How do I know you are who you say you are? A guide to choosing your suppliers…

When you are arranging your wedding or function, there are so many decisions to make, and your suppliers are some of your most important. There are literally thousands out there, from florists to photobooths, hairdressers to harpists, so how do you choose a good one and how can you guarantee that they are the right supplier for you.

1. Have you experienced it yourself?

The best thing to do is to check it out yourself. Wedding fairs or Venue Open Days are a great way to get ideas about the sorts of things that you could have at your wedding or function. Not only do they give you ideas, but you can talk to the supplier and sample their services (watch them do a magic trick, eat some of their cake, or listen to their music!). It’s not a very personal way to meet your suppliers, however it is a good starting point. Once you have chosen the sorts of things that you would like to include, consider asking if you could meet them in person to discuss your exact requirements. I am always more than happy for clients to visit me at home so that we can have an uninterrupted conversation about their event, whilst also giving them the opportunity to listen to some music in blissful isolation from other people! Do be careful – some suppliers will try to charge for any appointments, but make sure that you don’t agree to anything that you don’t think is reasonable. It is very useful for them to meet you in person too, as you can never get all of the information correct through email, so don’t be afraid of questioning their pricing methods!

If you can’t get to meet them (for example, if you live abroad) try to speak to them on the phone, or perhaps see if there are video examples of their work. This is more challenging with things such as cakes, as a photograph could be provided by anyone and there is no guarantee of whether it tastes any good. Many forms of entertainment, however, have video links so that you can see them in action on sites such as YouTube. It’s fairly tricky to fake a video of you performing a magic trick, or playing a musical instrument, so this is an excellent check if you can’t meet someone in person. If your supplier doesn’t seem to have anything available, don’t be afraid to ask as sometimes they would prefer to email examples, rather than have things publically available.

2. Do you know someone else who has used them?

The best way of ensuring that you have a good quality supplier is ultimately through a recommendation of someone that you trust. This is easier with some suppliers that with others. For example, you may be happy to use the same wedding cake maker as your friend as you enjoyed their cake, but know that you can have it decorated in a different way so that it doesn’t look the same. Your photographer, similarly, need to be someone that you know that you could work with and get on with, and therefore one that you have seen work is a good start, as well as being able to ask your friends to see their work. Entertainment, however is more difficult as you are likely to not want to have anything at your function that a friend or family member has already had. This means that you need to do some investigating yourself…

3. Can you find some reviews or recommendations from trusted sources?

Firstly, contact your chosen venue. All reputable function venues have listed of recommended suppliers, where they have built up relationships over the years and know that the quality that they will provide will be in keeping with the venue itself. Just a word of warning: check how often your venue updates their lists! The venues that I work with most closely update their supplier directories every year, to make sure that everything is kept fresh (and it keeps us suppliers on our toes too, which is no bad thing!).

Once you have chosen some people to investigate, most suppliers will have testimonials on their websites. It is, however, very difficult to verify these as ultimately they have been typed by the supplier! (Mine are completely legitimate, by the way!). A more accurate review system is to check out wedding planning websites, such as Hitched. Whilst these provide suppliers a platform to advertise, they also have opportunities for clients to provide reviews. Reviews can only be posted by having an account with the website, or by signing in using Facebook, which means that it is very easy to see whether they appear genuine or not.

Another, fairly recent, addition to the world of reviews is Google Business. Businesses can now be listed on Google (assuming that they meet Google’s requirements and security checks) and then members of the public can rate and review their services. This, of course, applies to many types of businesses, but legitimate wedding suppliers should be registered as a business with Google, so that you can see what their reviews are.

4. How can you confirm that they are a trusted professional?

Sometimes it is appropriate for suppliers to have qualifications or memberships to professional organisations. Don’t be afraid to ask if your supplier has any of these. Those of us who have completed rigorous training in our areas of expertise would be more than happy to explain what we have achieved and at which level. There are suppliers out there who have happily turned professional from starting out with a hobby. This does not mean that they are in any way less proficient, however you need to make sure that they are as good as they might appear and that they have completed any relevant training that their industry might require. If they haven’t, you may like to ask yourselves why they haven’t. Some professionals will have a degree in their chosen area. Or you would, for example, expect a magician to be a member of the Magic Circle, or a musician to have a range of exam certificates, to show that they can perform at a good level (with an exam board such as ABRSM or Trinity Laban).

