Sound Quality at Your Wedding

How many otherwise beautiful weddings have been marred by bad sound?  Don’t let this happen to yours.

Most wedding planners and many brides are visually oriented.  From what I hear, many don’t understand the importance of sound at a wedding. Think of the vows (especially at outdoor weddings) that no one except the bride and groom could hear.  Think of the weddings you’ve attended where the band or DJ was so loud that no one could talk without screaming.  How relieved were you when you could leave?

Being able to hear and to talk is enormously important at virtually all social functions, but especially at a wedding where part of the goal is the creation of a community that will support you and your intended for the rest of your lives!  You want people to feel connected.  Good sound helps everyone connect, just as good music does.

How can you insure that your wedding will sound good?

When you begin checking out possible settings for your wedding, notice the sound quality of each place.   If possible, visit when an event is in progress.

 

Choosing a ceremony venue may be easy if you are getting married in a church or temple you already belong to.  There are exceptions, but most houses of worship have reasonably good acoustics and many already have PA systems, so they are less likely to present a sonic challenge.  Hotels and country clubs also usually have ways of dealing with ceremonies that they know have worked well for previous weddings.

But if you want to be married outdoors, being heard can be tricky.  Sound disperses in all directions, both outward from you and your officiant toward your guests (and the sky), and also occasionally inward toward you from the environment.  A plane flies over, a train goes by…  and they become part of your memory of the wedding.    These interruptions can be charming, but be realistic about overtly noisy spaces:  we once had a client who wanted to get married outside on the New Haven Green at 5 PM on a Friday, despite warnings about how noisy and non-romantic downtown city streets can be at rush hour!

If you have your heart set on an outdoor wedding, accept the fact that everyone may not be able to hear, seat your guests as close together as possible, consider whether you may need a sound system, and be ready to speak up!

Now on to the bigger challenge – the reception:

Check out the sound quality and hard and soft surfaces of any indoor space.   (Tents for outdoor weddings usually sound fine.)

Marble, stonework, glass, concrete, and architectural features such as vaulted ceilings, allow sound to bounce around a lot and become muddy. Soft surfaces such as carpeting, fabric wall coverings, drapes, acoustical tile, and fabric-covered furniture absorb sound.  The ideal is a mix of hard and soft surfaces in a space that is not shaped like a box (too many right angles makes for a mid-range-y boxy sound that feels harsh – odd angles in a room often “naturalize” the sound and make it more comfortable for listeners).

Wooden floors and walls can also give the sound a warm quality.  The classic combo of wooden dance floor and carpeted dining area is a classic for a number of reasons.  One advantage is that if your band or DJ’s speakers are aimed at the center of the dance floor, the sound will be full where people are dancing but will fall off by the time it reaches the tables.  You want people at their tables to be able to talk comfortably.

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Clap your hands together in the center of the space and listen for any echo or natural reverb.  If you hear any, you have a fairly “live” room.  Even before you add any music, conversation among your guests will produce a considerable buzz.  The larger your tables are, the harder it will be for guests to talk across the table and hear each other.  Tables for 6 or 8 may be a better choice in a very live room than tables for 10 or 12.

What if you’ve already committed to a space that has sonic problems?

1.  Be sure your band or DJ shares your sonic goals!  This is the most important single thing you can do.  Hire people who don’t have to be loud to be good.  If your musicians or DJ usually play at very loud volumes or with distortion, they are likely to apply those same approaches to your wedding.  If accustomed to playing in bars or clubs where their task is to “drive the patrons to drink,” they may not actually prefer the sound quality or volume that is most appropriate or functional for a social event like a wedding.  People who think that a heavy sternum-vibrating quality sounds “good”  (think of a car with a big speaker system playing rap music so that you can feel it from the next lane with your windows rolled up) may not want to adjust to make their sound cleaner and may not even know how to. Sound travels in waves – be sure you are on the same wavelength with your band or DJ!

