Sunday, December 5

Tim Dowling: My band never plays weddings except this one | Family

In all the time that the band I’m in has been playing together, we’ve always refused to play weddings.

This is not snobbery; it’s just that the things that most people expect from a wedding band are things that we do not and cannot provide. We do not accept applications and we cannot extract a large repertoire of standards. We have a banjo. You may think that we are what you want, we tell people when they ask us, but in reality we are not, and when you realize your mistake, it will be too late. We will have ruined your special day.

But we had to say yes to Emily’s wedding because she is our trumpeter. She has been in the band for a decade, so it would be fair to say that she knows what she is getting; our ability to ruin your special day is something you will have counted on.

Between Covid and the terrible weather, it has been a difficult summer for anyone planning a wedding. Plan A, I think, was to hold the ceremony outdoors, with a little PA to amplify the music and the rabbi. I don’t know what letter to assign to the final plan, which has everyone gathered under a long, narrow canopy under threatening skies, with the band huddled in a circle next to the rabbi and the speakers and sound system cables laid out at our feet.

“Do you remember how you started?” says the violinist.

“Don’t ask me that,” I tell him.

I’m grabbing a guitar, because no girlfriend wants a banjo as part of her walk-in music. The sky clears and darkens again, several times. We have played hundreds of concerts together, but it feels like a huge responsibility.

I realize that the violinist is looking at me urgently, a sign. Or, more precisely, a sign that I have lost the signal. I start to play. The piano adds, then the violin. Walk-in music is cyclical, meant to last as long as the bride’s trip down the aisle, but my back is to the proceedings. The first thing that appears at the level of the first row is a Labrador, followed by Emily in white.

The ceremony begins with a tall, ominous cloud hovering over the tent. By the time we start playing again, it’s raining. The song is a bummer, at least when accelerated, but it begins with a slow, sad violin part that, given the circumstances, is very moving. As we start to pick up speed, the rain intensifies. I look at Emily standing next to her husband, Jake, and it occurs to me that I’m going to cry. Then it occurs to me that they are going to electrocute me.

In the end, when the two glasses smash under the heels of the bride and groom, we launched into a version of I Saw The Light. By now, the store is surrounded on four sides by walls of water. The music is meant to be processional, but no one leaves.

“Keep playing!” yells the violinist, above the rain. Streams of water make their way around our shoes.

By the time we have transported our wet instruments to the tent where the reception is taking place, the sun is shining again. As we settle in, our old worries about weddings resurface.

“How long are you going to play?” says the sound man.

“I’m not sure,” says the guitarist. “Half an hour?”

“No one is going to want more than that,” I say. “They are all chatting.”

But we’ve got the mood wrong: everyone huddles around the stage for the first dance and cheers from Jake and Emily. For the past 18 months, like most people, I have been no stranger to emotions: discouragement, frustration, anger, pain. However, I have not been anywhere near joy since the beginning of 2020. It is overwhelming to witness, and to see it is to experience it.

Two-thirds of the way into the first song, Emily drops Jake on the dance floor, takes the stage, and sings a trumpet solo. As you can well imagine, the crowd goes wild. It occurs to me that I’m going to cry again. Then I realize that I need to compose myself, because this is one of those songs that I can’t really play unless I can see my fingers.

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