Upcoming Performances

December 1
3:00 pm Eastern

Messiah organist, First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, N.C.

December 3
8:00 pm Eastern

Haydn Creation organist, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

February 9, 2020
3:00 pm Eastern

Inaugural recitalist, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C..

February 16, 2020
5:00 pm Eastern

Evensong recitalist, Church of the Ascension, Hickory, N.C..

March 6, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn.

April 5, 2020
2:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Ga.

April 18, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Concerto organist, Milligan College

May 12, 2020
12:35 pm Central

Tuesday Series recitalist, Church of St. Louis, King of France, Minneapolis, Minn.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Entries in Weddings (5)


Weddings! Part 5: Jill and Kevin

We're talking about weddings in my church music class this semester. And since I'm such a huge fan of weddings (not), we have plenty to talk about. I'll be brief here.

One of the most viral YouTube videos ever is of a wedding party dancing down the aisle to a canned version of "Forever" by Chris Brown. I don't need to describe the music nor the event. You NEED to watch it here. And you have been warned. Don't say I didn't warn you. I warned you.

I will always maintain that a wedding held in a church is a service of worship, and not of the bride nor groom. But if you watch, you'll see that the bride and groom, particularly the bride, were worshipped in a big way that day. And so it goes. I'm troubled by it only because I'm not comfortable doing certain things in a church. I still don't walk into one without wearing a coat and tie. And I vividly recall some rather physical punishment I received as a kid, after I was running among the pews during a service. I have a learned respect for the inside of a church building. Nothing wrong with a little respect for where one is.

Ancient weddings included processional dances, but I doubt they included canned songs about sleeping together tonight. And they were done outside. While I would never deny a couple the joy that comes with getting married, if you're getting married in a church, then it's no longer just about you and your joy. On the other hand, I know that lightning did not strike our video wedding that day. God did not rain fire and brimstone upon the heathen. The building is still standing; the church still has a contributing congregation; no one got fired.

Well, mankind has pushed the envelope for centuries on what is appropriate in a church. Even murder has been committed in them, so what's a wedding dance down the aisle to a song about sleeping together tonight? So, just as I instruct my students this semester, I'll just say that since we don't know what God really thinks about it, we all have to make our own decisions, in consultation with our congregations, on what we'll allow and disallow in our church buildings. Had that wedding taken place outside, or had that dance occurred at the reception or the rehearsal dinner, we wouldn't have had a blog post today, for it would have been a non-starter. But there are some places on earth where we should still maintain some decorum. And when I'm the last old fart standing on that front, I'll graciously retire, give up the fight, and get out of the way.


Weddings! Part IV: The XIV Commandments

And it came to pass that the prophet Joby had had enough and did offer these fourteen commandments, thereby getting some things off his chest:

I. Thou shalt not marry a Bridezilla. Neither shalt thou marry a Groomzilla. Thou shalt not vicariously marry either parent of thy betrothed. For in the day that thou doest any of these things, thou and thy youthful spirit shall surely die.

II. When thou shalt say in public or post upon Facebook, “I got engaged!” thou art a liar, for thy fiancé(e) hath got engaged also, and shall be entitled to credit thereof. If thou be stuck in first person singular, then thy fiancé(e) shouldst take heed, for great will be his/her distress in married life.

III. When thou shalt say in public or post upon Facebook, “I’m marrying a doctor!” thou art a liar. Thou art not marrying a doctor. Neither art thou marrying a lawyer, stock broker, banker, musician, teacher, nor CEO. Thou art marrying a man or a woman, and no more, and thy names shall be ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ Thy names shall not be ‘Dr. and Mrs.’ or ‘Mr. and Dr.’ or ‘Dr. and Dr.’ Enough already, I beseech thee.

IV. If any one person among you shall proclaim him- or herself to be in charge without pay, then all others shall run away and never return.

V. Thou shalt allow twice as much time to arrive for the wedding rehearsal as thou thinkest thou shalt need. Many wedding rehearsals begin during Friday rush hour, and in the day that thou respectest not that fact, then thou shalt surely be late to the rehearsal. If thou art a bride or a groom, then thou shalt be at least one-half hour early for rehearsal. If thou art anyone else who hath arrived for the rehearsal on time and do not find there a bride and a groom, then thou shalt be free to go and do as thou please for the rest of the evening.

VI. If thou art a mother or grandmother, thou shalt dress in a manner befitting thy age and thy status as a person not getting married at this time.

VII. If thou art a mother or grandmother, thy seating shall not need to be rehearsed. Verily I say unto you, walking down an aisle and taking a seat, it is a no-brainer.