2.  Think about sound when deciding on the seating for your guests.  Music is naturally louder nearer the band or DJ’s equipment, so be sure to seat younger people in those areas and older people further away.

But also recognize that different crowds like different volume levels along with different styles of music!   (We have played for a handful of wonderful Persian weddings.  These have been some of the only times in my career when we’ve had what felt to us like a big full sound and yet still had older women guests coming up to us saying, “This is great, but can you make it louder?”)  The important thing is to think well about your own audience, your friends and families, and to know that your band or DJ will be thinking well about them too.

3.  Use fabric-covered chairs, tablecloths with skirts, draped fabric or screens, or area rugs in your décor – the more fabric, the better if you are dealing with an echo-y muddy-sounding space.  (When I was in high school in Tennessee, we used the National Guard Armory for our school dances.  Using a pipe and drape system, we lined the walls of this enormous room with fabric.  We were not conscious of the sonic effect, only that it seemed much more special to see fabric than to see cinder block walls.  Now that I have played events in gymnasiums both with and without draping, I realize what a good idea all that fabric was and is!  Of course, if you choose a space that is already appropriately designed for parties and weddings rather than for tanks or basketball, you can just focus on being the bride!)

4.  Finally, the secret weapon:  Balloons!

The brilliant party designer Andrew Rubenoff explained this to me some years ago (www.andrewrubenoff.com – his work is far more beautiful than the photo resolution on the site can capture).  Think about how sound waves travel.  They travel through the air from one point to another by the movement of molecules.  If you fill the air with balloons, each balloon acts as a little sound baffle and absorbs some of that molecular motion.  The result is a more controlled sound, but you have to use a LOT of balloons.  One room we often play in has a high vaulted ceiling and seats about 180 people.  This room needs 200 to 300 helium balloons released up to the ceiling in order to sound its best.  We have also seen balloons used in centerpieces or tied to the backs of chairs on long ribbons (only tie them to every other chair and vary the heights in order to prevent their tangling if fans or AC come on!).

Don’t plan your wedding as a silent movie!  It’s not all about the visual.  The audio matters.  People connect through conversation and music.  Make sound choices and you’ll strike the perfect tone for your wedding!

What are your strongest memories of sound at a wedding or party?  Has bad sound ever ruined an event for you?   What would have made it better?

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Art Students Create Toys for Elephants

Who can resist a project like this?  This story is fun on at least eight levels at once.

The art students are challenged with a real-world problem.   Being challenged can be fun, especially when you are working with others and have some resources and some hope of “success.”

The students are stretching to think about someone else’s reality as a basis for their artistic choices.  How refreshing to see the challenge framed as making something that will be fun for an intelligent but non-human being.

The students use their creativity to come up with concepts for toys and have resources with which to build and test their ideas.  Getting to play with ideas and materials is fun.

They get to meet elephants and see the elephants play with their toys.  Yeah!

The elephants have new experiences with the toys.  We hope these are fun for them and would love to see even more about this.

Videographer Lauren Frohne creates this video and The Boston Globe posts it.  Thanks Lauren.  Thanks Boston Globe.

We all get to see and enjoy it. Thanks MassArt students and faculty.  Thanks elephants!

As with so many projects in the arts, there is a multiplier effect.  Many people (and animals, in this case!) get something out of this.  Win-Win-Win-Win…

Big fun!

Long-Time Friends

Why long-time friends are the greatest:

 

They knew you when you wore cat-eye glasses – they honestly know how much better you look now  (and won’t be put off by a bad hair day, the “wrong” clothes, or a few pounds one way or the other).

 

You don’t have to go through a lot of introductory chatter since you already know each other’s history.  (And unlike recent information about new friends, you lived this.  It’s more deeply wired in your memory and easier to recall.)

 

You don’t have to prove yourselves to each other since you already did that a long time ago.

 

They literally know “where you’re coming from” because they remember your old house and old neighborhood.

 

They know that the teacher hated you in fifth grade – and they never thought it was your fault.

