Music is such a personal choice at a wedding function. It says everything about your vision and expectations for the day. Nothing makes that vision or feeling more obvious than a string quartet.
I spoke to Chin-Hwi from Angamus Music Entertainment about all there is to know about taking your wedding up a notch in the style stakes and booking a string quartet. Although Angamus are Newcastle based, they happily play at Hunter Valley and Central Coast weddings also.
Below is the transcript from my interview. If you’d rather listen to the interview, you can do that here.
A String Quartet for your Wedding
Andrew: It’s Andrew Hellmich here from Impact Images. I’m with Chin-Hwi from Angamus, who’s a violin player, a musician, and I see her a quite a few weddings that I’ve covered particularly in Newcastle and Hunter Valley. And I thought it would be a great chance to have a chat to Chin-Hwi about some, about booking a quartet or string musician for a wedding. And just see what’s involved and yeah and how to go about that, so, Chin Hwi, if you want to just introduce yourself and maybe tell us a little bit about how long have you been playing the violin for and what you actually do?
Chin-Hwi: Sure, pleasure to be here Andrew. With Angamus, we’ve been here for about 10 years. It’s over 10 years. Where I’ve come from quite a musical life. I’ve been playing the violin for almost 30 years. So I’ve had a lot of experience with performances and I love music. I’ve been born and bred in Newcastle and if anything, I’m still discovering a lot of places where I get to travel for work. And if anything, it’s just wonderful to be part of making someone’s day special, whether or not it’s for an intimate group or people for a concert, or even for a wedding. Grand wedding, if it’s in a cathedral or in a chapel. It’s really exciting. So for Angamus, we organize a lot of music for weddings and many other special occasions.
Andrew: Okay, great. So, if I was a bride, if I was booking you for a wedding or think about having music at my wedding, and I didn’t want to have recordings or an iPod, or something like that. I want to have live music, what’s the first thing I’ve got to consider with having someone like a group like you? Do I have to think about whether I want solo, duo, trio? Or is it more the sound or the style of music I’m thinking about? What should a bride be looking at?
Chin-Hwi: Sure, well, the discerning bride would always go with live performance. Because they want something which is unique and very memorable for their special occasion. And once the brides decided as to where they’re getting married and the style of wedding, in my experience, brides generally have 3 styles of ceremonies which they may choose. The first one would be more of a classical style of ceremony. It could be in a cathedral or in a church, it’s very traditional. It could be more, the other one would be more contemporary, so whereas in a non-denominational venue like the gardens, a beach for instance, the rotunda in a park and if anything, we’ve covered most of those ones that..
Andrew: That would be the main ones, a church or chapel
Chin-Hwi: Yeah, that’s right and the modern one is where you have places like vineyards and, so they’re very, very similar in those respect.
Andrew: So what about the actual style in music. Do the girls, when they come to pick the music, do they have to actually nominate songs with you? Or they just say, ‘We love what you do. We love that sort of sound.’ And then you come up with something?
Chin-Hwi: Right, well brides have this idea that either classical or they want a little bit of something modern or sentimental. So generally speaking, there will be either, they will ask what style of music which we would play. We actually have a repertoire list which they’ve got a snippet of what styles we can do. For instance, classical music, if they want something traditional. Like ‘Pachelbel Canon,’ that’s always a well known piece for going down the aisle. And things like ‘Ave Maria’ or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring are popular pieces which, as you will for a traditional service, then there’s brides who have that special song which they may have recalled in engagement or it is a special time with their fiancé. And ‘I really would like that piece from that movie because it just reminded me of that special time which we had together.’
Andrew: And that may not be a classical piece.
Chin-Hwi: It might not be a classical piece at all! It could be more contemporary. Sometimes we might be even more top 20 piece and they’ll go ‘What do you think of this?’ and as a musician, that can largely depend on what style of music, if it’s very contemporary, if it’s got a bit of a beat to it, then chances are, maybe a small string ensemble might not be able to emulate exactly what they want. But then there’s opportunities of maybe putting a pianist in. And you don’t necessarily need to have an actual grand piano or an acoustic piano there. You can have musicians who actually bring in a digital piano and you can actually get all the different textures for a contemporary song in your wedding.
Andrew: And you still get that live feel with string instruments accompanying that.
Chin-Hwi: And sometimes you have that extra depth with the pianist, for instance, to get the rhythms which you want from that contemporary piece. But yeah, love songs, musicals, sentimentals are usually are the things which really grab a bride.
Andrew: Okay, so that first appointment when they contact you, is that really then, they know they want a certain sound. They may not have a song list in mind yet. And that it could be developed as it gets closer to the wedding?
