Lily Press and Simon Linn-Gerstein, professional harpist and cellist of Salem, MA, talk to us about how they can play almost any bride’s favorite song for her wedding with their live ceremony music, and why live wedding songs and music add a little something extra to a wedding ceremony.
John Maher: Hi I’m John Maher and welcome to our series of podcasts with wedding vendors for the Essex Room, Woodman’s Wedding and Function Facility on the north shore of Massachusetts. Today I’m here with Lily Press and Simon Linn-Gerstein who are wedding ceremony musicians. Lily and Simon, welcome.
Lily Press: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Simon Linn-Gerstein: Thank you.
John: Can you tell me a little bit about your business, what do you play, and what else do you do?
Lily: Absolutely, I’m a professional harpist and Simon plays the cello. We play as both a harp and cello duo and as individual soloists for everything from wedding ceremonies to cocktail hours and other kinds of special events. We can provide background music during cocktails, and we work with all of our clients to create an event that fits their vision of the day with adding a little bit of elegance to the live music.
John: Do you provide music for receptions at all, or just mostly ceremonies and cocktail hours, that sort of thing?
Simon: We especially do ceremonies and cocktail hours. Some of that is in any combination of, with the duo, or as soloist, as Lily said. For receptions, we’ll do, if it’s a small and more intimate feel for a reception, we’ll sometimes do that. Usually for the larger party or things where there’s dancin or they need an MC, then they’ll go with something that’s more likely a DJ and MC combination. We definitely do some of the smaller, more dinner party kind of feeling reception.
Use Any Song for Your Wedding Ceremony Music
John: What’s your style in terms of music for the ceremony? I imagine being harp and cello it gears more toward the classical type of sound.
Lily: It’s actually a pretty good mix of a variety of styles. Simon and I do a lot of arranging. We’ll often create a custom arrangement if a couple has a particular song they want to hear. The style of music does tend to be…it can be classical if that’s what they’re looking for. It varies depending really on what they want to do. Our goal is always to use the client’s…where they want to go. It creates a wedding that fits with their vision first.
John: That’s great. If people have a more modern song that they want to hear, you can arrange a nice version of that?
Simon: Yeah, exactly. We were just at a wedding where somebody said they would like a classical version of “Postmodern Jukebox” and we had played a Coldplay song for the recessional. That seemed like a great compliment to us, we’re very familiar with that YouTube crew. I think they do some great jazz versions of things. We want to bring that similar idea, that energy of both modern and classical music that we can bring to our duo.
John: Do you play at churches, as well as on location at wedding venues like the Essex Room?
Lily: Absolutely, we play in all sorts of venues all across the northeast. We’re happy to travel. We do play in churches. We’ve done everything from a Catholic mass to an outdoor ceremony on the beach.
John: At what point in the process of planning a wedding should a bride reach out to you? How far in advance of the wedding day?
Simon: Usually we hear from people around 6 to 12 months in advance. It’s not really a requirement. We’re happy to organize things on short notice. It’s great to have some time to really get to know our clients and know what their preferences are, get a feel for what they’re looking for.
That gives us time if they want a custom version of something for harp and cello that doesn’t necessarily exist. Then we have time to put that together and really make something theirs if we have some advance time. But we sure run the gamut.
John: What’s that process like? Tell me a little bit more about that, when you meet with a bride and groom for the first time. How does that go?
Lily: The first step is to make sure we’re free that day. That’s the first question that we always ask the couple.
Then we have an email that we send. Which has a lot of the initial information that the couple will need to go over and work with to put together their music selection. We tell them to take their time with that. We take a deposit to hold the date. Once the date is held, it’s theirs. Then we can work out the details from there.
A big part of the process of hiring us is making the music selections for the ceremony, those processional and recessionals and then any music in the middle of the ceremony as well.
We also, as part of the consultation process, talk through the logistics of the ceremony: the composition of the wedding party so we know how the flow is going to work for coming down the aisle. We’ll also talk about things about an indoor option in case there’s inclement weather for outdoor ceremonies. We’ll do that in a variety of ways.
We like to be flexible with how the couples would like to work with us. We have PDF lists of the music options that we can send them. They can look at those in their own time. We have online sample recordings, or we will do an in person consultation or a phone call, or a video chat. However, they want to work with us. We’re happy to go that route in selecting their music.
John: What are the most popular current trends for live music at a wedding? What do you seeing people doing more these days?
Simon: I’d say that one thing that we’re seeing more and more is that people are choosing both of us as a duo. That people are going with ensembles rather than soloists. I think some of the reason why people are picking us, is we’re playing a lot of music that was for a group that is larger than just a soloist.
If you take something that’s for a four‑piece band or for an orchestra, ‑‑ something like that ‑‑ and you condense it down to a solo version it works but it sounds even more convincing when you have two people doing it. You can have that layering that you really experience and get a fuller sound.
John: Right, especially if you’re playing an instrument, that’s really a melody instrument. That’s really for the most part playing one note at a time. You can play the melody, but you can’t really play that harmonizing background part. Where the two of you are playing together, you can do both of those parts.
Simon: Yeah, the harp can do a lot with harmonizing with itself. The cello, there’s some tricks to get around that. Certainly, if I do a solo wedding, there are several ways to make it sound like there is harmony and to even play a couple notes at once. Usually it’s more than just a note you get some of the idea. When you really have the two of us together, you get that ensemble sound that you’re really used to hearing.
John: You mentioned before that people can request a more modern song. Then you do an arrangement of that for harp and cello or for one of your instruments. Do you see brides and grooms choosing traditional classic songs for their wedding, or live versions of modern songs like you just mentioned?
