Help me propose!
June 23, 2011 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Help Me Propose! (In Chicago)

Finally decided to pop the question. And while I have the idea in my head, I'm looking for some recommendations to help realize it. So basically I'm planning to have a picnic with her in the park that's across from the zoo. The flower garden that's in-between the two roads there, not the one directly in front of the zoo since its more secluded.

I want to have a string quartet summoned on cue (from text message) to play music for us. I'd do something fun and cheesy like say "I wish we had music right now" and then they walk up playing. I'd also like to have a photographer nearby "photographing flowers" and when the moment comes, he sneakily takes many pictures of the moment without her noticing.

So that all sounds dandy and whatnot--problem is I have no idea how to pull it off! I don't know where the heck to find a string quartet, how much it would cost, and likewise for a photographer that can do good romantic action shots like that in stealth.

Yet another complicating factor is that I would ideally like to have them all be available for a couple days in case weather is bad and I need a backup, but I really don't want to have to pay cancellations or a booking fee if I'm not using them (not sure how realistic that is). My budget is about $500-$1k for the whole thing, but would obviously prefer to spend as little as possible.

In any event, I beseech the hive mind for advice on:

1. How to hire a string quartet (any specific recos?) and how much I can expect to pay.

2. Same for the photographer.

3. Whether it is realistic to ask them to be available on backup days in case of needing to cancel on behalf of bad weather.

On the flip-side...I'm wondering if I'm over complicating this and should just ask her when we take a trip to Portland end of July. Neither of us have been there, so I have no idea what I'd do or where so not sure its worth considering...
posted by Elminster24 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would find it unbearably cheesy and posed if there were a string quartet & photog. Just one data point; I am intensely private.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:18 PM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, you are talking several thousand dollars.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Several thousand dollars? Portland it is!

Anybody have suggestions?
posted by Elminster24 at 9:28 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

In terms of setting the mood, I don't think there's a huge difference between "hidden boombox" and "string quartet full of strangers" but one is horrifically awkward.
posted by acidic at 9:33 PM on June 23, 2011

You know your beloved best - will they want a big production made of the proposal? There's probably someone out there who doesn't remember the circumstances under which their beloved proposed, but I really doubt it. (We proposed to each other in a car, on a ten-hour drive, in an epic rainstorm. I'll sure never forget it.)

Portland and its surroundings are full of all kinds of picturesque and beautiful spots, from urban to not. You can pick a spot by the river, or in Powell's (do you both love bookstores?), or in any one of a number of brewpubs (if you both love beer). You won't even need a car if you want to propose on a volcano.

Making specific suggestions is going to be hard because we don't know you or your intended at all. We have no idea what you like. You do.
posted by rtha at 9:37 PM on June 23, 2011

I'm going to assume you know your girlfriend would love a proposal like this or you wouldn't have thought it up to begin with. For one thing, you're hoping she'll marry someone like you, and you're the sort of person who comes up with zany things like this, right? Right! So, now I'm going to suggest you post a plea for musicians to Craigslist and public places your girlfriend is not likely to see. Explain your idea in detail and mention that you don't have a lot of money. You'd be surprised at what people will do for something sweet (and, hey, YouTube hits!). Then again, you may not get any bites at all, but if you do, then you're off to a good start.

As wacky as this proposal idea is, does it really matter if the musicians are good? Do they have to be string players? Honest question. It might actually be just as memorable, sweet, and possibly hilarious if your surprise ensemble is a bunch of people playing whatever they found handy and struggling through some barely-recognizable tune. Of course, that's probably not your idea of romantic at all, but I'm saying work with what you've got.

You may want to give up on the 2-day weather hold, though. That's asking a lot unless you cobble friends and family together for this instead of professionals. Then it's people who love you both that are all in on this together.