 

Since before Twitter was invented, you have been “following” each other’s relatives.  You know their parents and they know yours.  You remember their brothers and sisters as children.  (If you’re older, maybe you’ve known your friend’s adult children since they were children!)  This long-term knowledge becomes even more important when some of these people are no longer living and memories shared with others help keep them close.

 

You don’t have to explain what you were doing in college since they were there and did it too (or some of it!).

 

Even if you haven’t seen each other or talked in decades, you can pick right up where you left off.  If the channel was open before, it can be open again.

 

You see how hard they have worked at things and admire what they have accomplished.

 

The pure passage of time gives your friendship additional credibility and tenure.

 

You’ve developed ways of talking, joking, or just being with each other that let you think, laugh, and go deep all in the same conversation.

 

You see the essence of your friend more clearly over time and love them even more.

 

They knew you when you were a dorfwad and not half as cool as you are now, but you’ve liked each other all along!

 

 

What makes your long-time friends special to you?

The Wheelchair on the Dance Floor

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several of the most fun dance experiences I’ve had in the past few years have been at events where a person with a disability was central to the proceedings.  Contrary to what some people might expect, participation from the disabled person made the entire dance experience more engaging for everyone there.

One instance was a wedding and the ceremony took place outside, on a beach downhill from a hotel.  Everyone walked down a long zig-zag aisle to get to the ceremony location and once the processional began, we could see that this arrangement had been chosen not only for its visual beauty, but also for functional reasons.  The Best Man used a wheel chair and the zigs and zags were like a series of ramps, making it possible for him to process down to the beach as a member of the wedding party.

Later, at the reception, the dancing was all right, but really took off when a female guest invited the Best Man onto the dance floor.  As he rolled and spun in his chair, and everyone else joined in, the whole event seemed to lift.  It was suddenly not about dancing just like your neighbor danced, it was about expressing joy, rhythm, and movement in the ways available to you at that moment.  Dancing had become “safer” for everyone.

The Best Man was a good dancer.  He was in a wheelchair, but he was a good dancer. My husband leaned over to him and said, “you’ve got some good moves there!” to which he replied, “I had even more a few years ago.”  My husband just laughed and said, “Yeah, me too!” and we all danced with all the moves we had on that particular day.  It was fun!

Whether we say it overtly or not, people are always seeking that special chemistry that makes a party “gel,” the energy that connects everyone more intensely, the magic that makes an event memorable.  Back in the 1950s, politicians used to talk about “making the world safe for democracy.”  I’m interested in making the world safe for fun and one of the ways we do that is by being aware of the conditions that allow more people to participate more fully.  Making that zig-zag aisle allowed a man in a wheelchair to play an integral role in a major life event for his friend.  Including a person in a wheelchair in the dancing made the whole celebration more fun for everyone.  We’re not just “doing a favor for a disabled person” when we make our events more inclusive; we’re making our own worlds larger and friendlier.  And if we should become disabled at some point in the future, the image of the wheelchair on the dance floor will remind us that there are still many ways to dance.

Get This Party Started!

Get This Party Started! Party-goers from different generations have very different expectations about how a dancing party gets started.  Our band played for an end-of-term college dance on Wednesday evening and saw a pattern that is typical for today’s students.  … Continue reading

What’s Fun About Starting Over?

What’s fun about starting over?

One of the addictive qualities of computer solitaire card games like free cell (included with the Windows operating system) is that you can replay the same hand until you get it right—if you want, you can have another chance with the same cards, a chance to learn directly from your prior mistakes.

This leads many people to replay their free cell hands over and over until they win.   When I first learned the game, someone told me that every hand could be won if approached correctly.  So whenever I lost, I would immediately replay the same hand as many times as necessary in order to win it.

(There are apparently a few unwinnable hands, but winning is still almost always possible if you play it right.)

But here is the interesting part:  No one is standing over us requiring that we replay a hand we just “lost.”  We just “failed,” so why aren’t we discouraged?  We willingly take on the challenge because we still expect that we can win.  Surely we will do better now that we know how much we’re going to need that red 8.

