Posts Tagged ‘Cocktail Hour’

Add Hollywood Style Sophistication to Your Ceremony or Cocktail Hour with Boccherini’s Minuet

Portrait of Luigi Boccherini

The Composer and Cellist Luigi Boccherini believed to have been painted around 1768. Courtesy of Dr Gerhard Christmann, Budenheim, Germany

There is one melody that is often used by Hollywood to emphasize a sophisticated atmosphere. That tune is the Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 by Luigi Boccherini. Harmonious Music also includes the piece, often times referred to as Boccherini’s Minuet, regularly for both wedding ceremony and cocktail hour performances.

This Rococo hit is typically used as background music to depict high society durring the late nineteenth century in period films. It is actually a very fitting use of the music because the song was written while Boccherini was employed by King Carlos III’s brother the infante don Luis de Borbón in Madrid, Spain. In this post Boccherini was paid a handsome stipend of 30,000 reales as a cellist and composer.

The Minuet was written in 1771 as part of Boccherini’s second series of quintets under don Luis’s patronage. Boccherini’s quintets are unique from many other composers because he wrote for two violins, one viola and two cellos. Most other composer’s string quintets utilize two violins, two violas, and one cello. Boccherini’s preference certainly results from the fact that he was a virtuoso cello player in his own right. It is said that he was capable of performing the violin parts of string quartets in their original pitch on cello when musicians fell ill and a substitute was needed.

Luigi’s aptitude on cello was only one motivation for his unique quintet compositions. He had also befriended a family of string players by the name of Font who were also employed by don Luis. This highly esteemed quartet presented the opportunity for Luigi Boccherini to perform his own compositions with a skilled string ensemble on a regular basis.

Although Boccherini was Italian by birth and training, he is considered a Spanish composer. As a result many critics note a Spanish influence in Boccherini’s Minuet. This is especially evident in the original rendition written for string quintet, which utilizes pizzicato and syncopation between the various voices resulting in a guitar like effect. The following recording is a Piano and Violin reduction, which is performed regularly by Harmonious Music.

There is some misinformation floating around the internet indicating that Boccherini was dismissed by don Luis for refusing to change a passage of music. This assertion, however, is erroneous. Boccherini remained in don Luis’ patronage until the Infante’s death in 1785. Tragically in the same year Luigi Boccherini’s first wife Clementina also passed away after suffering a stroke.

The loss of his employer and his wife left Luigi Boccherini in a difficult position because he had suddenly become an unemployed single father of six young children. Fortunately, Luigi Boccerini was offered a pension from three sources, The Real Capilla (Royal Chapel), the Countess-Dukes of Benavente-Osuna and most significantly the appointment of composer to King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II’s court. Shortyly after the death of three of his daughters and his second wife, Boccherini passed away most likely from Tuberculosis in Madrid, Spain during 1805.

Although, the end of Luigi Boccherini’s life was wrought with tragedy, it does not change the fact that most of his earlier works are airy and uplifting. This is particularly true in the case of Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11. This fine composition properly earns its place as a staple in the films of Hollywood as well as Harmonious Music’s repertoire for wedding ceremonies and cocktail hours. It certainly is suitable for any event in New York’s Hudson Valley where an atmosphere of sophistication is required.

The Grateful Dead, Scarlet Begonias and Grosvenor Square

Wedding party in front of September 11th Memorial

Wedding portraits are taken in front of the September 11 Memorial in Grosvenor Square. An inscription on the memorial reads, "Grief is the price we pay for love."

The lyrics of the Grateful Dead are often ambiguous and open to interpretation. However, Robert Hunter’s poetry in the song Scarlet Begonias is fairly easy to interpret. The songs first stanza begins with “As I was walking ‘Round Grosvenor Square, Not a chill to the wind but a nip to the air.” I had always wondered just where exactly Grosvenor Square was. I always imagined it to be somewhere in San Francisco or some other United States Location. By Saint of Circumstance I discovered its geographic location while traveling from The Handel House to Hyde Park in London, England.

