Set the Right Mood with the Cocktail Hour

January 25, 2019


 After all of your hard work and planning, it’s finally time!  Everything is in place.  Your event is starting.  Your guests have arrived.  What will be their first impression? 

I received some advice a while back on performing in a show setting.  The advice was to perform your absolutely best song first, and your next best song second.  Why?  At that point, your audience (read “guests”) are thinking, “Wow!  This is excellent!  This will most certainly turn out to be a fantastic evening!” 

After the first two songs, your guests are blown away, and have made up their minds about the entire evening.  Whether the rest of the evening is truly fantastic is subjective, but if someone is already predisposed to believe it will be fantastic, it most often is exactly that. 

The Cocktail Hour is the “First Song” 

We all know that people unconsciously judge others and situations very quickly.  Similarly, whether you like it or not, your guests form an initial opinion about the rest of the evening based on their first impressions, which is many cases, is a cocktail hour.  In this sense, the cocktail hour often is the “first song” in your event “performance”.  Therefore, it makes sense to invest accordingly. 

Of course, you are probably serving “liquid cheer”, from which the cocktail hour gets its name.  And this goes a long way towards setting a great mood.  But the entertainment during the cocktail hour should not be underestimated in terms of its ability to influence the overall mood of your guests. 

The Emotional Power of Music 

Have you ever had the experience of encountering a particular smell, and you are immediately transformed to a specific point in your past?  Perhaps it the smell of baking bread, and you can picture yourself as a child in your grandmother’s kitchen. 

Music can have a similar effect.  As you hear songs from your past, you can recapture long dormant feelings.  You might remember being at a particularly pleasing place, like the beach.  Or you might think of someone with whom you shared part of your life who also liked that “special” song.  Music can magically re-conjure the emotions associated with these memories. 

The beat and style of music can also bring about emotions.  Upbeat music can get people excited, while slower music can be calming.  But not everyone guest is feeling the need for excitement, or the need to be calmed.   Therefore, there needs to be an appropriate mix of music that best suit the overall audience. 

To Each, His (and Her) Own 

No one has the same life experience.  Thus, music has different meanings for different people.  Unless your guests are amazingly homogeneous, it’s important that the cocktail hour music appeal not only to different emotional needs, but also to people of different ages and backgrounds.  This means that the music shouldn’t be from a single era or embrace a single style; rather, it should span multiple decades and genres. 

Interestingly, I’ve found that an increasing number of young people have come to appreciate music that was performed before they were born.  This could result in part from what many may consider the lack of diversity of today’s music (but we’ll leave this topic for another day).  But more likely, it’s due to the power of music to effortlessly and instantaneously revive previous connections to a particular time or special person, which is unique for each individual. 

The Bottom Line 

First impressions count.  And you want to put your best foot forward.  The cocktail hour can give you a head start on delivering an evening that your guests won’t soon forget.  And while subtle and sometimes overlooked, the music at the cocktail hour can play a powerful role in your success! 


Call or email Steve to discuss how to make your event the best it can be!

  “We hired Steve to play a surprise 50th Anniversary Party for my parents. He was so easy to work with in the planning stages, was incredibly professional and completely nailed it the day of the event. Steve added a beautiful element to the party with his music. I highly recommend him.”

 – Julie L.

Tips for Selecting Wedding Songs 

December 10, 2018 


I often get questions from couples about what songs they should include in their ceremony.  And the answer is… Whatever you want! 

Ok, I’m not going to end the article with that flippant answer.  But I have played everything from Elvis to Santana. 

Your wedding is yours.  Nobody else’s.  You should select the music that is meaningful to you.  Your guests are just that – guests.  You shouldn’t plan your music about what you think they may or may not like to hear. 

Ok, enough on that point.  I realize, on the other hand, that many of you may be more comfortable with songs that are known to be popular in weddings.  These roughly fall into two categories – traditional and contemporary. 

Traditional Wedding Selections 

Traditional wedding selections typically include classically pieces such as Bridal March by Wagner, Wedding March by Mendelssohn, Canon in D by Pachelbel, and Trumpet Tune by Clark.  These songs are common for processionals for the bride and bridal party.  Other classical pieces popular for the prelude are Ave Maria by Schubert and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring by Bach.  There are many other classical style pieces that are popular as well – contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss. 

Contemporary Wedding Selections 

Contemporary wedding selections are not as long-lived as classical, given the ever-changing nature of contemporary music.  However, there are a handful of songs that seem to be withstanding the test of time.  These include A Thousand Years by Perri and Hodges (as sung by Christina Perri), Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, and The Prayer by Sager and Foster (as made famous by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli). 

Interestingly, there is a category of songs that spans traditional and contemporary.  While technically contemporary, given that they were written recently, they provide the elegant feel of classical music.  These songs were popularized by the O’Neill brothers and include titles like Angels Watching and Reminiscent Joy.   

Again, I’m happy to discuss these and any other selections you might be considering.  Feel free to contact me. 

