Thinking about having the ivories tinkled on your wedding day?

Top tips to consider when hiring a wedding pianist

Piano music provides an evocative backdrop for your guests as they gather for the ceremony and is the perfect accompaniment for any wedding breakfast. StarTurn interviews its premier pianist, Sue Busby and picks her brain on her top tips to turn your wedding day from a good time to a great time…..

What advice do you have for couples thinking about hiring a wedding pianist?

“I’d advise them to think about four things: 1. The style of music and the atmosphere they’d like to create at the various stages of the wedding – the ceremony, the reception and wedding breakfast.  2. Their own musical tastes, coupled with the age range of the guests. 3. The suitability of the venue for a piano – is there enough space for a piano? Are any parts of the wedding to be held outside? If so cover would need to be provided for the pianist and piano – neither mixes well with rain! 4. Make sure the chosen wedding pianist is prepared to be flexible on timings as, by the nature of a wedding, things seldom run to the exact plan!”

How long does a pianist typically play for, and at which parts of the wedding would you recommend a pianist?

“If it’s a church wedding then the actual ceremony music is probably best played on the church’s organ, so an organist would need to be arranged separately. For a civil ceremony, a pianist could play for the guests prior to the bride’s arrival, typically 20 minutes, and this would include the bride’s entrance. Then at the signing of the register, allow five to ten minutes,  Then the bride’s exit music – one piece.

Moving on to the drinks reception, the pianist could play right though, and maybe change the style of the music here so that it forms a lovely backdrop to the conversations between the guests. The music can be continued through to the wedding breakfast, up to dessert and speeches.  The reception might be an hour and the meal 1-2 hours, depends on number of guests and style of food served i.e a sit-down meal will typically take longer than a buffet meal.  It’s worth noting though that a pianist would need to take a couple of comfort breaks during these times!

Most wedding pianists would also be happy to work with a singer at any of the wedding stages, if the bride and groom wanted some vocals in addition to instrumental music.”

Sue Busby

Do the bride and groom  need to provide a list of songs or piano pieces? What if they ask for songs or pieces you don’t know?

“Not all, I am happy to advise and we’d start the selection process by first looking at the bride and groom’s favourite artists or seeing if there are any specific songs they like, particularly tunes that provide happy memories.  I can then find an appropriate piano arrangement – I like to do this a few weeks in advance to allow enough time to find the best arrangement.  Not every pianist will know every song! I’m always happy to learn new pieces, given enough notice.

I also want to ensure I am providing music which is personal to the bride and groom, and that it creates the right atmosphere at the different parts of the day.”

How would you advise the bride and groom  when choosing music if they are not too sure of what they’d like?

“Think about the atmosphere first and then we can work on selecting music to match.  We can work on different styles for the different elements of the wedding.

The piano is so versatile, compared to other instruments, it can be up or down tempo, loud or gentle. So for the service it might be classical pieces, for the reception maybe some jazz or swing, then through the wedding breakfast or dinner, a gentle start, building the tempo as the buzz of the guests grows. The music can easily move from Hollywood to Bollywood!”

What if the wedding venue doesn’t have a piano?

“A portable electric piano can give almost as good a sound as the real thing or a professional quality stage piano can be hired, including a luscious looking grand piano.

Another consideration, particularly for a civil ceremony wedding, is that we may need to think about moving the piano, or having two, as the ceremony and reception are often in different rooms within the same venue.”

What makes a good wedding pianist?

“Someone who has a wide range of styles, and a large repertoire. Also someone who is sympathetic to the occasion, and can adjust their style and respond according to what’s working best for the guests. A good pianist will know when the music should be soft and gentle and when it needs to be more robust and louder.  It’s a bit like film or TV music, in some respects you don’t consciously think about hearing the music but without it the atmosphere would be lacking.”

What’s your funniest wedding moment?

“Playing at a very strict religious event and the bride arrived in a vivid scarlet, revealing, dress – the reaction on the vicar’s face!  I thought he was going to have a coronary and he didn’t seem to know where to look!”

What is your favourite piano piece for a wedding?

“An arrangement of What a Difference A day Makes – it works equally well for the ceremony or the reception and for church or civil ceremonies.  For the signing of the register, you can’t get better than Bach’s Prelude No.1.”

Name three things you can’t live without?

“My son, my piano and my health.”

A fact about yourself that may surprise people?

“I am currently in an army music team, training to do a 100K charity walk, taking place on 16 July, to raise funds for the Gurkha Trust and Oxfam.”


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