String trio or quartet for wedding reception?
April 26, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Should we hire a string trio or string quartet to play at our wedding (immediately pre-ceremony and during the reception)? I have no idea what difference, if any, the extra violin would make to the sound or the range of music that can be played, though I do have an idea of the difference in cost ($170-350). Is it worth it? (Bonus points if you can suggest pieces of music.)
posted by Dasein to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
my opinion... either one..

one of my sons had a 16 piece swing band play, another one had a single violin player...

To be honest... the music was interesting, but it was not the focus of anyone's attention..

I think the difference between a three or four piece group is insignificant to the max.. save the money!
posted by HuronBob at 6:56 PM on April 26, 2010

My wife and I had two guys playing guitar. Granted you can plug those in and get louder, but except for that the comparison works.

Also seconding the idea that people won't really remember the music. Maybe they'll remember what they like, but they won't remember not hearing something.
posted by theichibun at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2010

Mostly, you'll just find that different pieces are composed for trio than for quartet. Things originally written with more parts can be rearranged for fewer instruments, but may sound not-quite-right if components of the harmony are missing. Pachelbel's Canon, for instance (always, for better or for worse, a wedding classic), is a sort of a round with a structure where each voice repeats what the previous voice has done, and it doesn't really work without all the voices (three melody lines and one accompanying line).

I would say that with respect to pieces, while the group will almost definitely take requests, they probably have a pretty large filler repertoire, and I'd be inclined to let them pick, since they almost definitely know the material much better than you, and will likely choose things that aren't cliche (like the aforementioned Pachelbel's Canon). I played some weddings in college, and when people requested things, it was always one of about three or four songs, which got really old fast, both for the musicians, and, I'd imagine, the audience, who must also be hearing the same thing at every wedding they attend. Particularly if you end up with a trio, letting them pick music will mean they'll probably go with music written as trios, rather than arranged down, which will be good.
posted by andrewpendleton at 7:02 PM on April 26, 2010

We had a string quartet play at our wedding. A trio wasn't an option for us, so I never had to make that decision.

Music suggestions: any of the Brandenburg concertos (we had two or three of them played); Ode to Joy was our recessional song. I emphatically did NOT want Canon in D played, since it gets played at every frickin' wedding I've ever been to. Gag.

Our quartet provided us with a list of songs in their repertoire, along with a sample CD to listen to. My husband is into classical music, so we had a couple of special requests that were not on their list, which they were able to accommodate, no problem. You should see if either outfit you're looking at has something you can look at/listen to to help you decide.
posted by wwartorff at 7:03 PM on April 26, 2010

I don't know anything about wedding music in particular, but I know about classical music, and the difference between a string quartet and a string trio makes a huge difference to the range of music that can be played. Compositions for string quartet are very common; compositions for string trios are rare. Try Googling "string quartet" in quotes, then comparing this to a search for "string trio"; the latter has less than 2% as many results as the former because it's so rare.

There are very good musical reasons for this. The most basic chord in Western music is a triad, which consists of 3 different notes (for instance, a C major triad is C, E, and G). So, that requires a minimum of 3 strings to play the chord. If you think about that situation, you can see how limited a string trio is: playing the most basic possible chord uses up all its resources. It can never play a triad with even one of the notes doubled (in unison or an octave higher), and it can't play even the basic 3-string triad with a melody being played independently at the same time. (It is technically possible for one of the instruments to play 2 notes at once, but this doesn't work very well as anything more than a quick flourish.) Adding a fourth string opens up so, so many possibilities as far as expressiveness and repertoire. That could easily be worth an extra $200 for an important, lavish event if you can afford it.

(The fact that someone else had 2 guitars at a reception isn't that relevant, since that's 4 times as many strings as a string trio.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:09 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

While in high-school and college, I made money playing violin with string groups at weddings and other events. I must have played at more than a hundred weddings, and I was never in a string trio – that's be pretty strange. My guess is that you will have a much larger selection of music if you hire the quartet. I'd say it's worth it if you want the traditional sound everyone's come to expect.