The photographer bit sounds a little invasive, though. I'd skip that. Maybe your musicians could have a phone cam handy with them to snap a pic if this goes over well. Save the pro photos for the wedding.
posted by katillathehun at 9:57 PM on June 23, 2011

I'd give up on the string quartet, but do you have any friends/acquaintances who play violin, flute, trumpet, anything? I'd think you could find a broke music student for $100. Post on Craigslist random gigs. Obviously, meet with them first. If you want something simple to be played, even the local high school band/orchestra has a kid who can play for you.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:31 PM on June 23, 2011

Portland suggestions (I'm assuming OR):
You could take her to the International Rose Test Gardens. They will be blooming and beautiful.
If you like the outdoors, there are tons of nearby hikes with idyllic places to propose. If you have a car and want a lovely view without much effort, you can drive almost to the top of Larch Mountain and walk a short way to the very top. On a clear day you can see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer, Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson, not to mention the Columbia River Gorge. There usually aren't many people up there and I've definitely brought wine and a picnic before.
posted by janerica at 10:53 PM on June 23, 2011

Hi! I used to play in a string quartet for hire, both in high school and in college. What you are proposing (a string quartet "appearing" in a public place) is a huge hassle, and you might have trouble finding anyone willing to do it. For starters, all four players have chairs and music stands, and your contract will state that you need to have the chairs set up before the players even get there. Even then, you expect the musicians to carry around the music stands in the park, on top of their instruments, sheet music, personal belongings such as purses and jackets, and instrument cases? Or do you expect them to just... leave them in a pile somewhere nearby once they get your text message?

I've played outdoors in a few country clubs (where we were at least provided with a dressing room), and even then it was never a fun experience, trying to secure music to our stands with clothespins so it doesn't blow away, dealing with tuning issues due to humidity and heat, struggling to hear each other due to bad acoustics, trying to protect the varnish of incredibly expensive instruments from the sun...

You might be able to find a lone violinist to do this, and they wouldn't be happy about it either but it'd cost you significantly less (~$50-75 for an hour, $100+ if through an agency). Now recall your cheesy tourist restaurant experiences with the guy coming up to your table and serenading you. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Nobody likes that guy.

I'd skip the live music, unless it's a mutual friend playing guitar. Now that'd be easy, cheap, endearing and fun as opposed to contrived and awkward as hell for everyone involved.
posted by halogen at 11:08 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with others about the string quartet, it's going to be ridiculously expensive to find ones with the music you want to hear memorized and bar that have you ever seen someone set up a portable music stand? Not pretty. If you switch to wind instruments they have lyres so no stands necessary, or if you switch to a guitarist they are far far more likely to have pieces memorized.

I really don't want to be a downer on your proposal but if your girl is anything like me cute and low-tech will be just perfect.
posted by boobjob at 11:20 PM on June 23, 2011

I think your idea is wonderful and you should totally go for it, but maybe sub in guitarists because of the practicalities outlined above. They could play from a discreet distance to tone down the cheese but still give the surprise.

I would suggest asking a wedding photographer to do the sneaky photos, specifically one who works in a reportage style. They will be used to capturing an evolving situation.
posted by ukdanae at 2:14 AM on June 24, 2011

Mariachi Band! Don't actually do this.

The photography angle shouldn't be a big problem. Covert engagement photos are a thing.
posted by Jahaza at 4:23 AM on June 24, 2011

I'm into cheesy, romantic gestures, and I would LOVE a proposal like this (especially if boyfriend took me to the park where we had our first date!)

I DO agree though, that a string quartet is overkill. Random guy on park bench strumming tunes and crooning is WAY better, and as you happen to walk past, do the deed. This way you don't need a text message cue even. Maybe get him to play one of your songs when he sights you guys. If boyfriend did this for me and had dude strumming Girl from Ipanema on a romantic walk through the park, I might even propose to HIM in the moment! :)

LOVE the idea of covert photographer - I'm a ridiculous capture-the-moment person because I often forget details in my ADD-addled brain, so photos are perfect for me as memory triggers. If photographer has telephoto lens so can take shots from a bit far to give you some privacy, even better.