After a long day on our feet we decided that a rest was in order. So we looked for a public park to take a break. Low and behold, the closest park just so happened to be Grosvenor Square. Upon our arrival, much to our disbelief, we discovered Grosvenor Square is actually a hot spot for wedding photography.

Bike Rider on FDR sculpture in Grosvenors Square

A freestyle bike rider performs stunts at the base of a statue of former Hyde Park, New York, resident Franklin Delano Roosevelt in London's Grosvenor Square

Those suffering from the U.S. Blues will find themselves right at home in Grosevenor Square. The park has been the site of The United States’ military headquarters and Embassy since World War II. As a result there are monuments to Franklin D. Roosevelt,  and Dwight D. Eisenhower along with a memorial to the September 11th attacks on New York.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Sculpture infront of U.S. Embassy

Sculpture of West Point Graduate, Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square

Robert Hunter, The Grateful Dead’s lyricist, most likely became familiar with Grosvenors Square on the Europe ’72 tour. The Dead finished their famous tour with performances at The Strand Lyceum Theatre on May 23-26. The Strand Lyceum is actually remarkably close to Grosvenor Square. The two sites are only about a 30 minute walk from each other. Therefore, it is a safe assumption that hunter probably relaxed himself in the exclusive May Fair neighborhood park. One can only imagine that hunter actually did meet someone, with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes, with scarlet begonias tucked into her curls.

The music of The Grateful dead is always a great Deal of fun to perform. The following arrangement of Scarlet Begonias performed on piano and violin can make for some great entertainment during cocktail hours or dinner parties.

So if you Need a Miracle because you want both a hi-class event and some good chilling vibes at the same time, relax, Harmonious Music has The Grateful Dead covered.

Bandstand in Norwich England is a Tribute to Swing Era Great

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Bandstand

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Victorian Bandstand in Norwich, England where Glenn Miller performed on August 18, 1944. Photo: Eric Ortner

Recently, we had the opportunity to attend a wedding near Norwich, England. While there we stumbled upon a very interesting park called Chapelfield Gardens. In the center of this quant park stands a nicely appointed Victorian era bandstand.

At the time, I was primarily captivated by a young Monkey Puzzle tree growing near the pavilion. Later, I discovered that the bandstand behind it was of great interest to those with an appreciation for Big Band and Swing Music. You see it was there on Friday, August 18, 1944 that Glenn Miller and members of his band put on what seems to be an impromptu performance for the residents of Norwich.

Official U.S. Military records indicate that the set took place sometime after 9 p.m. Glenn Miller and the American Band of the AEF were the entertainment at a 100th mission celebration in a B-24 base in Attlebridge until 9 p.m.  They then made the short ten mile trip to the bandstand in the center of Norwich. It seems following the performance in Chapelfield Gardens, they moved onto play a set at Samson and Hercules Ballroom downtown.  Samson and Hercules was a popular haunt for enlisted men during World War II and the building it was in still stands today. The band then returned to Attlebridge where they stayed the night due to inclement weather.

These performances in Norwich were only two sets out of six that took place on August 18th. It is also interesting to note that Miller received the promotion to Major the day prior. Apparently the band gave Major Miller a promotion party and they stayed up late as a result. Therefore, they must have been pretty exhausted by the end of their set at Samson and Hercules.

Glenn Miller played around 800 sets in England between July 8th and his disappearance on December 15th 1944. It was common for this group to work grueling 18 hour days. It’s very difficult to fathom modern American pop-stars maintaining a schedule that packed.

Although the Norwich bandstand performance took place more than sixty-five years ago, Glenn Miller’s sophisticated sounds seem to be enduring the test of time. Glenn Miller Orchestra’s songs are still performed routinely today by events musicians. Songs like In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Tuxedo Junction, String of Pearls, Pensylvania 6-5000, and American Patrol can make for great atmosphere at any formal event. This is especially true for cocktail hours and wedding receptions. The next time you hear them, be sure to remember that the composer/bandleader was a dedicated patriot in addition to a talented performance artist.

