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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wedding

In my forty-plus years of being a church organist and pianist, I've been privileged to play for many weddings. Most were normal. But there were a few occasions when things didn't go quite as planned or rehearsed...

In the 1970's down at Parkwood Presbyterian on the Pamplico Highway, the bride was ready, the bridesmaids were ready, the flower girl and ring bearer were ready. The music was simple and elegant, mostly traditional with a few interspersed classical pieces. I had been playing softly for some minutes while friends and family of the young couple were seated by the handsome ushers. It was nearly time for me to switch gears and play the chosen piece for the mothers to be seated, when the door beside the organ opened a few inches and the pastor whispered to me. I saw a worried frown on his face.

"Keep playing, the groom's not here," he said. "I'll let you know when he gets here," he added. Okay, just a little glitch, I said to myself, flipping back to the front of my music book. But fifteen minutes later the pastor whispered again, "He's still not here, keep playing." Oh oh, he's stood her up, I thought, expecting the next message to be "Stop playing, the wedding's off."

I played to increasingly loud whispers and foot shuffling of the congregation when finally the pastor spoke through the cracked door. "He's here, we can start." I started the piece to seat the mothers, who were so ready to get this show on the road they practically ran down the aisle. Three or four measures of bridesmaid music and they were all in place too, followed by three or four measures of music for the bride. I improvised a quick musical "Amen," the much relieved wedding party took a deep breath, and the service finally got under way thirty minutes late.

At the reception I discovered what had happened. The groom lived on the wrong side of the railroad tracks at Coles Crossroads and was held up by a stopped freight train. Surely the train wouldn't be stopped long, right? Wrong. The only alternative in those days was to drive many miles around, which in hindsight would have been a good thing to do. I'm sure they all laughed about it later, but it sure wasn't funny at the time.

Several years later, I was invited to play for a more formal and lengthy wedding at Christian Assembly. The decorations were lovely, the music the bride had selected was lovely, and the wedding vows were lovely. All was perfect. Near the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom knelt at the altar to receive communion. The pastor served the elements, said a prayer of blessing, and it was time for the bride and groom to rise, turn and be introduced as a married couple to the congregation. I was poised to begin the Wedding March as soon as the pastor made the pronouncement.

The plan was for the groom to stand first, then assist the bride so she wouldn't get tangled in the train of her dress. But the groom didn't stand up. He couldn't -- he was unconscious. He had the stomach flu, had been taking medicine all day, and now he had passed out cold on the altar. While the bride leaned over him calling, "Honey, honey, what's wrong," the pastor suddenly left the platform, jogged down the aisle and out of the sanctuary. He also had the stomach flu!

I was wondering what to do when several ushers gathered around the groom and helped get him over to the front pew. A few moments later the pastor returned, apologized to the congregation and dismissed the service without the normal pronouncement. The bride sat down beside her groggy groom as some of the congregation came up to offer congratulations and sympathy at the same time. I just played a couple of old hymns while folks milled around and called it a day.

There were several other memorable weddings, like the one where the rehearsal went fine but on the day of the wedding, tall banks of flowers obscured my view of the doorway and the wedding director. I just went by my watch and began the Bridal March on the hour, but to my dismay after the first few notes I saw the bride arrive at the altar. The director had started her down the aisle when her watch said it was time. While the happy couple stood there, I gracefully wound it up and made myself a mental note: next time, synchronize the watches. Then there was the time the guest violinist lost his place in the Wedding Prayer and we had to fake it from there to the end of the piece. I don't think anybody else even noticed. We were good!

Pipe organs and grand pianos, classical music and traditional, over the years I've played many styles of wedding music on many instruments. Some ceremonies were small and simple, others long and elaborate. Some brides were easy-going, some high-strung. One wanted an R-rated love song in the middle of the wedding, which I declined to play. The pastor vetoed it too and the bride was a little miffed. When we explained that a wedding was a worship service, she said, "Really? Just play whatever, then, it doesn't matter." So I picked out all my own favorite pieces and things went really smoothly, but I skipped the reception on that one.

Now that Iím officially retired as a church musician I really don't miss playing for weddings. Still, whenever Iím invited to one I think back and smile, remembering those times when a funny thing happened on the way to the wedding...

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