Friday, July 17, 2009

Audience and obligation

This week's AVQ&A question generated an interesting range of disagreement among the A.V. Club staff. A reader asked what poetry readings and music we did (or would like to) include in our e weddings.

The divide appeared between the respondents who suggested personalizing the ceremony through the choice of music and readings that had personal resonance, and those who advocated a more traditional approach. I was firmly on the side of the latter. And maybe I should explain that I've seen wedding planning from both sides now -- from the side of the couple to be wed, and the side of the officiant. (OK, there are probably other sides too. Mother of the bride comes to mind. I can wait on that.)

I didn't really have a philosophy about ceremony components when I was getting married. I was only too happy to let my mother handle most details about the program. But now I'm pretty sure that weddings are not expressions of personal style, but rites of passage with cultural significance.

Some writers also made the point that weddings with any kind of guest list at all imply an responsibility to those in attendance. Foisting off oddball songs, poetry, or ceremonial elements on them; insisting that the music for the reception be drawn exclusively from artists and albums that meet your aesthetic approval; and generally assuming that their support of your nuptials implies an obligation to "respect" your particular taste in entertainment or quirks of spiritual practice; all constitute, in my opinion, a failure of hospitality.

I understand why people want their beliefs and playlists to take center stage at a wedding ceremony. It's billed as your one shot at the spotlight, and it's hard not to want to take advantage of it by staking your pop-culture flag. But it's really not all about you. It's about the generations that are passing the torch to you -- respect for what a wedding means to them is much appreciated, and doesn't represent a compromise of your values. And it's about appreciation for those who witness and celebrate the moment. Give 'em a mix CD as a reception favor if you really want them to know what music means the most to you. Otherwise, make the ceremony short and stick to the general area around the classics, then throw a party everyone can enjoy -- you and everyone who did you the honor of accepting your invitation.


Adam Villani said...

I think there's a balance to be struck between doing something to your own taste and being hospitable to the guests.

A couple months ago we went to a very straight-laced wedding at the Ritz-Carlton in Westlake Village, surely the most expensive wedding I've been to, with about 200 guests, the best catering, the most tasteful setting, traditional (for being nondenominational) ceremony, etc. But you know what? It was all pretty forgettable, and one really didn't get much of a sense of their personalities. The overall impression was that it was staged to impress the parents' friends.

Contrast that with a wedding I attended two weeks ago in the backyard of the bride's family's house on the banks of a river (like literally, if the minister had taken about two steps backwards he would have fallen in) in rural Northern California. The ceremony was pretty much standard, but there were quotes from the Velveteen Rabbit that were very nice, the dress code was very casual (I wore jeans and wasn't out of place). Catering was nice but standard, but most distinctive were the very thoughtful toasts and the klezmer band that performed at the reception (they're not Jewish). I'll remember this wedding for a long time, and it made a big impression on everybody.

Traditional elements and hospitality are important. But your personality is important, too.

Adam Villani said...

And there's also ways to be hospitable without being cliche --- we had my wife's brother the musicologist select classical pieces for the ceremony, and then my friend the DJ spin party music that wasn't "YMCA."