Chin-Hwi: Definitely, yes. So a lot of brides tend to come in with an enquiry about how, they like to have a look at a string trio or quartet. So for sure, they’ve got an idea of what they’re looking for. It could be just one particular area there but once we find out a little bit more of what style of ceremony, what style of music they’re looking at, we may recommend a particular group which would suit their music better.
Andrew: Okay, so when they call you for their first initial contact, they might ask for quartet but in reality they may only need a soloist or a duo.
Chin-Hwi: Yes, yes. So the term string quartet, it can be quite loosely used. It could just mean a collection of strings for most people but we do offer things like a solo violinist who can wander around at different places in the ceremony and even during canapés, or we can have, still for an intimate ceremony, they can still have a string duo or a trio without feeling that you’re overbearing the number of guests. Of course if there’s a really grand one where it’s held in a cathedral, for instance, then maybe that feeling of wanting to have a lot more grandeur. So the idea of maybe a string quartet could be..
Andrew: A better option? So will you help couples then to decide or steer them in the right direction for what they need for their event?
Andrew: So they just have to have the idea, they want that live music, they know the sort of feel they’re trying to create? And then you can help them with the rest?
Chin-Hwi: Yes, that’s right. If they’ve got a theme, for instance. I find that can be very helpful. I remeber there was a time which we wee playing for a bride at Tocal Homestea which is very much in a country, and her feeling was that she wanted some celtic folk music so that already gave some options there as to where to go with that. So she choose in the end a violin and piano duo. And afterwards, she hadn’t any particular ideas with her reception but then actually had booked the bush band, which I play for as well. So it worked really well for her style.
Andrew: Okay, sure. So with that music choice, if they say they want a particular song as they’re coming down the aisle, and you may, say, not have that in your repertoire, is that something that you just go and learn for that couple?
Chin-Hwi: Often, it is the case Andrew. It could be a special song which is very unique to them. Sometimes they could be very foreign from Norway, Sweden, different groups where it is not usually asked for. So we would certainly consider those special requests if first of all, they are do-able with that particular group. And also, we would take care of that particular piece. And of course, yeah, it would be a special song for them, which makes it unique.
Andrew: Yes, it’s amazing. Okay. Let me ask you, so you mentioned before, canapés in a ceremony? I know that you guys do a lot of ceremonies. So often if it’s a garden wedding or you, so you actually stay a little bit longer for canapés or that depends on the package the couple chosen?
Chin-Hwi: That’s right. So we offer customized packages for our brides. They might choose to have a performance for simply a wedding ceremony. Or they may decide well, we’ve got our guests and they’re very important to us. So let’s prolong the entertainment and we’ll move into a different area of the gardens, for instance, to enjoy the canapés and pop that bubbly whilst the couple are out going for their photos. So it’s fantastic, a very special personalized thing that some brides do where they consider their other guests and what they’re doing in between, their special photo moments. Yeah, what we might offer is a particular group for the ceremony and then we might change the group either by.. for instance it’s a string trio for the ceremony, we might offer a different style of music. It could be a violin and piano duo, for instance, for the canapés. Or maybe a wandering violinist for the canapés before they go into the reception.
Andrew: Okay, so you really get the change of feel for the whole day.
Chin-Hwi: Contrast, yeah, style of music too. So they want might go more traditional for the ceremony and then they want to go more light, easy listening, popular and jazz. So we might pick up the pace. That’s right.
Andrew: So there are options. Okay, right. And for those, I guess, the Sunday afternoon wedding, there’s not going to be so much dancing, maybe little bit of dancing. Are they the sort of weddings you might do the reception as well? Reception coverage? Like reception music?
Chin-Hwi: Yes we have been asked to do that. String ensemble generally, if you’re looking for dance and such, then there is a different approach with that. We’ve got DJs and bands. But if you’re wanting a very laidback, nothing too energetic, just wanting some beautiful classical music, for instance.
Andrew: I’m picturing like a Sunday afternoon wedding in the vineyards, canapés and champagne.
Chin-Hwi: Oh yes, okay. So it’s very, very fluent. Yes, it’s relaxed. Yes, definitely.
Andrew: So that would be the sort of coverage that would be perfectly suitable for a quartet.
Chin-Hwi: Yes, yes. In fact we had something like that happened in Port Stephens where the bride and groom decided well, they had a ceremony which they booked us for for a little while and then because they were quite fluent, they just decided maybe they, originally they didn’t have any entertainment at all for their reception but they just said ‘Okay, you’re around, we’d love to have you stay for longer.’ So we have done the impromptu and flexibility there, yes.
Andrew: Sure. Okay. And I know there is only one of you. But you actually look after or refer and have other musicians cover weddings if you are not available yourself, is that right?