Source

The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band
Sustineo Alas / I Sustain the Wind

Volume One by Edward F. Polic 1989

Violinist + Trumpeter = A Rare and Affordable Combination

A Violin and Trumpet Nestle Together on a Bed of Sheet Music. How Romantic! Photo Eric Ortner

A Violin and Trumpet Nestle Together on a Bed of Sheet Music. How Romantic! Photo Eric Ortner

One of the things that sets Harmonious Music apart from other wedding ceremony and cocktail acts in the New York Metropolitan Area is the violinist’s ability to also play trumpet. This added skill comes in particularly useful during wedding ceremonies.

Imagine this scenario: Your guests are being seated during the ceremonies prelude to the elegant sounds of a classical violin and piano duet. Soon the groom and wedding parties enter to the gentle sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The energy level among the congregation increases as each bridesmaid walks down the aisle. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpet fanfare rings through the air announcing the arrival of the bride. The change in instrument from violin to trumpet has further heightened the grandeur of the Bride’s entrance and signifies the importance of the event

Historically trumpets have always been used to announce the arrival of royalty. So on your big  day why not get the royal treatment and stroll the aisle to the sounds of Trumpet Voluntary or Wagner’s Bridal Chorus performed on trumpet and Piano or Organ.

DJs Versus Bands at Your Wedding Six Myths DJs Use To Sell You Their Services

Djs Vs Bands Six Myths that DJs Use To try and Sell You Their Services

Djs Vs Bands Six Myths that DJs Use To try and Sell You Their Services Photos courtesy of James Farmer and Professor Alex

If you think that you are better off hiring a DJ instead of  live musicians for your wedding or special event, you should think again. There is a never-ending debate between musicians and DJs regarding which service vendors are better to hire. Most of the arguments that favor DJs are complete myths and this article aims disprove them.

Myth #1 DJ’s Are Capable of Playing a Greater Variety of Music.
This may be the case in some situations, but with modern technology and the use of digital effects that statement is quickly dissipating. In addition, if you know you are seeking a variety of music, most musicians welcome the opportunity to take your requests as an opportunity to add to their own repertoire. I have met very few serious musicians that listen to only one style of music. You probably wouldn’t seriously consider hiring the individuals that fit into this category for a wedding or special event anyway. Besides, most DJs tend to limit their libraries to pop music, so if you have an off the wall request that has a significant importance to your family, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to fulfill it on the spot anyway. Believe it or not, too much variety can actually be a  hindrance to an effective performance. Let me elaborate, not very long ago, I attended an anniversary party. Someone requested the song Dancing Queen. The DJ with his hi-tech computer system, and most likely free downloads, managed to perform some awful techo-remix version that he ended up having to fade out half way through the track because someone literally booed (It wasn’t the author either).

Myth #2 Bands Are Too Expensive.

The same can be said for DJs. I’ve performed in bands with five members laying down tight covers with vocalists that you would swear were the original singer. We often only charged $500 for a public show. The smallest ensemble that Harmonious Music offers only costs $300 for the first hour of performance. The DJs that I see in the New York Metropolitan area charge $1,000 on average. That’s $1,000 in one person’s pocket. Most of the larger bands in the area rates range between $3,000-$5,000.
However, when you hire a musician, you are getting a lot more for your money. Let’s face it, not everyone at your party is going to want to dance. Some of your guests physically aren’t able to dance and some of them just don’t like to, so why not entertain them with a real performance. Live musicians add an extra element that a DJ just can’t provide, and that is multi-person showmanship. At many performances I’ve noticed the majority of the audience just enjoy watching the band perform. Musicians have skills that are easy to appreciate on their own, and the best ones are consummate performers with quick senses of humor, off the wall antics and expressions that aim to impress. You’ve probably been to countless weddings and events where the DJ is annoying at best and rude or inappropriate at the worst. Most DJs have no performance training, while almost all serious musicians take a class somewhere along the line about good showmanship. In fact, the best musicians tend to have studied at least some music in college. When you pay a premium for a live musician, chances are, you are paying in part for their education. How many pro DJs do you know that went to DJ college and came out with a BDJ? Let’s face it, when you hire live musicians you just get a lot more for your money.