Prelude Music 

Almost any of the aforementioned songs can be included in the prelude.  Additionally, the prelude is often where couples include songs that are special to them or to someone dear to them.  While, as I stated before that there is no one right or wrong song, a handful of songs are popular now, including All of Me as performed by John Legend and the traditional Simple Gifts.  While my song list is just a suggestion, I know tons of songs—too many to list, so don’t be afraid to ask about a song that you think might not be well known. 

Final Thoughts 

If you were hoping that this article would give you THE answer for the right wedding music, you might be disappointed.  As I stated at the outset, the right music is what is right for you.  My advice is to just go with your gut.  If you seek the formal elegance of a traditional wedding, there are songs that provide that and deliver the proper ambience.  If you want to augment the fun factor, go for it!  And yes, I have played Journey, Elton, Beatles, and the list goes on…! 


Call or email Steve to discuss how to make your event the best it can be!

  “Steve was the perfect musician to have for our wedding reception dinner. He did a great job of “reading the room” and playing appropriate music and was very kind to play our guests’ song requests. Very professional and talented! Highly recommend!”

 – Shan W.

The Top Five Expectations of a Pianist 

November 30, 2018


If you’re new to hiring a pianist, you’re not alone.  Few people have ever tried to organize an event, let alone select a pianist for it.  You may be entering uncharted territory, not knowing what to search for or how to make the right decision. 

To move past these concerns, here are five expectations of a pianist that you should consider to help guide you in your selection. 


It may seem like a no-brainer to look for a pianist who has actually performed before.  But it’s not just performance experience that counts—it’s making sure that the experience aligns to your event.  A pianist could have 40 years’ experience performing with the church choir, but there’s no guarantee that that type of experience will translate to your needs. 

Similarly, proper training is a consideration.  I often read of “self-taught” pianists, which is certainly commendable in terms of the drive and dedication required to teach oneself.  However, proper training is also important for learning proper technique and gaining an understanding of classical music, one of the most demanding styles of playing there is. 

You should expect that a pianist has substantial experience entertaining for events similar to yours, whether that is for a classical wedding ceremony or an upbeat party. 


Despite the expectation that your pianist is experienced with your type of event, no two events are exactly alike.  I guess you might say that you should expect experience in dealing with unknowns.  And this requires creativity. 

Even if you plan the same event year after year, and with the same guests, there are factors that will be different from year to year.  For example, maybe bad weather has put your guests in a subdued mood.  Or Uncle Bob has had too much to drink and is taking over the party.  Or, more typically, the bridal party (more usually the bride) isn’t ready at the top of the hour. 

These and tons of other unforeseen developments require creativity on the part of the musician.  Whether it’s reading the crowd to set the right mood or extending the prelude to fill extra time, a good pianist will adjust and it will be unnoticeable. 

Moving with the flow of the event is essential.  Avoiding downtime in a ceremony is a must-have.  But knowing when to gather guests for an impromptu sing-along is certainly a nice-to-have.  Creativity to mold the flow of your event is not something you typically think about, but you should expect it nevertheless. 

Guidance and Advice 

Many people planning events have a pretty good idea of exactly how they want their event to feel.  But not all people know how to achieve that feel.  And there are even some people who know that they want a traditional wedding, but don’t have a clue to what songs are appropriate. 

An event musician should offer guidance for how to achieve a particular feel and provide advice on song selection.  I sometimes tell brides that it’s their wedding, and they can have any song they like; that is, there is no wrong song.  But I also offer constructive suggestions to help them feel more confident in their selections, particularly for those brides who have guests with varying ages and backgrounds. 

It’s not up to the musician to tell someone how to run their event, but it’s also not unreasonable to solicit the musician for guidance and advice if there are any questions at all. 


All event planners want to make sure their guests have fun.  The music at an event can go a long way towards achieving this goal.  One can argue that the purpose of a formal wedding ceremony is something other than fun.  But I’ve seen countless ceremonies immediately turn from somber to exhilarating through a single humorous comment from the officiant. 

A ceremony musician will pick up on this with the musical performance.  Guests can sense the difference between just going through the motions and delivering a performance that truly moves people. 

At a cocktail hour or reception, fun is the operative word.  Background music has a unique power to generate emotions, and fun music equals a fun event.  You should expect your pianist to have fun, and the fun can be contagious. 

Peace of Mind 

Why are you paying someone good money when you could just ask Aunt Hilda to play a few tunes?  A pianist is an investment.  You are hiring a professional because you want your event to be a success.  You have a zillion other things to worry about other than the music.  Face it—you want to impress your guests.  We all worry that our party could be a dud, and that that would reflect on us as hosts. 

When hiring a professional, you should absolutely expect peace of mind that that professional will deliver.  The music at your event should be the least of your worries. 


There you have it—the top five expectations of a pianist.  You might have more than five expectations, which is normal.  Be sure, however, that you consider these five as you invest in the success of your event. 


Call or email Steve to discuss how to make your event the best it can be!