Chin-Hwi: Yes, that’s right Andrew. Though I endeavour to be part of the special occasions as much as I can. There are times that wedding periods can be busy. So I’ve got a network of professional musicians from Newcastle, Hunter and also Sydney who I organize for weddings as well. So they are guaranteed that they have professionalism and great music for their ceremony.
Andrew: I think when we were chatting earlier, you’re saying most of the people that you refer and yourself included, come from the conservatorium, is that right?
Chin-Hwi: Yeah, a lot of dedicated musicians and players have come from places like the conservatorium. And if anything, you know that they’ve been there, they’ve done a lot of performances, they’re quite familiar with the repertoire and if anything, they’re really great to work with.
Andrew: Sure. So if you’re booking someone like that for a couple because, say, you weren’t able to make that particular wedding, will you still liaise with them, work out a song list or playlist and style of wedding?
Chin-Hwi: Definitely, I’m always there from the beginning right to the end. So if anything, the communication is there, the bride can contact me anytime. They sometimes will send questions to me throughout that period of, you know, ‘what do you think about this song idea for the signing? What’s your thoughts on that?’ and I’ll give them some ideas and if they say ‘What do you recommend on for a grand exit?’ I might give them a few other ideas as well and send them some links for them to listen to. So I do find it’s really helpful and it just makes things a lot simpler to be able to know that there’s someone on the other end who does understand. The great thing though is that we also offer the opportunity to be part of a live performance of Angamus. As we play every week at a venue in Newcastle, at the Piano Lounge, there’s that opportunity to see how Angamus works. And engages with the audience, how they relate to people, and that’s important to know that on your special day, that you need people who can understand and go with the flow.
Andrew: You have to be a little bit flexible, don’t you, at a wedding?
Chin-Hwi: You do have to be, yes.
Andrew: So what you’re saying is for couples that are thinking about booking you for their wedding, they can actually see you play, not necessarily at a wedding, but they can to this piano lounge and actually hear you guys, have a chat with you between sets?
Chin-Hwi: Yes, that’s right. And that’s really helpful because there’s some ideas where a bride might go ‘Can you play this Stevie Wonder song?’ I wonder what that is. So they might let me know in advance before they arrive as to, I’ve got this particular song request, are you able to do that?’ Though we play as a violin and piano, that just gives them an idea as to how the sound could be, and whether or not what they decide on the day, if it’s an intimate violin and piano duo or if it’s a duo with a piano. They’ve got that flexibility there too.
Andrew: And I know that some of the weddings that we go to, the outdoor ceremonies these days, which is more and more of, I’m seeing some on the beach, how do you guys feel about playing on the beach? I know it’s not really good for your instruments. I know that some, say, violinists and string instrument players prefer not to be on the beach? Is that still a possibility for couples?
Chin-Hwi: Well, brides have the ideal place of where they want the ceremony and that’s very important to them. As musicians, there are few musicians who choose to bring their instruments out. However, there are always musicians out there who like a different experience. So, if anything, the network of musicians I will go for, will be people who are suited to that style of flexibility, don’t mind a bit of the sun and the sand. So if anything, our musicians are picked to work with those special circumstances.
Andrew: So I guess when they make that initial inquiry, if the couple tells you they’re having a beach ceremony, you’ll know which of your musicians you can recommend and use for that particular job.
Chin-Hwi: I would check with them first, for sure. To make sure that they’re available. So that way, all the needs are met in the beginning. One thing is, outdoor weddings are very popular. They’re the more contemporary approach, the modern approach which we were talking about earlier. One thing which we find as string players is that shelter is very important to us. We’re happy to play really anywhere, so long as we’re sheltered from any kind of weather, whether it’s rain, wind, direct… yeah, it can be a little bit of a challenge. I remember one time playing up the Obelisk and even one of my sturdy stands just flew off down the hill.
Andrew: So it’s nothing really to do with sound quality? It’s just the fact that it’s difficult to play?
Chin-Hwi: It can be rather challenging. So there are times where if we have venues where we’re asked to play, ensure that some of those requests are made that we have some adequate shelter.
Andrew: And I think, just briefly, we were talking before about the playing on the beach and you said that the salt and the sand actually affects your instruments? Not because you don’t want to play in the sand, it actually damages them.
Chin-Hwi: Yeah, that’s right. It’s really interesting. What happens is, we just love the salt air of the sun, of the beach, don’t we Andrew? And what happens is that actually, sometimes we get a bit salt-crusted ourselves when we spend a bit of time on the beach. So what happens is some of those salt crystals tend to attach to our bows on our violins, for our violins. So what happens is, if we’re playing for a little while, even while we’re there, it can actually affect our playing because the bow doesn’t get heard so well because of the salt, which affects the rosin. So sometimes, it can actually affect the sound in that way, too.