Myth#3 A Band Will Be Too Loud for the Size of the Venue
This myth is just plain ridiculous. Most professional event bands can play at any volume. If you hire an ensemble like Harmonious Music that specializes in classical or jazz styles of music, volume is never an issue. In fact, with many classical ensembles, you may run into the opposite problem. That is why Harmonious Music has the equipment and ability to play directly into a PA system. The only time that volume becomes an issue with bands is when they are performing with a drummer. However, once again modern technology has changed this. Most of the serious professional drummers today own an electronic drum set that can be adjusted to any required volume level. Moreover, think of all the events that you have attended that used DJs. Now, at how many of them was the P.A. system cranked so loud that you couldn’t hear the person next to you? Probably most of them, DJs tend to like to show off the power of their equipment. Professional event musicians tend not to play overly loud for a number of reasons.

  • The first is it can damage their own hearing, and that would put them out of a job.
  • Second they understand that the music shouldn’t interfere with the most important aspect of a social event and that is the conversation.
  • Finally, professional event musicians understand that it easier to appreciate music when it isn’t too loud and in your face.

So by planning a correctly sized ensemble  with proper equipment, an event band won’t be too loud for a smaller venue.

Myth #4 DJs Are More Reliable than Bands Because There is Only One Member to Worry About.

Hmmm, let’s do the math here. A one man show gets stuck in traffic or lost on the way to a wedding. What is the likely hood that this person will make it to the beginning of the cocktail hour or reception? None. A band with 3-10 people are on their way to a Wedding there is a traffic jam and a few members get stuck in traffic. What is the likelihood that at least some of the music will start on time. Fairly good. Anyone, even the bride and groom can get stuck in traffic. It’s a fact of life especially around the New York Metropolitan area. However, Harmonious Music has been in the area long enough to know their way around traffic congestion. Harmonious Music, always pads their arrival time by one hour to ensure enough time for proper set up prior to the wedding.
Again, when it comes to reliability professional event musicians depend on their reputation as a large part of their lively hood. They aren’t going to tarnish their reputation by stiffing a client and simply not show up to a Gig. Being the consummate entertainers they are, they truly believe “the Show Must Go On.” I know a drummer who played a show with a broken arm. He didn’t want to risk loosing the gig. I’ve personally played many shows where I was extremely ill. When you are a musician, the concept of calling in sick to work is simply non-existent. I’ve never really heard of a DJ calling in sick either. However, to say one is more reliable than the other simply is unfounded.

Myth #5 A Band Will Need To Take Breaks
O.K. this one isn’t a myth, but it isn’t really an actual issue either. The human body can only do so much repetitive physical activity before it needs to stop or it will start making mistakes. At weddings there are plenty of opportunities for musicians to take breaks. One prime example is just following the cocktail hour while people find their seats to be served dinner. Honestly, music can just add to confusion during this period. It’s easy to stop the music and direct people to their seats. In-fact, you can even have the bandleader make the announcement that dinner is about to be served, just let them know what time to do it. Once everyone is finally seated, hey what-a-ya-know, the band kicks in to its quiet dinner music with volume set at the perfect level for conversation. Another great breaking point for event bands are toasts and speeches this even works at corporate functions, because most of them require awards and announcements too. The band usually needs to give up the microphone for these anyway. Then there are other opportunities during typical wedding traditions after dinner such as cutting the cake, and throwing the bouquet or garter. Hey with a little bit of planning, you can break from the dancing and do these on stage as the band steps down so that everyone can see. Guess what, you are supposed to be the centerpiece of your wedding, shouldn’t everyone be paying attention to you and not distracted by what those amazing performers are doing at these points anyway?
So look at that there really are plenty of opportunities for the band to take breaks and not stop the action at weddings and events after all.

