As the only harpist in my hometown, I usually get wedding gigs by word-of-mouth, or people who have seen me play other places like at church or at coffeehouses.
When I was younger I used to be too nervous to play for the processional (I just did background music while the guests came in), until one wedding when there was a technical problem with the recorded music and the groom came up to me five minutes before the wedding was about to start and told me that I would have to play the processional.
I play a lot of O’Carolan at weddings.
My harp is a 36 string lever harp and it just fits in the back of my car.
When I was starting out I charged $50 for half an hour or $100 for an hour. I was self taught until this year, and have been improving a lot since I started lessons, so I asked my teacher what I was worth when I got a request for a wedding this summer. She told me $150.
If you have a teacher I would recommend asking him/her what you should charge, as they will probably know the going rate and how your skills compare to other harpists in your area.
Ok, based on my experience:
1) Word of mouth. But if you’re really serious, print up a bunch of business cards and meet with as many churches and wedding chapels as you can.
2) Prepare for anything. When I played at my first wedding, everyone got all messed up and the songs got out of order–at the rehearsal everything was lovely but at the service, they appeared to expect me to play “Nearer My God to Thee” for about ten minutes straight. I’d prepare more than one version of each song–even if you’re ‘supposed’ to play two verses, prepare about four variations so it doesn’t get boring. (Chords, intervals, octaves higher/lower, etc.)
3) I prepare the ‘traditional’ bits: the Bridal March from “Lohengrin” (Here Comes the Bride), Pachelbel’s Canon, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Ave Maria, and some attendent’s pieces, like Trumpet Voluntary. The bride’s favorite hymns are excellent for church services. I would stick to mainly classical (and classical sounding. For instance, Susan McDonald’s recital book series is quite useful) for a church service. However, I like to keep old love songs in my repertoire, just in case I ever need them. My piano teacher advises ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, “Love Story”, and the theme from Romeo and Juliet. (For actual concrete book ideas, try “Serenade for the Soul” by Rhett Barnwell–all very soothing moderate pieces).
4) Bring a friend. The guests are quite helpful and all, but they tend to be more enthusiastic than actually helpful.
Firstly, good luck with getting started!
1) How to advertise/get a wedding gig
Most of my clients come from the internet in various ways – I have
my own website and I also work with around four different agencies. The
agencies are great – they sort out all the contractual and payment
stuff, which is a great help. I find there is less venue loyalty than
before, as couples tend to organise their own weddings, booking
everything separately, rather than relying on ‘in house’ venue
harpists. However, it’s still a good idea to take along some literature
to leave at venues just in case.
I also do quite a few wedding fayres and these are ideal, as
prospective clients can hear you play and ask questions face to face.
2) What to prepare for at the wedding
Obviously, prepare your music and make sure everything you play is
utterly foolproof. When you’re looking out for cues, timing the bride’s
progress and coping with possible distractions – crying children etc. –
the last thing you need is to be anything other than totally confident
with your pieces.
Practice rounding off a piece at different moments too – you don’t
want to leave the bride standing at the top of the aisle while you
finish off a ten minute section! You need to be able to end a piece
quickly, or learn how to fade the piece out nicely.
Take along extra music in case of emergencies… at the very first
wedding I ever did, there was a half hour delay when the bride’s
grandad managed to lock himself into his hotel room! Luckily, I’d
brought along plenty of emergency music and could cover the gap.
3) Song ideas
Aye, the classic stuff as already mentioned. Pachelbel’s Canon, the
Wagner wedding march etc. The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is another
one, great for recessionals.
I offer a free consultation with the couple, so they can hear some
selections. Be open to their own suggestions, as it’s a great way to
add to your repertoire – but don’t be bullied into playing something
new at short notice. As above, all your pieces, especially the
processional, need to be really well known and secure.
4) Moving the harp there and back
Easy… shove it in the car, take it out at the other end If you
have heavy equipment, tell the couple in advance that you’d like a
hand. You can usually rope the best man into helping you shift things.
However, I never let anyone else carry my harp! Get insurance to cover
you in case of accidents to your equipment.
5) Price you charge (base price../hr, etc)
I charge less than a pedal harpist – £180 for a ceremony, though
many of the weddings I do are also for the reception and/or wedding
breakfast too. I charge a bit less for those, even though they take
longer, as they are far less stressful and require less practice for.
By bringing a friend, I should have been more clear, as I am actually too young to drive on my own, I have to bring a friend or family member! It also makes loading the harp much easier, but I can see how not everyone would have this advantage.
My family has got it pretty much to a science–but what we do is we have something on the ground for the harp to rest on (we use heavy door mats) and then, with large pedal harps, we lean the harp against the bumper of the car (leverage!)
Aye, same for a lever harp – always have the levers uppermost.
I think if you are doing lots of gigs, it is worth considering having a
smaller harp. I’ve never had anyone complain that my harp is not a gold
covered giant… the bigger lever harps (mine is 41 string) and the
smaller pedal harps make life loads easier.
Quite right! Sorry, didn’t even think about that! I say column, now, instead of the mechanisms up, though, becuase a) my family tends to freak out a bit with the harp and b) they can’t see the mechanisms because of the cover. So ‘column behind driver’ is easier for us all!
So let me rephrase my post: figure out where the column goes in relation to the driver. Memorize that, and let that be your mantra!
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