Bonus points - if you've just taken her for a wonderful champagne lunch/picnic, and/or have an afternoon of lying in the park planned for cuddles and kisses.

posted by shazzam! at 5:17 AM on June 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Even if your string quartet had their music memorized and could play without music stands AND had a place to stash their cases/personal belongings, you need to consider where the poor cellist would sit! Violinists and violists can play standing. Cellists, not so much.
posted by coppermoss at 5:25 AM on June 24, 2011

A friend just proposed to his girlfriend. She was taking her regular jog and he surprised her on the running path. They did have another friend waiting somewhere nearby with a camera with a long lens who managed to shoot the whole thing from beginning to end without being intrusive. Those pictures are some of the most wonderful things I've ever seen and more than a few of us teared up seeing them. I think the key is being unobtrusive, though. If you can pull that off, I say absolutely go for it.
posted by goggie at 5:50 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't really know about the surprise musician (it would be awkward for me, but your girlfriend may love it), but I'd say go for the photographer. I think someone with a long lens who can be pretty much hidden (not creepy hidden, just really out of the way) capturing the whole moment would be awesome. If she says no or things get weird the photographer never has to show anyone the pics.

I am not familiar enough with Chicago to make recommendations, but you could see if you could find any photography students or even someone who works as a photojournalist (or someone new to the wedding industry) if you need to cut costs. Friends could work as well, if they have a good camera and are comfortable using it. For this type of thing you want someone with that photojournalist style (some wedding photographers specialize in this) as opposed to someone who does good posed portraits. Make sure you look at the style of their portfolio to see if it has those type of shots in it, and that you like the style.

If I were in Chicago and I had the right camera (no DSLR...I still have 35mm film) I'd totally do it for you, just for a fun experience. If you do find someone who isn't a pro photographer, go to the location and experiment with angles, hiding places, etc. That will help a lot I think.

Have fun!
posted by MultiFaceted at 6:24 AM on June 24, 2011

Even then, you expect the musicians to carry around the music stands in the park, on top of their instruments, sheet music, personal belongings such as purses and jackets, and instrument cases?

I have a friend whose proposal involved a string quartet, and her fiancé pulled it off really well. Rather than having them appear out of nowhere, he hired them to play in the park for the afternoon. When the two of them showed up and the time was right, the quartet switched to one of my friend's favorite songs. She absolutely loved it, and never suspected a thing.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Completely skip the Chicago thing and rent a car in Portland. Within an hours drive, you have some of the most scenic areas in the country. Keep it simple. Good luck.
posted by repoman at 9:01 AM on June 24, 2011

I live in Portland, and I would recommend the Japanese Garden. It's beautiful, something that you could suggest to visit without alerting her radar, and there are many private nooks.
posted by Specklet at 10:02 AM on June 24, 2011

I worked at an Olive Garden that was one of the fancier restaurants in town. No, really. As such, we saw a fair number of proposals go down, especially around Valentine's Day. This is to demonstrate that the Olive Garden was not, for this area, an inappropriate venue for a proposal, I guess.

One night, a guy asked for some help in coordinating his elaborate-ish proposal. He had us reserve him a parking space near a power supply so he could plug in a Karaoke machine and serenade his bride-to-be from the bed of his Truck. Since we knew about it, and the majority of servers at an Olive Garden on any given night are women ages 19-27, when they left the restaurant, a group of us naturally congregated by the windows to watch.

Guy sang his song, popped the question, she said "yes," kisses & hugs, etc. Girl looked a little embarrassed at the spectacle, but what can you do?

Inside, the proposal received a chorus of "Awws" and even some tears from a handful of the servers. "That's so sweet!" "Awwwwwww!" "Yay!" The chatter went on for a bit about how nice that had been, and how sweet it was, when one girl finally said, "That was cute, but I hope no one ever proposes to me in public like that."

The tone immediately shifted, and the whole crowd of servers agreed. "Oh, yeah." "Definitely." "Not for me!" "Ugh, no!" "That should be private." "So cheesy."

You know your girlfriend best, but even women who get excited about these kinds of things in other people's lives would often rather avoid the spectacle. Just something to consider.

Go with a quiet, simple, moment and tell her how you feel. It'll be enough. :)
posted by terilou at 11:46 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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