The other huge difference is that in free cell, the stakes are low and we are playing a game.  Our emotions aren’t involved as strongly as when we are making more consequential decisions.  We feel playful and we enjoy the challenge of figuring something out, so it’s fun.

Back in the 1970s, I worked in the Yale Psychology Department with Professor Irving Janis who did research on decision making.   (He coined the term “groupthink” in his analyses of the Cuban missile crisis and other incidents of faulty decision-making by policy makers.  He also studied adherence to personal decisions where following through was difficult, such as deciding to lose weight or quit smoking.)

Professor Janis and Professor Robert Abelson (another member of the department) used to talk about “hot cognitive processes” by which they meant the difference in decision-making on issues in which one was emotionally involved vs. those which were purely questions of logic.  (Before that, much of the academic research on decision-making had assumed that our decisions were made as Spock on Star Trek would have made them, which had resulted in a fair amount of work on decisions that were essentially trivial.)

Starting over in real life is a hot cognitive process!  It’s an understatement to say that there are often significant feelings attached.

If we are starting over in building a relationship, unresolved feelings from prior relationships are just waiting to show themselves.   If we have been fired or laid off from a job, a part of our new job search has to include managing the feelings we have about our previous work experience and how we were treated.  Otherwise we risk answering interview questions in ways that hurt our chances of creating a new opportunity.  If we are working toward regaining our health after a threatening illness, our feelings about having been vulnerable are part of the baggage we carry into our new health regimens.

None of this sounds like fun.  But if our goal is to have more fun more of the time, how can we apply that approach here?

The world keeps changing under our feet.  And the pace of change appears to be accelerating.  Many of us are going to have to start over numerous times during our lives.  (This blog is part of a new chapter for me.)  What helps make it fun when we are starting over?

Talking things out with a good listener who really pays attention makes a tremendous difference.  With someone who knows how good you are and isn’t upset by what you are discussing, burdensome feelings can lift and very serious matters can suddenly seem hysterically funny.   Sentences like “there go ten years I’ll never have again,”  “it’s only my career,” or just “I’m still here” can seem sad one minute and like the funniest joke in the world the next.

I wish I could actually hang out with you and listen to you and let you experience what I mean, but you probably already know.  Feeling connected to someone else who “gets” us is enormously reassuring.  Letting the wind blow through some of our feelings of failure and frustration makes everything start to look a little different.  It loosens up our thinking so that we become more flexible and more able to respond in a fresh way to whatever comes up.  Little mammals and little children play as a way of learning about how the world works and how they can affect what happens.  When we become a bit more playful, it helps us too.

We can choose a light and kind touch in what we say to ourselves.  So long as we’re not weighed down by disappointment and discouragement, starting over can be great fun.  A new world of possibilities awaits us.  As with playing free cell, here’s another chance to get it right.

What’s Fun About Recess?

Do you remember recess as the most fun part of your school day?  If so, you are probably no longer a child.  In many schools right now, recess is not that much fun. In one study, principals reported that the largest number of visits to their offices resulted from situations that arose during recess.  An alarming number of injuries and school suspensions occur because bullying and fighting are happening rather than good clean fun.  It’s obvious that many kids do not know how to play well with others.  And when they don’t know how to share or resolve conflicts, they may attempt to solve problems by using brute force or threats, making the whole situation messier and worse for everyone.

 

If our goal is for more people to have more fun more of the time, how can we help our kids with that?  One answer is to be sure that our children are learning basic social play skills.  This happens most effectively when adults and other young people model fun-loving supportive behavior and when the entire social system of the playground is set up to encourage positive interaction.  One group that has made both a science and an art of this is Playworks and a recent study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has now shown the effectiveness of their approach.

 

http://www.playworks.org/research-reveals-playworks-reduces-bullying

 

Playworks works primarily with low-income schools, but also does training programs for teachers and staff at higher income schools.  A Playworks coach works as a full-time staff member in the school, setting up active inclusive play activities.  Coaches work with both teachers and students, organizing the use of playground space, establishing consciously cooperative situations, and encouraging new expectations about playing together.

