Wedding Flamenco? Really?
posted in performance on september 9th, 2008
At first glance flamenco at a wedding might sound a bit unlikely – at least at a wedding outside of Anadalucía, anyway. What does the bride walk to? Siguiriyas? Maybe a bit of Martinete? Some Carceleras, perhaps?
Fear not, however – I’m here to assure you: flamenco and nuptials do mix! I’ve heard it with my own ears – and played it myself. Just recently, in fact. And I learned a thing or two in the process (which, of course, I plan on sharing with you now).
First, though, I should mention that the event in question (which occurred last Saturday) wasn’t a "flamenco themed" wedding. The marrying couple, prior to our first meeting some months ago, had only a rudimentary understanding of what flamenco is in all of its various permutations. What they did know, however, was that they wanted guitar and that they wanted something more dramatic than "straight classical." During this first meeting I played perhaps a dozen palos for them before any of us really began to understand what they were looking for.
[If you ever get a chance to play for something like this, by the way, I heartily recommend meeting early on and then planning to meet again closer to the actual date. In our case, the second meeting was hugely helpful in getting a better idea of the timing of arrangements and changes.]
Anyway, for this particular couple, it turns out that the Phrygian mode was exactly what they were looking for. They didn’t want something as dark as minor keys can be, but they definitely wanted something more “dramatic” than a lot of major key material they had heard. For the actual ceremony we did use major keys: alegrias for the processional, guajiras for the recessional (both of which worked spectacularly), but the prelude and reception were healthily peppered with tangos, granainas, buleria, sevillanas, and even a bit of soleá.
Of course, selecting material that fit the ambiance these two were after was only half the battle—the other half was actually playing it. As anyone who has read a few of these posts already knows, most of my guitar performances are as a dance accompanist. I.e., even when I’m the only guitarist, I still get to hide behind dancers, footwork, and jaleo.
But there was none of that here. As such, I think one of the smartest things I did was to make sure that the most critical music I played (the processional) was also music I can virtually play in my sleep. As it turns out, the bride wanted to walk to a very slow alegrias escobilla progression. This fit the bill in all sorts of ways: it was easy to play well, easy to vary in length and tie off anywhere, and was melodically appropriate for the occasion. The bride and groom were also pretty pleased about the fact that "alegria" translates to "happiness."
I did, however, notice some things that I would do differently next time. The bride, groom and I had decided early on that I would play for the bridal procession but that the groom’s party would walk to the front of the assembly without fanfare. As it turned out, this made for a conspicuously inexplicable silence in the ceremony. I think now that there should probably be music any time someone isn’t speaking or any time the silence isn’t planned (i.e. doesn’t have a purpose).
I also noticed that the twenty-or-so minute pause between the processional and the recessional had made my fingers a bit stupid. Sitting still, even for that short amount of time, had sort of put them to sleep. Luckily, the recessional guajiras started on a not-too-complicated E7/A vamp, so no harm was done, but if there had been anything complicated in these first few bars I would have been in trouble.
The reception afterward, where I played for about an hour during an initial round of cocktails, held a rather more pleasant surprise: I had prepared an hour’s worth of music, but found that while people were enjoying the music, they weren’t necessarily listening very carefully. As such, I was able to strategically reuse the most successful (i.e. best sounding and easiest to play) falsetas and completely ignore the stuff that might have fit less well (or been trickier to pull off cleanly).
Not that I think anyone would have noticed if I had tanked some 32nd note alzapúa line, but it just made less stress for me not to have to worry about it. For that matter, such stuff might have even been annoying. There’s a technique to “playing in the background.” One doesn’t want to do it all the time, but it’s a skill worth cultivating.
Well, there you have it. Yet another slice of flamenco life in the Northwest. Perhaps not the most exciting blog post (i.e. no bouncy castles, wobbly stages, industrial music warfare, or ghost trains), but it was a wedding, after all.
And even flamenco guitarists need some low-key gigs every now and then.
Now, as always: You! Go play!