Lily: It’s actually fairly evenly split, which is surprising. It’s become very common for a couple to come to us with an idea of a song already. Sometimes they’ll come to us with a classical piece, classical cannon, or “Here Comes the Bride,” or they’ll come with a specific pop song that they love and that they really want to have at their processional or recessional.
It’s almost 50/50 the extent to which it’s classical or pop music. Then a lot of our clients will come to us not necessarily knowing exactly what pieces they would like. Then we’ll play some samples for them in a variety of selections from genres, classical, contemporary, Celtic, all sorts of different types of music. Then when you see them take each other’s hands, or you see a certain look in their eyes and then you know we’ve found the piece that’s going to be for your wedding ceremony.
John: What should a bride and groom know before choosing a live musician? Obviously, before giving you a call they should really have nailed down the date of the wedding. Is there anything else that they should come into it already having nailed down, or that they know?
Simon: There’s usually not too much that they need to know before contacting us. Obviously, knowing the date is helpful. Sometimes we work with clients to just make sure that the location is workable. This is especially a consideration with outdoor ceremonies, since we have wood instruments that are delicate and sensitive to the elements. We just work with them to make sure that we can work with their vision, find a way to make things work for them.
John: What do you think the benefits are of live music over say a DJ or recorded music for a wedding ceremony?
Simon: There are a number of advantages. One of the big ones is that because it’s live, we can really flow with the action. That we’re really flexible, so that if a song needs to go longer, it can go longer. If it needs to be shorter and we have to wrap things up, we can wrap it up. We don’t just end abruptly. We can actually initiate that off music with the end, and make it come to an ending. I think that’s a really great advantage over recorded music.
We always come with extra music for the prelude, in case the ceremony starts earlier than expected. The guests have something to really enjoy during that time. Besides all those things, I think that harp and cello really looks good, so that’s both for the guests, and for the photos, and for video. It’s really a big advantage over having electronics and a speaker system and stuff you need to plug in. We’re really very self‑contained that way.
John: It adds just a nice little live touch so that as people are sitting there, the guests are starting to gather, and they’re waiting for the ceremony to begin, it’s almost like there’s a little performance happening there. People can watch you guys play and be entertained somewhat as they’re waiting.
Then like you said, if things go a little bit late, the ceremony starts a little late, you have a lot of music that you can play to keep things moving. Then if the bride takes a little extra time coming down the aisle, you can just keep playing, vamping on that. That’s great.
Lily: Absolutely, it’s something I always like to tell the bride, she should not feel stressed. If they need a little time with hair and makeup, that what we’re there for: to fill that space and keep the guests entertained.
We also tell them to take that moment as the live music starts playing to really take a deep breath and settle into the experience of the day. That’s some of what we’re there for is to help them get through that part of the ceremony that can be a little bit more nerve racking. Hopefully, the music helps them in that respect too.
John: Are there some unique or maybe unexpected ways to feature live music during a wedding ceremony?
Lily: One wedding that I did do, music was actually a surprise for the bride. She loved harp and had never dreamed that she’d be able to have one at her wedding. I was hidden behind a curtain until right at the start of the processional. They drew the curtain back and it was this very dramatic surprise for the bride. That was one of the more unexpected ways I think that we were featured as part of the ceremony.
Sometimes people will have an interlude in the ceremony itself in addition to the processional and recessional music. They’ll be something like a sand ceremony, or a wine ceremony, or a unity candle where the couple is pouring sand, or lighting a candle, and during that moment, we’ll play a piece. We work with the couple to select that. That’s another nice moment in the ceremony when music can be added.
John: I went to a wedding recently where both the bride and the groom had grown up near the ocean and they had respective beaches that they had gone to when they were kids, but they were separate beaches. They each collected some sand from those two beaches and then mixed them together in the ceremony. It was really nice. It was a nice touch.
Lily: Oh, that’s lovely.
Simon: That sounds like a great idea.
John: How can the bride and groom choose live music for their wedding ceremony that captures the theme or the feel of their wedding day, and how do you help them to arrive at that?
Lily: We’ll talk to them a little bit about what their colors scheme, what kind of flowers, all the details of the wedding to give us a sense of how to interpret that musically. We have genres from contemporary to Celtic to classical. If a couple has a sense of a genre even, rather than a particular piece, we can tend toward that in terms of curating a set of music that fits with their vision for the day.
For example, we’ve done an all Celtic wedding that was a ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception with all Celtic music on harp and cello. We did dance tunes, airs. It was a lovely day. Recently we did an all Disney wedding, which was a lot of fun. Some people like to mix a bunch of different genres together, which also works really well.
We’ll work with the couple. If they have lots of suggestions, we’re happy to incorporate those. If they just have a sense, we can curate a set of music that will work for them.
John: How can couples who are interested in talking to you about doing music for their wedding ceremony get in touch with you?
Simon: We encourage them to go to our websites. We each have one. It’s lilypressharpist.com and simonthecellist.com. You can find a lot of music samples on there that you can listen to. You can go to the wedding page for either of us to do that. There’s a contacts form below there. There’s also a separate contact page that you can click on, on the tool bar at the top. That’s one of the best ways’ to get in touch with us. You can also email us directly, we’re at harpandcellomusic@Gmail.com.
John: Great, all right. That’s really excellent information and I really appreciate you both speaking with me today.
Simon: Thank you.
Lily: You’re welcome. Thank you.
John: For more information about the Essex Room and tips on wedding planning, you can visit the Essex Room website at essexroom.com or call 978‑768‑7335.