Credit: Meg Smith

As they sipped champagne on the verdant lawn, guests at Jeanne and Brendan Coffey's July 2000 wedding couldn't help remarking on how much the reception reminded them of a scene from "The Great Gatsby." There were pearls and dinner jackets, salt-laced breezes off Massachusetts' Nahant Bay, and the rambling white clapboard mansion of historic Marian Court. But what truly captured the spirit of old-fashioned elegance were the strains of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong jazz classics wafting through the lavender twilight.

Be it the romance of classical, the vigorous beat of salsa, or the charm of folk tunes, nothing casts a mood at a reception more powerfully than music. It heightens drama, gives voice to countless emotions, and underscores meaningful moments -- all while offering a window into the bride's and groom's personalities through their musical tastes.

The vendor you choose to provide your music will, in a sense, create the soundtrack for your event, so it is essential to find a band or disc jockey who can evoke the tone you want to set. If you're planning an intimate, casual brunch in a country garden, a deejay or a trio of musicians providing some light background music might be the perfect choice. If you're hosting an elegant black-tie affair for 250 in a city loft, the robust sound of a full band might be more appropriate.

In the past, deejays were sometimes dismissed as a choice made strictly for economic reasons. But now, many couples opt for recorded music because of its versatility -- the concept of featuring, as one deejay puts it, "a hundred bands in one." If your tastes run the gamut from country and western to Irish folk to hip-hop, you'd be hard-pressed to find a band versatile enough to incorporate them all. A deejay, however, can fulfill your wish list easily and, with a bit of skill, can blend the genres smoothly. Deejays have thousands of songs at their disposal and should be willing to tailor their playlists to a bride and groom's requests no matter what those are, says San Francisco-based deejay Dave Tutton (who performs as DJ Maestro). For purists there is also the advantage of knowing that

your favorite songs will sound exactly as you've come to know and enjoy them.

On the other hand, nothing quite compares to live music in terms of spontaneous energy and visual impact. Hearing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" played by a black-clad chamber ensemble adds a certain sophistication to a cocktail hour that cannot be replicated with a recording. Likewise, whirling across the dance floor to the sounds of the Big Band era becomes infinitely more romantic and theatrical when a lavish fifteen-piece orchestra provides the horns and strings. If you are passionate about one type of music, you might create a uniquely colorful celebration by engaging a group that specializes in salsa, swing, zydeco, reggae, or another favorite musical style either as the primary band or as a secondary act providing a portion of the entertainment. (If a certain style of dancing is de rigueur with the music you select, you might even enlist an instructor to give a brief lesson to interested guests during the cocktail hour to encourage them to take to the floor later on.)

Consider not just your own preferences but also those of your guests when choosing a music provider. If you've invited a broad cross-section of generations to your reception, search for a band or deejay with a varied repertoire that emphasizes timeless classics by musicians such as Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr., which guests of many different age groups will likely recognize and enjoy. Also, based on what you know of your friends and family, decide whether guests are more inclined to spend the night crowding the dance floor or mingling and talking. If you suspect the latter, an understated approach to music might be in order.


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