I always meet with a couple planning their wedding reception and work to come up with an appropriate selection of songs to set the mood and keep the guests entertained throughout the reception. Like almost every couple I have met with during my 25 years entertaining at weddings, they want a song list that will reflect their individual styles and yet keep the guests on their feet.
For over a quarter of a century, my band and I have played appropriate songs at thousands of lavish weddings where guests have enjoyed a mélange of Top 40, R&B, Rock, Soul, and big production '70s Disco music, even classic American Standards. Part of my job as a musician, entertainer and band leader is to create a soundtrack that fits each couple; this could mean Classic Rock to R&B, Retro to Pop, Swing to Salsa, Ballroom and beyond.
I also write my own original songs that can be personalized for the couple I'm working with. I wrote one blues number called "Million Dollar Blues" for a Wall Street groom who had lost some money in the 2007 crash. He was getting married for the third time. Another of my songs "Black Tie Blues" is adaptable and I make changes in the song to match the specifics of each groom.
I also take select songs and substitute the names so that it is about the bride and groom, which is always a big hit with the audience! It's easy to swap song lyrics in the same way Seth MacFarlane was able to alter the names/phrases in his impromptu song at the end of the Oscars. Personalizing a song during the wedding set list gets everyone's attention and is really a crowd pleaser.
These personalized songs began to become really in demand. A few couples even hired me to come with two musicians from my Orchestra on their anniversary and sing their first song and others from their reception while they danced around the living room. One of the couples then moved to China and though they did call before their next anniversary it was impractical to fly there. I thought, "Why not tape the actual music at the wedding reception which the couple could keep forever and play every year on their anniversary no matter where life might take them?"
So I began to offer a new type of wedding album, a soundtrack that includes the personalized tunes, toasts and speeches, the all-important first dance and other songs performed by the Alex Donner Orchestra on CD or MP3. I have had wonderful feedback from couples that on their anniversary turn the lights down low, put our CD on, close their eyes and dance together or simply hold hands and listen to the music. They tell me it takes them back to that special day better than a video!
Popular culture often plays a part in weddings today. If there is a theme to the wedding I adapt the feel of the music to that theme, and this can be inspired by everything from the location, time of year, décor, heritage and different decades, even films. While I have not performed at any Disney inspired celebrations, I have re-created the ceremony scene from the movie Love Actually starring Hugh Grant at a big church here in New York. In the movie as the ceremony ends and the bride and groom walk back down the aisle as man and wife, they are treated to a surprise serenade. From the balcony, our singer sings, "All You Need is Love" accompanied by my musicians, who pop up in the pews all throughout the church. When this is requested, we put it all together in the church. I have to say it's quite dramatic. We have already had a call to musically create a Gatsby wedding reception this summer even though the movie hasn't even opened!
At each and every reception, my primary goal is to make magical moments and memories. Through modern day technology and a good live band, they can reminisce not only with their eyes but also with their ears.