Myth #6 There isn’t enough space for a band.
Now this can be true of a 10-piece band, but there are certainly plenty of ways to book a live band and have them fit into smaller rooms. For example, Harmonious Music can fit its core ensemble into a six foot by four foot area without any problems. Most DJs can’t even fit their gear into an area that small. Think about it, a DJ has a table with speakers on either side plus another table filled with CDs and amplifiers. Most larger dance bands can pare down their set to fit into a surprisingly small area that doesn’t take up anymore space than a DJ would. For example the instrument that tends to take up the most room is the drum set, but most professional drummers possess what is termed a “road set” which can fit into a three or four foot area. The rest of the musicians don’t take up more space than any other adult standing upright. In really tight quarters the guitar, bass, and keyboards can go directly into a Power Amplifier to save space. The short and long of it is DJs require a lot of space also, and a professional band’s past experience has taught them how to use the space provided efficiently to present a brilliant performance.

The Bottom Line
When trying to decide whether to a hire a live band or a DJ it really comes down to what type of atmosphere you want to present to your guests. If you are trying to present an aura of sophistication and elegance then hiring a live band is really a no brainer. The myths listed above can actually work in a hosts favor. For example don’t you want it to look like you spared no expense to entertain your guests and hired a live band? Simply put won’t your guests enjoy watching a stage packed with multiple professional entertainers more than watching someone put a CD into a Drive? Don’t forget that all a DJ is really doing is reproducing the work created by actual musicians, wouldn’t you and your guests prefer to be entertained by the real thing.

Even if you decide that the classical style performed by Harmonious Music is not the proper backdrop for your event, hopefully this article has swayed you to hire a live band instead of a DJ for your wedding or special event.

Once You Get On Stage Anything Can Happen

Violin, Piano Saxophone and flowers

Violin, Piano Saxophone and Flowers — Montage by Eric Ortner

Experienced Musicians learn quickly that you really never know what to expect when you step into the spotlight. You simply must be able to role with the punches and be confident enough to play no matter what happens around you. We had a case in point while performing for Jessica and Jeffery’s cocktail hour on October 17th at Villa Barone in Mahopac in Westchester County, NY.

The caterers had just finished setting the tables and were opening the doors for guests when a tall man with a saxophone walked up to us and said, “Um, are you guys playing here, because I was told that I was supposed to be here at 7 to play the cocktail hour with a keyboardist.”

Self-doubt set in for a fleeting instant, but we had already spoken with Barbara, the bride’s mother and we knew we were in the correct hall. I had a signed contract that stated we were to play the cocktail hour and we’d even been paid in full prior to the performance. He introduced himself as Mark and that he lived in Ossining, NY. He went on to explain that he was brought in by the DJ. We told him he was probably in the wrong room, because Villa Barone is a large establishment. Mark commented that he was sure he was in the correct location and described Barbara in order to verify it. He ran out to find his boss the DJ who was setting up for the reception in another room to figure out what he should do.

By this point the Bride and Groom’s guests were beginning to file in so we opened our set. We usually start out our performances with a few short easier pieces to warm up before moving into the more taxing compositions. As we began the third song Mark came back in with a plate of food and watched us work. As we finished up the tune Blessed Spirits, Mark put his food down and walked over to us with his Saxophone informing that, “I don’t know where he is, he must be running around somewhere. I’m being paid to play here, so do you mind if I sit in.”

I assessed the situation and noticed that the hall was quite full now. I could see Barbara was across the room, but I decided it was best not to stir up any drama with her or Mark.  I thought to myself, well I suppose Dave Mathews Band arranges with Sax and Violin, if this guy is any good it probably won’t sound awful. So I said, “Sure. Can you read music?”