VIII. Verily I say unto you, it shall not be bad luck for bride and groom to see each other before the wedding ceremony shall commence. Thou shalt not observe such superstitious behavior for a church wedding, for such is an abomination unto the Lord. Verily.

IX. If thou art under the age of eight years, thou mayest be enlisted to carry something down the aisle. But I say unto you that a better way for thee to be involved would be to stay home with thy babysitter until the reception shall commence.

X. If thou art a groom or a groomsman, thou shalt dress like a man, not a frat boy nor cowboy nor prom date.

XI. If thou art a bride or a bridesmaid, thou shalt dress like a woman, not a flower girl nor whore nor prom date. If thy makeup render thee unrecognizable, then thou hast gone too far with it.

XII. If thou art a congregant, thou shalt dress appropriately as befits thy gender. Thou shalt also remain quiet during the prelude. Thou shalt also refrain from applauding and cheering during a church wedding. Thou shalt also leave thy children home with thine hired babysitter.

XIII. If thou art a layman who hath been enlisted to read scripture, thou shouldst read audibly, slowly, and deliberately. Thou shalt not simply insert more pauses between rapid-fire words. And thou shalt say, “First Corinthians,” not “One Corinthians.”

XIV. If thou art a bride or groom, thou shalt recite thy vows confidently and audibly. Thou shalt not leave everyone wondering if thou believest that which thou saith.

Here endeth the lesson. Give thou unto me a break.


Weddings! Part 3: No charge

I don’t charge for wedding rehearsals, simply because I will not be there. Reasons, in no particular order:

My role at a wedding rehearsal is not in line with my role in the professional world, and I have never reconciled those two roles. Chalk it up to not enjoying playing when no one is listening. Going to a wedding rehearsal opens me up to unnecessary scrutiny. In the name of it’s-their-wedding-they-should-have-it-the-way-they-want-it, I have been critiqued and asked to play faster, slower, more detached, softer, and louder. I may be a world-class organist, but not at a wedding rehearsal. At a wedding rehearsal, I’m a vendor with a customizable product. I am not Dr. Bell; I’m not even Joby. I’m usually “the organist,” and in one case, I was addressed by the visiting clergy as Mr. Organ Player, while he pantomimed air-typing.

Wedding rehearsals are logistical, not musical. They exist to give the uninitiated a chance to find their way.

Wedding cues are visual, not aural. It is much more efficient for the musicians to watch what’s going on and provide the correct music than it is for a wedding coordinator in a noisy narthex to listen for musical cues.

Mothers and grandmothers do not need to rehearse walking down an aisle and taking a seat. I’ll say that again: Mothers and grandmothers do not need to rehearse walking down an aisle and taking a seat.

No one needs to rehearse “walking with the music.” That is known as marching, and it has no place in a wedding. If the power goes out and takes the organ with it, the walking can continue, and the place of arrival will not move.

At the rehearsal, while the wedding coordinator is trying to instruct the wedding party, usually from the other end of the room, music on top of that just adds to the confusion.

No one walks on Saturday the same way they did on Friday. So why bother rehearsing with music?

In addition to my day job, I play Sunday mornings. A wedding gets an additional chunk of my Saturday. It’s not getting my Friday evening, too. Enough already.

And finally, I don’t need to rehearse; I’ve done this before.

Glad that’s off my chest.


Weddings! Part 2: Prelude music

Memo to:
The Wedding Terrier
The Associate Pastor
The Pastor
The Director of Music
The Chair of the Worship Committee
My favorite vocalist and trumpeter

Joby Bell, the Exhausted One

Lately, the organ’s role as a service instrument has become difficult to maintain at weddings. I feel it is time to reduce the organ’s (and/or piano’s) “social” function and tighten up its liturgical/worship role for weddings.

Indoor traffic during 30-minute wedding preludes has increased in quantity and noise level. At any given wedding, there is usually a fair amount of noise generated by chatty acolytes, clergy conversations, soloist/reader traffic, media traffic/conversation, and general congregational nervous excitement. It has become difficult to establish and maintain a worship atmosphere, let alone be able to concentrate. [Hint to the clergy: stop bringing guest clergy out at the last minute to talk through logistics while the prelude is underway.]

