — we actually have classes one needs to take,” says Pete Spina, a bandleader at City Rhythm Orchestra in Willow Grove. So pay attention to their opinions and suggestions. This is their job, and they do it well.

Music for Big Moments

YOU DON’T HAVE TO PLAN OUT EVERY SINGLE SONG. The bandleader or DJ will choose lots of the tunes based on the crowd and the environment. “A good bandleader watches everything all the time, so they really capture the moment,” says Eddie Bruce, a bandleader and owner of EBE/Eddie Bruce Entertainment in Philadelphia. But for those special moments, the important dances and bridal-party entrances when a special song is called for, you and your groom will have some decision-making to do. Your DJ or bandleader will help with suggestions. “You should always have a
dialogue with the bandleader,” says Bruce, but in the end, you should choose a song that has always moved you, or that means something to your family and friends.

Bridal Party Entrance

THIS IS A MOMENT WHERE YOU GET TO PLAY DJ. For the entrance of your and your new hubby’s best buds, “It’s best to go with a pop ballad, something nostalgic,” says Spina.

“It gives you a chance to show your friends how much you value them,” says Steve Croce, general manager of Silver Sound in Frazer. Go with something that reminds you and your girls of
Saturday nights in college or that song in high school you used to lip-synch to at slumber parties. Popular examples are “From This Moment” by Shania Twain, “Friends” by Elton John — and the entire Billy Joel catalogue.

The Couple’s Entrance

ALL THE PROFESSIONALS WE SPOKE TO AGREE THAT you shouldn’t get too caught up with you and your honey’s arrival song. “Some couples become too concerned with their entrance,” says Bruce. “The truth is, it only lasts 20 seconds.”

“Pick something with a hook that’s immediately identifiable, like U2’s ‘Beautiful Day,’” says Spina. And make sure it’s something upbeat that the crowd can clap to, like the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started” or a thumping instrumental.

Now, for a wedding in Philly, you may feel the urge, but whatever you do, don’t request the theme from Rocky for your entrance. “It’s cliche,” says Croce. And for your wedding day, you want to be anything but.

Your First Dance

ANOTHER SONG THAT IS STRICTLY A DECISION FOR YOU and your groom is the First Dance. You’ve probably been thinking about this moment — the first time you’ll dance together as husband and wife — since you were a little girl in pigtails. Maybe it’s the song you heard when you first kissed, or a song that was playing the night he proposed, but it’s your moment, and ultimately, the most remembered song of the party.

For a little twist, bandleaders and DJs assure us that this moment doesn’t literally have to be the first dance of the entire evening: “I like to end the night with the bride and groom’s song,” says Croce. “It puts a good bookend on the evening.” So choose wisely. Especially since you’ll be popping champagne corks to it for anniversaries to come.

Father-Daughter Dance

WHAT SONG IS BEST FOR YOUR DANCE WITH YOUR DAD? “It really just comes down to the nature of your relationship. Brides really read into the lyrics,” says Croce.

If you haven’t had the soundtrack for this moment planned since you stood on his toes in the living room when you first learned to slow-dance, Croce recommends John McDermott’s “Daughter of Mine” and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”

“Not While I’m Around” also comes highly recommended, from the Broadway musical Sweeney Todd. Yes, that Sweeney Todd. “It’s hard to imagine something so beautiful coming from a play so grotesque, but it really is a touching song,” Bruce says.

Bustin’ a Move

WHEN YOU OPEN UP THE FLOOR FOR DANCING, start with a song that will get everybody up on their feet — and then keep them there. It’s important to know which songs will get the party started and keep it going. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is always a crowd favorite (it helps if the crowd has taken advantage of the open bar), as well as “Love Shack” by the B-52’s, “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and some kinder, gentler hip-hop like Young MC’s “Bust a Move” and Sugar Hill Gang’s “Apache.”

“Motown always works well. The Temptations. Stevie Wonder. Those never fail,” says Spina. If you’ve got a wide array of ages, Tomassetti recommends anything from the ’70s. “It’s the decade that bridges the gap between the younger and older generations,” he says.

Also, ask what the current party trends are and plan from there. “We’re seeing less and less disco and more and more classic rock,” says Bruce. Think of infectious songs that you love to dance to — or that make you turn the volume way up on your car stereo. Some never-fail picks that always get the audience going, say our experts, are “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and some of U2’s more upbeat tracks.

The Last Dance

FOR THE VERY LAST SONG OF THE EVENING, our bandleaders and DJs agree: It should end on an up note. “For the last dance, we always like to bring the bride and groom onstage and bring the total focus on them while performing something like ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’ by Jackie Wilson,” says Tomassetti. “By doing this, we know the celebration ends on the highest note with the focus on the couple.”

In the end, it’s good to have a sense of what songs to play and what songs to avoid, but don’t undermine the band or DJ’s job by mapping out the entire playlist. “The bandleader must be given freedom creatively to keep the environment of a party going,” Tomassetti says. If a request isn’t working, they’ll subtly segue into something they feel the crowd will enjoy. They’ll set the tone for when the meal comes, and just as quickly, they’ll have the dance floor on overdrive, allowing you and your new groom to party freely as the music and images dance into your memories.