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Wedding music: With these songs, I thee wed

Two music buffs carefully plan their wedding soundtrack, 'The Book of Love' and more. The sound of silence is not part of the set list but has surprising results.

June 29, 2013|By Randall Roberts, Pop Music Critic
  • Two music buffs carefully plan their wedding soundtrack.
Two music buffs carefully plan their wedding soundtrack. (Celia Krampien, For the…)

The moment of unplanned silence prompted by a midceremony miscue between groom and DJ still stings. Music, after all, was to occupy a key spot in our recent wedding, playing a role otherwise reserved for scripture, prayer, meditation or hymn in a more traditional religious ceremony.

In place of the usual wedding march, my nephew Leo, 11, and his guitar teacher had earlier serenaded the gathering with an expert — objectively speaking, of course — version of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" as my soon-to-be wife, Jenny, and her father walked down the aisle. In silence, we'd moved through introductions with our officiant, Neda, while a half-circle of 60 seated family members and friends looked on. Cue music. Cue music!

As we stood beneath a grand oak tree in rural Missouri, a short distance from a rehabbed barn where our reception was to be held, we waited while dead air, prompted by an unmanned CD player, delayed the proceedings.

I shifted nervously, fearing the worst. A ceremony without its centerpiece was no ceremony at all.

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Weddings and music: It's a topic that thousands of couples will ponder this summer. Their decisions will affect many more, whether they're enduring a mediocre cover band in a Holiday Inn conference room or sitting peacefully atop a Malibu bluff with a string quartet or a solo pianist. How music is presented can be the difference between a joyous celebration or a funereal exercise in cliche.

For me, the endeavor took on a greater weight due to my work. I love thousands of love songs, and I think daily about music and lyrical expression. Jenny and I had traded thoughts for months on our first dance, contemplated processional and recessional music, tangled over every nuance of sonic presentation, going so far as to include mention of stereo and music-sharing in our vows. Which pieces most accurately captured our feeling of love? Live band or DJ? If a DJ, how much freedom would he have, and what if the result was terrible music?

Most important for the panic at hand: What would happen if, standing before the altar with your bride, silence arrives when there should be music?

Then, as if drifting in with the wind, the echoed guitar melody arrived as the DJ stretched and hit play: "The Book of Love" by the Magnetic Fields, a song that imagines a bound volume compiling the many mysteries and meanings of love. It accurately, if wryly, describes some of the feelings we share.

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"The book of love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing up," Stephin Merritt sings to open the song. "It's full of charts and facts and figures, and instructions for dancing." Disregarding that some might misconstrue the words "long and boring" in relation to marriage, the line blossoms with the arrival of the first chorus. "But I love it when you read to me," sings Merritt, in his deep, droll voice. "You can read me anything."

Said book is also filled with many musical works, notes the singer, a truth quite evident when the groom is a pop music critic and the bride has controlled the jukebox in previous relationships. Our first date involved seeing composer-producer Jon Brion at his monthly Largo residency. We first experienced music together while leaning into each other with an ease that suggested we both could already sing on key a melody we'd heard only once.

On another early date we saw the Magnetic Fields perform at the Orpheum. Jenny had confessed her love of hair metal by then, and I'd forgiven her after she tempered it with passion for Joni Mitchell and LCD Soundsystem. She heard "The Book of Love" for the first time with me.

"The book of love has music in it," continues Merritt in the second verse, "In fact, that's where music comes from. Some of it is just transcendental. Some of it is just really dumb."

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A year and a half later, we got hitched, and in the process learned that few events in one's life require as much curatorial thought, judgment, negotiation, potential for embarrassment and opportunity for grand expression as a wedding. Music about love and devotion can be eye-rollingly cheesy, sappy, predictable — as anyone who's ever sat through a wedding between two nonmusical people can attest. "My Heart Will Go On" or "Wonderful Tonight," anyone?

But for those of us with music in the heart, the feeling that arrives upon experiencing a great new song strongly resembles the crush of first love. Endorphins fire, the pulse races, loins and brain tingle as a new spirit rushes into the consciousness, one seemingly personalized for pleasure.

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