I believe we are all in agreement that the organ’s first “appearance” at a wedding or any other service of worship should signal the beginning of that service, but I have found it is impossible for guests to maintain such a frame of mind for very long, let alone 30 minutes, in the midst of such a social event. Since many of the participants mentioned above are rarely ready by the time the music has begun, it now seems more effective to me to allow a reasonable time of socializing and last-minute setup, then signal the commencement of the service with the organ’s first notes. Therefore, I have made the decision to reduce wedding prelude time from thirty minutes to ten. It is my hope that by ten minutes prior to the ceremony start time, the room will be prepared and the service may commence. I feel that a worshipful attitude will then be unmistakable to most people. When taken in the context of continuing efforts to promote a certain high level of worship IQ among all who enter our doors, I feel that this is a good decision and will not detract from the ceremony’s importance as a worship service first and a social event second. [Hint to all: Seating of guests to music is a social convention, not a liturgical one. I play for services of worship, not cocktail parties.]

Exception: I will be willing to play for up to twenty minutes, if the couple has made specific requests and if I determine that the assembled congregation and participants would not compromise the organ’s worship role with excessive noise or distraction. This exception should never be construed as a license to solicit such requests from couples. Those couples to whom music is especially meaningful will know who they are and will already be organized accordingly with their requests. [Hint to the Wedding Terrier: do NOT mention this exception to couples. I’ll handle it myself, based on my visit with them.]

If there are questions, see my tirade on playing when no one is listening.


Weddings! Part 1: Vocal music

Good morning! Wedding Singer Hotline! How may I help you?

Yes, we always recommend employing either a) a competent soloist or b) no soloist for your wedding.

Oh, you’d like to have as wedding soloist your cousin ‘who sings?’ Well, that’s not very informative. Oh, they sing ‘opera?’ Ah, yes, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Pie Jesu? Um, well, that’s not a wedding song, and it isn’t opera. Perhaps I just need to speak directly with your soloist.

Well, I suppose using an accompaniment track is OK, but the sound system was not installed with that in mind. And since we have a 1949 Aeolian-Skinner and a 9-foot walnut Steinway, plus an above-average musician to play them, it might be more meaningful to use those, instead.

Tradition? No, there is no tradition when it comes to vocal music. If you employ a lousy soloist just to fulfill a tradition, then you’ll have a spoiled wedding video.

As to what music to choose, you’ll need to find out the church’s policies on what is acceptable in that particular church. As you know, a wedding held in a church is a service of worship to God, not an exercise in managing the bridal couple’s taste in public displays. Solos at weddings and solos at receptions are rarely interchangeable. Someone singing John Denver or George Strait in church is the musical equivalent of a bridesmaid processing down the aisle in cutoffs and a halter-top. By the same token, the Lord’s Prayer will probably not fare very well at a reception. The appropriateness of any vocal music may be tested by determining its appropriateness for any service of Christian worship:

We recommend:
-- any text taken directly from the Bible;
-- liturgical prayers set to music;
-- any text which mentions God in some way other than in exclamation;
-- any text which capitalizes the words ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘his’;
-- any text which illustrates your desire to bring honor to the marriage;
-- any hymn, except one with an obviously non-applicable theme such as funeral comfort, patriotism, etc.;
-- something which may suitably be used in Sunday worship services;
-- any text with applicable, recognizable theology.

We discourage:
-- songs containing the words ‘baby’, ‘darling’, ‘honey’, ‘I swear’, ‘lover’, etc;
-- songs with running themes such as ‘my little girl is all grown up now’, ‘mother’s grief’, ‘daddy’s playfulness’, ‘look how far we’ve come’, ‘how good you make me feel’,  etc.;
-- Pop, Country, Broadway, and movie soundtracks.

Anything falling in the ‘discourage’ category above may be more effective at your reception.

Ah, yes, when to rehearse? Vocal/instrumental rehearsal should occur one hour before the wedding. It is imperative that your soloist have learned all notes and rhythms before arriving for that rehearsal. Have your soloist bring at that time a copy of the printed music for the organist in the soloist’s preferred key. No vocalist should expect two and three meetings with the organist to rehearse. One hour before the wedding will suffice, with one or two runs through. After all, the organist has already played it a thousand times, and if the soloist can’t learn it on his own, then he falls in the ‘incompetent’ category and should never have been asked to sing in the first place.

Many times, a singer wants the organist to make a recording for the singer to rehearse at home with. Those recordings are dangerous. First, the singer will get too used to the recording and will expect the very same thing at the wedding. Second, if soloists must rehearse this way, then they are incompetent and should not be singing in the first place.

Yes, I suppose a lot of this is news to you or has been somewhat discouraging. But many churches are looking to reclaim their houses of worship from the '70s and '80s, when love ballads were the norm in weddings.

I’m sure your wedding will be beautiful, especially if you give music as much thought as you have the dress and the invitations. We are here to help. (And in most cases, ‘help’ means ‘educate.’)

Thank you for calling the Wedding Singer Hotline!