Also, if your city has a high-school for music/the gifted/etc. or a university with a music school, call them and ask whether they have an event performance program. I made $40/hour when I performed through my high-school and about $75-$90/hour when performing through private companies (as a part of a quartet; duets and solo appearances paid better). If you book through a school, the musicians will get 100% of what you pay. Otherwise, the company keeps a significant chunk of what you pay.

Never, ever deal with random Craigslist people. I can't tell you how many times we've been called to cover for such groups in the very last minute.

Performances through my high-school were just as – if not more – talented and professional as the ones booked through entertainment companies. At least with my high-school group I never had a musician not show up at all. Also consider that with the company, I seemed to get paired with quite a few mediocre, washed-up musicians who had no motivation to keep up their skills.

Last but not least, high-school students are cuter. Way cuter.

posted by halogen at 7:16 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unless, like me, you have very specific ideas of what music should be performed during your wedding ceremony, the best bet is to get the ensemble to suggest/play snippets of the music they recommend.

Both the trio and the quartet will have repertoire and suggestions to make regarding what is feasible. I recommend a "taste-testing" of sorts, where you get them to provide you with either recordings or a performance session so that you can gage the kind of music they make. I sing at weddings, and wouldn't think of doing otherwise for prospective clients. I have even directed them to my MefiMusic page so they can hear snippets of my singing!

Good luck!
posted by LN at 7:20 PM on April 26, 2010

I have no idea what difference, if any, the extra violin would make to the sound or the range of music that can be played

Do they make samples of their work available, plus a list of their established repertoire? Maybe those things would give you an idea of how the two groups would differ.

A string trio might have to arrange their music down and it might end up sounding a little thin. But I'd personally be more concerned about the quality of the musicians making up each group than the number. TBH, $170 sounds too cheap for three musicians for several hours, and I'd worry that they weren't great (unless you have other reasons to know that they are great). Someone sawing away with marginal aptitude at a violin is basically the worst sound in the world of music.
posted by palliser at 7:44 PM on April 26, 2010

Thanks, all. Jaltcoh's answer was pretty convincing - quartet it is. halogen, I'm fortunate to live in Toronto, where we can hire top-notch music students through the Royal Conservatory, which does not take a cut. We will avoid Pachebel's Canon, but the Brandenburg Concertos are a great idea - they're some of my favourite pieces of music. Please keep any more musical suggestions coming.
posted by Dasein at 7:46 PM on April 26, 2010

palliser, just to be clear, $170 is the lowest marginal cost of having a fourth musician for two hours (immediately pre-ceremony to immediately pre-dinner).
posted by Dasein at 7:55 PM on April 26, 2010

Ah, of course! My reading was ridiculous.

Musical suggestion: we used the second (Adagio Cantabile) movement of Beethoven's Pathetique (arranged for strings, obvs) for the bride's processional. It has the solemnity and deliberate pace of a piece like Canon in D, without being overplayed at weddings. I play piano, though, so it did have special significance beyond being gorgeous.
posted by palliser at 8:17 PM on April 26, 2010

I don't have much idea of the difference between 3 or 4 performers, but I have an anecdote:

My work hosted an event with the theme "Heroes" and our amazing quartet (music lovers from the Corktown Chamber Orchestra) actually scored and performed "Gonna Fly Away" (the theme from Rocky). It was awesome.

(and Dasein, They are in Toronto, memail me for details.)
posted by Joad at 8:20 PM on April 26, 2010

I can also put you in touch with good musicians in Toronto (through the U of T school of music) if you need more options. Lemme know by memail.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:33 AM on April 27, 2010

OK, if the music is important, spend the extra money. You only get married once (hopefully, at least). If the money is more important, set up some speakers and play some recorded music.
posted by chrisinseoul at 7:02 AM on April 27, 2010

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