From Pachelbel to Pharrell: Playing strings while couples tie the knot

by Ashley Mergens, Special to MPR
August 7, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to songs for wedding ceremonies, there are a few standards: Pachelbel's Canon is often played, or Mendelssohn's Wedding March. For the dozens of weddings they have performed at this summer, though, the Lake Minnetonka String Quartet have had a frequent contemporary request.

"There's been a big surge in people walking in to the Game of Thrones theme," said Darin Anderson, the quartet's cellist. "What we've tried to do in setting ourselves apart from other groups is offering more contemporary special arrangements."

Anderson and the quartet's violist Chuck Krenner arrange most of the music they perform. Krenner tends to focus on classic rock and Anderson on more contemporary music. Krenner has even arranged the theme to the video game The Legend of Zelda for a wedding. Other recent arrangements have included the theme to The Princess Bride, Pharrell's "Happy," and Krenner's own version of the Beatles' "Let it Be."

"There was a wedding where the groom was Chinese and they wanted a traditional song called 'Butterfly Lovers.' Darin wrote that arrangement and we were very humbled — they applauded us in the middle of the ceremony because everyone loved it so much. We had never even heard the song before, but it was cool to tie their traditions into the more American traditions," said Maisie Block, one of the quartet's violinists.

Block grew up with Anderson in Wayzata, and she met her husband David — the quartet's other violinist — and Krenner at the Cleveland Institute of Music. When they all moved to Minneapolis they started out just wanting to play music, and then found that weddings were a great fit.

"It's the biggest day of [engaged couples'] lives, up to this point, and it's pretty special for them to invite us into their ceremony and let us provide the music and sort of set the mood for the day. And honestly it's kind of an honor," Maisie Block added. The quartet also perform at memorials, corporate events, and other parties. All four are professional musicians who spend their time playing and teaching music.

Performing at weddings can bring its own challenges. If a ceremony is outside in late autumn or early spring, it sometimes can become too cold for the quartet's instruments to perform. Couples then need to either move their ceremony inside or order heaters to keep the instruments in working condition. "It usually ends up that guests sort of hover around the string quartet, if we have the heat," said Maisie Block.

The quartet also need to have their music library well organized. Oftentimes they will play between 15 to 20 songs during a ceremony, and they need to react quickly. Wedding parties can sometimes walk too fast or too slow, and brides can be nervous and hurry down the aisle. "Most of time it's their first time doing this," said David Block.

Maisie and David got married in Mexico, and because they love music and know so many musicians they had over 20 musicians perform — including a salsa band, jazz flutes, strings, guitars and a mariachi band.

When Anderson was married, there was a different twist: he performed during his own ceremony. "The priest wasn't necessarily happy about that, because I was running back and forth to and from the altar. I was kind of a groomzilla with the music."

Ashley Mergens is a writer, pop culture enthusiast, and music appreciator from Minneapolis. When not writing you can find her nannying for three small children and reading a lot.

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