 

One simple and strikingly effective method of resolving conflict involves using the old “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game to allow kids to take charge of their own decisions about who goes first or whose judgment will be followed in case of a disagreement.  The thinking behind this is that many of the conflicts kids get into are arbitrary and if they can be settled quickly, the kids can get back to playing.  Although it takes a while for everyone to learn these new norms, as kids begin to “own” these methods, their desires to keep the fun going lead them to manage themselves and their play effectively.

 

When the overall atmosphere of the playground is positive, kids have more fun and feel better about themselves and each other.  They also get more instructional time in the classroom because they settle down to work more quickly and bring fewer emotional upsets with them after recess.

 

Playworks so perfectly illustrates what I am interested in–methods of helping people to have more fun more of the time!

 

  • It’s a nuts-and-bolts action plan that replaces chaotic, negative, and violent behaviors with organized, positive, cooperative ones.

 

  • It helps shape student experience while the students are still young and sets the stage for a better overall experience in school.

 

  • It empowers kids to handle many of their own issues in productive ways.

 

  • It makes kids feel good about themselves and their school, but is not just a “self-esteem program.”   It actually teaches social skills, cooperation, respect for others, and self-management.

 

  • The Playworks coaches engage with the kids in playful ways, but also expect responsible behavior.

 

I remember so well the differences in “recess supervision styles” of my own teachers (and I’m talking a half-century ago!).   I bet you remember some of these things too, regardless of your age.   Teachers and coaches are just that important!

 

What were some of your own most positive experiences with recess?

If recess was sometimes hard for you, what could have made it better?

What have you observed about the play experiences of the children you care about?

Paying Taxes

What’s fun about paying taxes?

I recently spent a surprisingly enjoyable couple of hours meeting with my accountant to file my taxes.  Given the terrible press usually associated with taxpaying and my personal goal of examining everything through the lens of fun, this struck me as too good an experience to ignore!

What made our tax visit fun?  Jokes.  A congenial atmosphere between us.  He was hassled (duh – it’s tax season!), he complained about it loudly and enthusiastically, we both laughed a lot, and that set the tone.   We have done this tax filing process together for the past dozen years and have a pretty good idea of how to proceed.  The sheer reality of cooperation and teamwork was enjoyable.  Little quips here and there kept us in a good balance between work and play modes.

Later on, as I was trying over and over again to understand how the various figures fit together, I argued that this couldn’t be right, since business in general was down and therefore our taxes should also go down – a lot.  I ended up asking what he assures me is the every-day question in the tax preparation business: “how can I owe this much?”

So it wasn’t fun because I am wealthy or didn’t owe anything, or enjoy watching my bank balance drop before my eyes.  It was fun because of a working relationship, our senses of humor, and our unspoken agreement about being able to argue about facts and ideas without being angry at each other.  It was fun because we like each other.  We would never hang out socially, it’s a totally professional relationship, but we like each other and cooperate easily.

On a personal level, it can also be fun to get more of a hold on where our money has gone.  Even if it’s only for a few days a year, we get to notice the big picture of what we are taking in and what we are spending.   On a more meta level, it could be fun to consider how our resources are going to be used when they leave our hands, but it’s hard for most of us to get our minds around the numbers that are often involved in discussions of governmental spending.  As individuals, we feel relatively powerless to affect choices about the national budget.  We each carry a world of strong emotions stemming from our own relationships to money.  Whether we have struggled hard all our lives to make ends meet or have grown up thinking that we deserve more than other people, simply because we have always had more than others around us, we are all trying to punch our way through our early conditioning to a clearer view of reality about this resource called money.

What’s fun about paying taxes?  Finding people you can joke about money and taxes with, having some laughs, and keeping your brains in gear at the same time.  Just holding out the possibility that even paying taxes can be fun can make a difference.   We have to pay them either way, so we may as well enjoy the scenery.