You also need to check that they have any relevant insurances or certificates to perform at your venue. Any supplier that you use should have Public Liability insurance, and anyone using electrical equipment should have certificates of safety. Don’t be afraid to ask to see these, or for copies (many venues ask for them anyway, so you may well need to pass them on).

5. Have you checked them out on social media?

I’m not very tech savvy. Not at all, in fact. However what I can tell you is that social media can actually be incredibly useful when trying to find out about a person or organisation!

There are sites such as Facebook where suppliers post what they are up to, which can give you an insight into what they really get up to. Are they posting regularly? Do they always go to the same places? Do they have any comments from other people? Do they have lots of ‘Likes’ (people who have actively chosen to keep an eye on what they get up to)? All of these things can give you an idea about how active your supplier is and whether people like to stay in touch. Also look at what they like to share, or copy from other parts of the internet. Is it relevant to their profession? What does this say about them?

Another good one is Instagram. This is a site where people can post pictures of what they are getting up to. Yes, quite a lot of people seem to post pictures of babies or what they are having for dinner, but it can give you a good idea about how active (and how professional) your suppliers are. As with Facebook, are they posting regularly? Are other people commenting? Do they have a lot of followers? Are their posts entirely professional or do they seem to be mixing in their home life and their professional life onto their one account? What does that tell you about them? How do you feel about that? I personally keep my personal and professional ‘faces’ very separate – I don’t even follow my own pages! I find this useful on two levels, as firstly I think that it appears far more professional, and secondly I don’t have to worry about what my friends say on my accounts! However, you may feel that you would prefer suppliers who have a more relaxed attitude, but either way, their online status can tell you quite a lot about the person that you are considering employing…!

6. Do they fit into your budget?

Sadly, you have to be realistic. We would all love to have Elton John perform at our function (well, perhaps not everyone…!) but the cost to have him there would be out of 99% of people’s budgets. Once you have found some suppliers that you like the look of and are sure would provide you a professional service, contact them for more details. Make sure that you give them as much information as possible, such as dates and locations, along with timings (if applicable). Suppliers usually have a fairly wide area in which they operate, but it is still possible that you might be contacting someone who lives at the other end of the country, so make sure that they have as much information as possible so that they can come back to you straight away with ideas of cost. Suppliers come in varieties of shapes and sizes, with different experience levels and therefore different prices. To a certain extent, you do pay for what you get, but do be careful as there are some naughty suppliers trying to overcharge when they first enter the industry to make them appear more experienced than perhaps they are. As long as you have done some background checks, however, this should be fairly clear so you know what to expect.

7. Do you like them?!

Not only are you going to be imparting some of your well-earned cash to this individual or business, but they are going to be part of a very special occasion. Therefore it is so incredibly important that you actually like them! It may sound silly, but so often I hear of people who have gone with a supplier because they thought that they were the only one, or because that was who they were recommended by someone, or because they didn’t think that there were any others. Don’t be forced into using anyone who you don’t want to. Listen to their voicemail message (slightly creepy, but it is amazing what you get a feel for from it!). See how detailed and informative their emails are. Do you feel like they have copied a standard response or have they written a specific reply? Some of these things are more important to some people than others, but in such a competitive industry, you can afford to be fussy of your function and wedding suppliers – there’s always an alternative, so don’t accept anything except the best.

Here comes the… music to make your bridal entrance magical

The most magical moment of any wedding day is right at the beginning, when a bride or groom walks down the aisle on the arm of their attendant and meets the eyes of the person who is about to become their partner for the rest of their life. You spend hours (and a lot of money!) choosing your outfit, practising your hairdo and deciding who will walk with you, so here are some things to think about to make it even more special.

