Berlin – Wedding Day

Saturday morning before the wedding was a study in contrasts:

Niko:  He got up at a normal time, showered, strolled down to the dry cleaners to pick up the shirt he’d forgotten to get the day before, watched a few episodes of Portlandia online (per my recommendation the day before) in his pyjamas.  Eventually it was time to leave, so he pulled on his suit and tie and we headed out into the autumn morning. 

Me:  I timed my alarm so that I woke up exactly fifteen minutes before Niko said he was setting his so that I could quickly get in and out of the bathroom without interfereing with Niko’s pre-wedding routine (which I assumed he had).  While he showered, I reviewed and practiced each of the songs that I’d be singing during the wedding.  I wrote and scrapped a couple of blog posts, ate breakfast and did the dishes, sketched out an action plan for the unscheduled afternoon hours, planned my outfit for the evening reception, and then showered, dressed and was ready to go with twenty minutes to spare.

In retrospect, it seems to me that there’s no reason for a wedding guest (even one with a minor singing role) to be more neurotic on the morning of the wedding than the groom himself.  Sheesh.  Can you imagine what it would be like if I was the one getting married?

Anyhoo, our first task was to pick up the flowers.  They turned out lovely and, from what I could tell, exactly what QN had in mind.


From there, to the church — which I loved.  It was all modern, with a large, light-drenched, acoustically live chapel for the wedding.


Once inside the church, I set about figuring out what I was supposed to do for the music.  QN had asked me to prepare two hymns for the opening and closing — but I had no idea how Catholic masses (especially wedding masses) normally worked and I was anxious about throwing everything off.  For example, I didn’t even realize until the day before that I wasn’t expected to sing a solo, but rather to lead the congregation in singing the two songs.  Nor did I learn until that morning that it was customary to have the audience stand for the songs.  It’s never been so obvious to me just how Protestant Mormon meetings are! 

Meeting customs aside, I was also nervous about the mechanics of the music itself:  I would be near the pulpit at the front of the room — but the organist would be in the back of the room facing away from me.  I had hoped to have some time with the organist to practice the pieces, address any technical issues, and align our thinking with respect to tempi, dynamics, etc.  The organist, on the other hand, had his own agenda.  He ended up granting me only about five minutes — and in that five minutes it became blindingly obvious that although he was a very talented and professional musician, he was not an accompanist.  He had little interest in hearing anything I had to say about how I wanted the music to go.  He also insisted on making up his own accompaniment instead of playing from the sheet music that QN had provided to me.  It’s one thing to change the key of a song, but it’s quite another thing to change the accompaniment — suddenly he was adding music between verses that, to my mind, shouldn’t have been there, and I was placed in the position of having to take cues from him for tempo and entrances because I could no longer rely on the sheet music.  Which, let’s just say it, was a frustrating role reversal for what should have been the conductor/accompanist relationship.  Further, he had settled on a tempo that would have been delightful for an organ solo but was way too fast for a congregational hymn — I knew that most people would not be familiar with the hymns, many would be uncomfortable with singing in the first place, and so they needed the organist and me to make it as easy as possible.  I tried to get the organist to understand this, but then my five minutes were up and we split for the ceremony to start.  I went back to my seat reminding myself that I can’t control everything and praying that everything would run exactly the way I wanted it to.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite.  The opening hymn was okay — it felt a little shaky to me because the organist was buried behind the standing audience, so I had to rely exclusively on the sound of his playing to catch tempo and entrances (since clearly he was not watching me).  The problem is that given the distance of our separation in the church hall and the degree of reverberation, there was an inevitable delay between the sound and what I should have been conducting (I do have enough experience singing with organists in Catholic churches to know that a good accompanist will have a mirror to carefully follow the conductor and will actually anticipate the beats so that the sound of the organ aligns with the visual cues of the conductor, it’s tricky but awesome when done well).  He also tried to add his inter-verse accompaniment bits, which just didn’t work for the audience that was reading from sheet music that didn’t include those interstitial moments.  Thankfully, he ended up abandoning the interstitials and just played the music as written.