Now come on and comment.  Write some “smart remarks” and give us all a smile!

Women Want to Dance

Many more women than men want to dance.   Cyndi Lauper wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and I’m saying “women want to dance.”  This appears to be true all the way up and down the age spectrum.  There are always men who are excellent dancers and love to dance too, but they are relatively rare.  (Any of you guys looking for love, take notice!  If you are a good dancer, a genuinely nice guy, and not skeevy, you’ve really got something!)

An internet video called “Dance like nobody’s watching: mall” shows a woman (Angela Trimbur) dancing alone (and very well) in a mall and being almost completely ignored by passers by.

And there it is, my point entirely:

Who is dancing? Where?  Why?  And who is noticing?

I’ve had a great vantage point as a bandleader and singer for observing how people’s responses to music and dancing have changed over the past three decades. I’m going to write one post every week for the next four weeks on how these kinds of fun have changed.  So for this week, the issue is women’s experiences of fun with dancing.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, dancing in male-female couples was a cultural model of heterosexual romance and a familiar experience for many Americans.  Big band swing, ballroom dances, and early rock n roll supplied soundtracks for couples to dance to.  A breaking point came with the Twist in 1960.  Couples could now dance separately, without touching.

Over the past fifty years since then, couple dancing has ebbed and flowed in popularity, influenced by musical and dance styles such as disco and dance movies such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Dirty Dancing (1987).  Since then, dance styles have been heavily influenced by hiphop, rap, and music videos that feature solo or group dancers more often than couples.

However, a British survey in 2007 found that Dirty Dancing remained number one on their list of women’s most-watched movies and those dance scenes still hold special appeal for women.  Women still think dancing is fun—as well as potentially romantic or sexy.

Several months ago our band played a wedding in which “I Had the Time of My Life” was a theme song and the bride expressed hope that the end of the wedding would resemble that ending scene from Dirty Dancing  (it did).   Such joyful, intergenerational celebrations are not easy to find in places other than weddings these days.  The dinner dances that clubs and organizations used to sponsor occur much less frequently now.  Weddings are often the only chances for social dancing that many people have.  I hear “maybe I can get my husband to dance with me” often enough to know that many women still want to dance more than their male partners do. Bands and DJs try to meet this pent-up demand from women by playing female anthems like “I Will Survive” and “Dancing Queen” that women can dance to in a group.  We also know that structured activities like line dances allow women to participate without having partners.

But what if no one you know is getting married?  Where else can you dance?  If a need isn’t being met in one place, it will often show itself somewhere else.  So women are dancing in exercise classes (typically with other women and led by a woman), we are dancing in gyms, YMCA’s, pools, and now even the mall; we are dancing for fitness, to enjoy movement and music, to have fun and feel sexy, and to be happy, but we are not dancing in couples that much or in traditional social situations the way people danced years ago.

Dancing and physical movement to music are just too much fun to miss.  Think about your own experience.  When was the last time you danced?  How did you feel about it?  Was it fun?  Why or why not?

What’s fun about?

What’s fun about?

And is it possible to make almost anything fun, if it’s handled right?

These are the questions I’m wrestling with – or maybe I draw a smile-y face and write “playing with,” since my goal is to live the stance I’m writing about.

This blog will be an exploration of all kinds of topics, some straightforward and some a little off-the-beaten-track, but all addressed through the lens of fun.

As situations in our world become more stressful and as economic and social pressures increase for us and around us, it’s going to be increasingly useful for each of us to be able to think well about what is really fun for us and how we can help those around us have more fun more of the time.

Having fun together is social glue and social grease.  It bonds us together and smoothes our interactions.  It also releases tension, makes us feel good, strengthens our desire for the well-being of others we have fun with, and enables us to tackle harder issues more cooperatively and effectively.

We know it’s fun to play when we have time “off.”  Are there also ways to get work done while having fun and helping other people have fun too?

Let’s find out!  Let’s explore!  What’s fun about…