Music does something to us. To all of us. No one can really explain how or why, but there is something in sound waves that can make profound emotional connections in each one of us. It can make us happy or sad. Bring back memories of places or people. Hype us up to go to the gym (although I’m not too familiar with that sensation…!) or relax us during a spa day. However it does it, music can take any situation to another level simply by being there. Of course, this is also true of wedding days. Music enhances all aspects of such a special celebration, from some light background entertainment during dinner to partying the night away to a band or DJ. Music can be one of the hardest (and costliest!) parts of your wedding planning, deciding how best to create the perfect atmosphere and occasion with that medium that we all connect with: music.

That moment of the entrance of the bridal party at any wedding will be mesmerising, but to really make it truly magical you should choose the music that is played at this point particularly carefully. Any music will create an emotional response in all who listen to it, so not only is it important that you like it, but remember that the effect that it will have on your guests. Traditionally chosen music, such as Wagner’s Bridal March (frequently know as ‘Here Comes the Bride’) will stir a certain set of emotions or memories within your guests. Not everyone is a fan, and what you can be certain of is that at least half of those listening will be thinking about someone else’s wedding when they hear it, rather that focussing on yours! Instead, use your entrance music to create an atmosphere that is truly unique to your wedding day, to you and your partner and to connect everyone in the room with that time and place.

Depending on the theme of your wedding, you may wish to consider different types of music. For those who wish to have a more traditional piece, but aren’t sold on the idea of ‘Here Comes the Bride’, consider something gentle and elegant, such as Pachebel’s ‘Canon in D’. This piece has become a popular choice for bridal entrances due to its elegant nature, good walking pace and gradual build up as the piece goes on.

If that doesn’t create a connection in you and if you prefer more modern music then it’s really important that you think about something that will. How about the song that you have chosen for your first dance? Having an acoustic version as you walk down the aisle creates a lovely unity for the special music for your day, without having exactly the same version of the song twice. Others will choose family favourites, pieces that perhaps parents, or even grandparents had played on their wedding days, such as this love-song classic, ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’.

Some couples chose music from their favourite films, or that go along with their wedding theme. Alan Menken, for example and his colleagues at Disney have written some fabulous love songs over the years, and I regularly am asked to play pieces from Disney films (the good ones are the old ones!) as they create a connection with family and childhood memories which is always so special on your wedding day. Only recently I was given a list of a fabulous selection of Disney music, from ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ through to ‘Married Life’ from the new(ish!) movie Up! for a wedding ceremony in a Kentish Castle! For another wedding this summer that I was priviledged to play at, the bride (as a surprise to the groom) requested the theme from their favourite film The Holiday which I arranged especially for them (see her comment on my testimonials page).

If a specific film or song doesn’t spring to mind, how about something that connects you to being you. A hobby or interest; you would be surprised how you can find music that connects to a whole range of things. I have played football themes for dedicated fans, the music from the British Airways advert for one of their pilots, and even music from a Japanese computer game for an expert gamer! In all of these instances, several guests came up to me afterwards and commented on the choice of music as they understood the connection with the couple, which were made even more memorable having been performed live on a harp! Some of these I have continued to play to this day and are still in my repertoire  – click here to have a look at the current list.

Whatever you choose for your wedding ceremony, make sure that it represents you and your wedding in some way. Something that, for years to come, all of those who were honoured enough to be in attendance will hear the same piece of music and think about your magical moment.

 

To theme, or not to theme, that is the question…

photo 5

Can you see me?

In traditional Western weddings, the Wedding Breakfast (a formal sit-down meal) is one of the main features. To attempt to cater for a wide range of tastes, likes or dislikes (not to mention dietary requirements) of the 80 or so guests, many wedding venues have tried to make these as easy to manage as possible, which can result in some fairly similar outcomes! One way of making your wedding different to other people’s is to try and make this more personal. The menu may be limited by different factors, however how you dress the Dining Room and tables for your guests can create a real sense of occasion.