Mark looked down at the music, which was Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons at this point in our set and asked, “I suppose this stuff is all written in C, huh?” I momentarily forgot that Saxophones are tuned to B flat and said, “Oh you want something in C, O.K. We should probably start playing something easier anyway to make sure this is going to work out first.”

I flipped through the pages of my binder looking for something less complicated in C and found an early American composition by the name of Elegance and Simplicity. I put the bow to violin and began to count it off.  To my amazement Mark blew through that tune sight reading, and didn’t miss a single note. I commented, “Wow, way to go! I guess we can try something harder.”

Mark replied, “Yea, it’s not really the site reading that’s hard for me. It’s just a little tough because I have to transpose everything from B Flat.”

We went back to Spring and performed it. We really lucked out in this situation because Mark was a phenomenal saxophonist. He proceeded to play through Spring and Autumn of the Four Seasons, with about 95% accuracy sight reading the music while transposing every note.

The next song in the set following The Four Seasons was a composition entitled Allegro from Pièces de Clavecin Op. 1 by Joseph-Hector Fiocco. I looked down at the page and saw that it was blackened with 16th notes and remembered that this tune just flies by as you run through it. Moreover one stumble on any section and it was next to impossible to get back on track. So I looked over at him and said, “You better sit this one out.” He agreed and said, “I’m going to go find the DJ.”

We were on the last page of the Fiocco when Mark walked back in. He listened patiently and applauded as we finished up the tune. He then grabbed his sax and stand and said, “Well I spoke with DJ and he told me he just wanted me to play a few songs with you guys, so I guess I’ll see you later.“

I don’t think the guests really had any clue what had just transpired before them. It’s not every day that you hear classical tunes performed in an arrangement of Sax, Violin and Piano and especially not one that had never been rehearsed. As far as I’m concerned, they just received a once in a lifetime amazing and impromptu performance by three accomplished musicians who know that you’re never really sure what to expect in show business.

The Onteora Mountain House is an Amazing Venue

Esopus Valley From Onteora Mountain House Photo Eric Ortner

Esopus Valley From Onteora Mountain House at sunset. This scenery often becomes the backdrop for wedding ceremonies. Photo Eric Ortner

We performed a wedding ceremony and cocktail hour at Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville, NY on October 1st. This is the second time I’ve been to a wedding there and I have to say that I would rate it one of the most beautiful wedding venues in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

It is designed extremely well and is easily adjustable for varying weather conditions. In fair weather guests are seated under towering white pines as they view the ceremony conducted on a large deck overlooking the Esopus Valley.  The weather was questionable on October 1st. It was lightly sprinkling with heavy skies and a little chilly so the friendly event staff held out until the very last minute before the ceremony to decide where to place their fashionable moveable chairs. Watching the weather closely they decided it wasn’t going to pour and placed their chairs on the overlook. However, they could have just as easily placed the chairs inside the giant pavilion with another amazing deck overlooking the Catskills.

The first wedding I performed at in this location took place in early July so the cocktail hour was held on the Onteora’s stone paved patio in front of the guest house. In cooler weather, such as the wedding I worked in October the guesthouse is opened for the cocktail hour.  The performance space inside is much tighter than on the patio. There is really only enough room for a small ensemble to perform next to the fireplace inside the house. We managed to squeeze a stage piano and violinist, but it would be next to impossible to fit a drum set inside; and a set would most certainly be too loud for the venue anyway. However, the exquisite decoration inside this venue more than makes up for its somewhat tight quarters. Enormous vases and Buda statues line the walls, while the Catskill Mountains are, once again, framed by a large enclosed wrap around porch.

Although, we did not have the opportunity to perform on it at either of the weddings I attended, the large pavilion space has a well constructed stage large enough to hold most dance bands and a beautiful hardwood dance floor to match. All in all performing at weddings in the Onteora Mountain House really makes one want to get married there. Please feel free to reminisce about your wedding day at the Onteora or simply a wedding you attended below.