Andrew: So you said the rosin? What’s the rosin?
Chin-Hwi: Rosin, yes. That’s the special stuff, it looks like magical dust which we would put on our bow.
Andrew: Okay, that goes on the string of the bow?
Chin-Hwi: Yeah, on the string. That’s right.
Andrew: Okay, so tell me when couples ring up, I guess one of the first thing they ask you is the price. I know there’s so much more to about what you guys do than to be based purely on price. I mean they have to see you guys and hear what you can do and experience a wedding that you guys are at just changes the whole feel. But how much are people looking at roughly to sort of get started with having live music at a wedding?
Chin-Hwi: Right, I guess basically, starting off from in the order of $250, you’ll be able to get some intimate music for a wedding ceremony. But it largely depends on where the wedding is as to travel for the musicians. What your requirements are for what style of ensemble, any special requests and such. So what we find is that, really, it’s important for the musician, for actually for the bridal couple to know that it’s, take a look at the packages which we can offer. With different groups, listen to sound bites on the website, look at the different kinds of testimonials, come in for a live performance, see what you think and then decide.
Andrew: Yeah, sure. So I imagine that price will fluctuate depending on obviously if you have a quartet, where you’ve got 4 musicians playing instead of 1, as the soloist. How far you have to travel to get to that wedding, and the amount of time you are going to be at that wedding. So all of those things are going to play a part in the price.
Chin-Hwi: Yes, but most important, I guess the bride who knows what they want and can visualize really what their needs are will find the right group there. And if anything, that’s the important time to book. Once the bride is ready and goes ‘that’s what I like.’
Andrew: Cause she’ll know when she hears it and sees it.
Andrew: That’s familiar, that’s what I want at my wedding.
Chin-Hwi: That’s right and without hesitation. That descending bride will act on that promptly.
Andrew: Okay, that’s unreal. So how do couples find you? I know you said, mentioned a website. What’s the actual website?
Chin-Hwi: So it’s Angamus, that’s our group. It’s www.angamus.com
Andrew: That Angamus is A-N-G-A-M-U-S?
Chin-Hwi: That’s right.
Andrew: .com? No au?
Chin-Hwi: No au.
Chin-Hwi: Yes. You can find us also on Facebook too.
Andrew: And if they go to the website, there’s actually sound bites and things like that on there?
Chin-Hwi: Yes, YouTube links as well and also upcoming performances. So if you’re interested in dropping in, drop me a line, give me a call, let me know that you’re coming through. If you’ve got any special request, then I’d love to play them for you.
Andrew: Fantastic. So let me ask you just one last thing. Say, for instance someone is listening to this in Darwin and they’re planning a wedding. Or Adelaide. And they can’t have Angamus there. What should they check for if they’re booking a quartet in one of these areas? How do you know you’re going to get someone good? Is it by going to watch them beforehand or testimonials? How would you tell if someone’s good?
Chin-Hwi: Sure. So being that the wedding is in a fairly distant area…
Andrew: Or just the fact that you guys can’t do. I know you guys are good so I’m happy to refer and talk about you guys. But if someone’s, say, new to an area and they don’t know, do they check for, that they played for the conservatorium, should be looking for certificates or, how do you tell if someone’s going be good at their wedding?
Chin-Hwi: Sure, well I guess if you’re able to get some feedback or testimonials. It’s not necessarily how many certificates that they’ve attained or what qualifications. It’s actually really who’s able to create that magic for you. So finding a group which is experienced with playing and they’ve had years of experience of playing in different kinds of areas, if it’s in a concert situation or if it’s outdoors, or a particular event, chances are, they are experienced. When there’s feedback, testimonials from people, that can be very helpful. There are also other sources where you can go online and find out more information, tailored to that particular area. So yes, I would look at the years of experience which they have.
Andrew: And probably where they have played. So make sure they’ve played in weddings and outside location.
Chin-Hwi: Particularly if it’s for a function, which is very similar to what you’re looking for. You want to make sure that they’ve had a lot of experience in playing for weddings, for instance.
Andrew: Do you ever have instances where the bride has a cousin, or they know someone that can sing that wants to sing..
Chin-Hwi: If that’s the case, then we’d factor in, what’s the song? Is it something which we have, the repertoire, or send us the music. We’ll organise a rehearsal with them before.
Andrew: So you would just do that on the day at the ceremony beforehand.
Chin-Hwi: Generally, yes.
Andrew: That’s easier. Okay, just a run through. Fantastic. Look, I really appreciate your time Chin-Hwi, that’s been unreal, thanks very much.
Chin-Hwi: Thanks Andrew!