The Wedding Breakfast has its origins in late Georgian times, when the wedding ceremony always included a Holy Communion. This would have required the bride and groom to have fasted (not eaten) since the night before so that they were deemed eligible to receive the Holy Sacrament. As part of the Communion the priest would have blessed and distributed a selection of wine and bread or cakes, therefore meaning that the bride and groom would ‘Break Fast’. This over time developed into a meal at lunchtime, after the morning marriage service, and now we still use the same term to describe the large, formal meal that takes place (usually about 4.30pm!) during an English wedding celebration.

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistOften dining rooms are set with round tables for 8-10 guests, each with a series of place settings, name cards and copious quantities of glassware. In the middle of each table is a wide expanse of nothing-ness which you can use to your own means to create a centrepiece for your guests to admire. Often florists jump in and create some stunning works of floral art for your guests to admire, surround with candles or similar. These can create beautiful coordination as they will match the flowers that the bridal party carry, and other decorations around the venue. The will also follow your colour scheme of your stationery and bridesmaid dresses, both creating and completing the ‘look’ of your day. Flowers are romantic and versatile as they can be moved around during the day, so these make a fabulous focal point. Don’t be afraid of adding to them, or around them, however with items of your own to create something more personal.

Table names are a great way of putting your mark on things. Catering teams will need some form of name or number for your tables so that they can make sure that the correct guests receive the right food. Numbers, however, can be a little problematic. Being seated on table 2, for example, can give your guests a sense of importance, but being placed on table 14, may not result in the same reaction! To combat this, table names are an easy alternative, as no one can guess which is more important that the other! I have seen many different themes; many people go with places that are important to them, or films that they have seen together, but here are a couple more that I have seen recently that I have quite liked!

On the left was a wedding reception themed with the couples’ favourite books. The top table (of course!) was Beatrix Potter’s ‘Peter Rabbit’, and other table included ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Each table had a beautiful, hard-backed edition of the book in question, presumably so the guests could read aloud to each other in between courses! A good party theme was different types of sparkling wine. Each table had an (empty!) bottle wit the name held into the cork and then every guests’ name card was itself mounted onto a champagne cork. A lovely keepsake, and a suitable theme for a wedding celebration!

Nicola Veal Wedding HarpistIf, however, you would prefer the more traditional table numbers, try to think of way that you can still add in something personal to them. I saw this at a wedding this summer, which I thought was priceless: each table number had two photographs, one of the bride and one of the groom, but both as babies or toddlers. (This was also a great way of getting in ‘those’ embarrassing photographs, without the need for long PowerPoint presentations as part of the speeches…!)

Whatever you choose to do for your wedding, remember one thing: your day is unique because it is yours. Your friends and relatives know you, so no matter whether you have booked a Castle or a Cabin to celebrate in, by creating a theme and personalising the things that you can, you will make the day truly unique just by being there. But try to make it different, and a day that everyone will always remember.

 

Dum Dum Di Daaaaaa!

Wedding Ceremonies in Western Culture have for the best part of a century frequently featured the same two pieces of music, but why?

No-one ever doubts what is about to happen when the opening bars of Wagner’s ‘Wedding March’ from Lohengrin is played; the bride is about to make her entrance into the most important day of her life. The piece is originally from an opera by Wagner written in 1850 and is sung when the women of the bridal party accompany the heroine Elsa to her bridal chamber.

Our most popular wedding recessional (when the bride and groom leave the ceremony) is the Wedding March by Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn, another German composer, like Wagner, wrote a suite of music to be played for a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and this Wedding March is one of the pieces.

Both of these pieces became popular as wedding standards after they were used at the wedding of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria) to Prince Frederick of Prussia in 1858. The ‘Kate and Will’ of the day, once this royal pair had used this music, everyone wanted to copy and it became the wedding standard processional and recessional that we know and love.

Whilst these two pieces of music keep being requested (and for good reason) don’t forget that your music for your wedding need not be traditional if you would prefer it not to be. Make it as personal as you like – but there is a reason why everyone likes to hear ‘Dum, Dum di Daaaa!’.