Interview with Matthew McConnell

Dr. Matthew McConnell is the Minister of Music at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in North Adams, MA, and an educator with Music-COMP (formerly The Vermont MIDI Project), a program that allows over 7,000 students nationwide to receive professional feedback from seasoned composers on writing, arranging, orchestrating, and recording their original works. We have conducted an interview with him:


Q.During which part of a couple’s wedding should they consider having original wedding music instead of modern pop love songs?
A. There are several places during the wedding ceremony, itself, where original music can be incorporated. There’s often music before the ceremony, music to accompany the entrance of the bridesmaids, flower girl, ring bearer, maid of honor, and music for the bride’s entrance. Many ceremonies involve lighting a unity candle, and original music can be incorporated then. There are other places where original music can be used during traditional wedding ceremonies, too, including during Holy Communion, and at the end of the ceremony. People tend to associate wedding ceremonies with classical music, and wedding receptions with popular music. For this reason, it is often more fitting for a piece of new classical music to be performed during the wedding ceremony than during the reception (though I have had couples who preferred to have their new music showcased during the reception).

Q.How much does it cost, how long will the music be, and how do you prove that it is an original classical piece for their wedding?
A. The price of a commissioned piece of music varies based on the number and types of instruments requested, the piece’s musical style, and its length. Most commissioned pieces are between two and three minutes long, and are between $400 and $700. To put this in perspective, the average couple spends over $2,000 for wedding flowers and over $550 for the wedding cake. While classical music (and most popular music, too) utilizes basic harmonic progressions, it’s a piece’s melody that makes it instantly identifiable. Though classical melodies do have certain tendencies--and there are similarities that run through all classical compositions--you can easily tell one piece from another if played back to back. Plus, there’s bound to be a classical music fan at your wedding who can attest that an original composition “sounds classical,” or reminds them of a particular classical piece, but is, in fact, a new piece of music.

Q. If you could describe your style of music with 50 words, what would you say?
A. My wedding music is inspired by the playfulness of Mozart, as well as the beautiful counterpoint found in Pachelbel’s timeless organ works. Sometimes, my music incorporates New Age melodic tendencies while adhering to classical form. Other times, it is harmonic and stately, fitting for a procession or prelude to celebration.

Q.This tailor made music service which you are providing is very unique, how did you come to this idea in the first place?
A. My best friend, Matt Mancuso (a classical music lover who admires the works of Antonio Salieri), asked if I’d write a string quartet “in the classical style” for his wedding. I steeped myself in the quartets of the classical masters for over a year before even putting down one note! In the end, however, my quartet was such a success at his wedding that other people asked if I would compose original classical music for them, too. That’s how I started in 2008.

Q.How do couples go about telling you about certain parts that need some minor changes (if any)?
A. Couples often refer to pieces they’ve heard that they’d like me to use for inspiration. They also explain what they want using language relating to mood or atmosphere. I attempt to translate their descriptions into musical prose, similar to the way a computer programmer may turn a client’s pseudocode into real code. But, there’s no magic “formula,” here. My musical reactions to clients’ requests are intuitively chosen. As I compose, I e-mail couples short MP3 samples of sections of the piece for feedback. Couples feel included this way, and their input helps shape the overall composition. This is yet another reason why commissioned compositions are so special. They are the result of an interplay between the couple and the composer.

Q. What are the instruments used or limited to?
A. I can compose for any instrumental combination. Popular requests have been music for string quartet, solo piano, flute and harp, and even handbell choir. Because this is not a “performing” service, couples hire their own musicians to perform at their weddings. Finding talented musicians to perform new classical music is actually quite easy, and there are dozens of online resources a couple can turn to to find the right ensemble for their wedding.

Q.Which type of classical music will you recommend to wedding couples who are not versed in this speciality?
A. I often suggest string quartets in a classical style similar to Mozart. The musical language is one that is appreciated by a wide audience. Seeing a string quartet dressed in formal attire perform is unbelievably impressive, too, and its presence adds visual appeal to any wedding. If you must rely on a church’s pianist, New Age piano music tends to have mass appeal, too. It sounds quite intricate, but is usually easy for intermediate pianists to perform.

Q.What is the format (of the completed music) given to couples when they place and order?
A. I provide a printed, comb-bound musical score (sheet music) as well as parts for individual players, if applicable. I also provide a CD recording of myself playing the composition on the piano.

Matthew McConnell's website

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