The closing hymn, on the other hand, was kind of a disaster, at least in the sense that it didn’t go as I’d planned.  Part of the problem was the organist — he picked an extremely quick tempo (even faster than before, despite my instructions to slow it down) that exacerbated the acoustic delay problem and left the audience in the dust (it’s sad, as the conductor, to watch inexperienced singers struggle to keep up).  But the other part of the problem may have been my fault:  I may have ended the song too soon!  And I say “may” because I’m not entirely sure.  All I know is that after doing everything I could to hold everything together with some semblance of grace and order, I got to the end of the last verse and waited for the organist to do his closing flourish in the accompaniment.  The flourish ended up being an entire additional run-through of the song, which seemed unusual to me, but since the organist had gone off-book, I just assumed it’s what struck his fancy at the moment.  But then, after the ceremony was over, the organist came up and asked me why I stopped singing.  I had no idea what he was talking about and asked him why he played another verse of the song.  That was the crux of the error — either he played one too many verses, or I sang one too few.  Given my preoccupation with the fast tempo and my concentration in trying to keep everyone together with the organist, it’s entirely possible that I skipped a verse without even realizing it.  Which, if true, is very embarrassing.  But I didn’t say a word to anyone.  I’ve performed enough that I know better than to apologize for mistakes — you just make them big and push on with confidence; most people won’t realize that anything was wrong (and if they do, it’s not like drawing attention to it will fix anything). 

But enough about me and the music — although this post is about me, the wedding was all about QN and Niko, and the music was just a tiny part.  The real take-away is that QN and Niko got married and the ceremony was beautiful in both its substance and its linguistic presentation (different portions were presented in French, German, Vietnamese and English — a great symbol of the mixing of families, cultures, experiences and interests of the couple).  QN looked gorgeous in her custom-made gown, and the recessional through the great double doors of the church, complete with full wedding bells, made me think of the wedding scenes at the end of so many Disney princess movies.


After the ceremony and light refreshments, I joined the other former IEP students and went into the downtown area to find some lunch and hang out before the dinner and reception started later that night.  It was cold and rainy, really terrible weather for sightseeing (and there weren’t any sights to see in that stretch of street, anyway). 



We ended up just camping out in a “typical” Bavarian restaurant that was such over-the-top kitsch (complete with busty women in dirndls carrying giant mugs of beer, with oompa music in the background) that it would have felt right at home in Disneyland.  Naturally, everything on the menu involved some combination of meat, potatoes and cabbage.  The French folks (who’d picked this place) instantly became squeamish and started looking for menu items that looked more French than German (half of them ordered a plate solely because the cheese was described as “similar to Camembert”).  I, on the other hand, adopted the “when in Rome” philosophy and ordered sausage with sauerkraut.


After polishing off our sausages and pretzels, we split to refresh ourselves for the reception that night.  I went back to the apartment to change out of the suit and tie that I’d worn in the morning and into slacks and a blazer with a bow-tie (QN had specifically mentioned that bow-ties were welcome — and she was right, at our table alone half the men were wearing bow-ties).  Dinner was a tasty array of classic cuisine:

Quail in raspberry sauce, frisee salad with balsamic vinaigrette and figs
Salmon with pesto risotto
Praline ice cream wrapped in marzipan with rhubarb and currents

The reception was enormous fun.  It was held on the top floor of a building overlooking the Gendarmenmarkt, which is flanked by a neoclassical theatre and two churches — one German and one French, built for the French huguenots who were welcomed to Berlin to escape persecution in France.  The details of history aside, the big picture theme of the location had a nice symbolic echo to the Franco-German alliance of the newlyweds.  We ate and talked and looked at pictures of QN and Niko from when they were little.  Grit, another of my best friends from the Rennes year, was there with her boyfriend and it was really great to be able to catch up with them — we hadn’t had much contact since the Croatia vacation in 2010 (Grit and Andre joined QN, Niko and me for the last half of that trip). 

After a while, they cleared out a section of tables and the place became a dance floor.  QN and Niko started with a well-practiced waltz, and then everyone else joined in for more modern dances to pop music, as well as some traditional Breton dances (the link being that Rennes — where QN and many of her quests are from — is located in Brittany, where Celtic, pre-French Breton culture remains vibrant). 

Inviting the rest of us to join in

Niko et moi
One of the great things about wearing a real bow-tie is that you can untie it
late in the evening to show off that yes, it IS a real bow-tie.

QN et moi
Grit, QN, Andre

I stayed late (until about 1:30am) and would have stayed longer had I not needed to leave for the airport before the crack of dawn.  By the time I got home, packed, and figured out how to get from Niko’s apartment to the airport early on a Sunday morning, it was 3am.  An hour and a half later, at 4:30am, my alarm sounded and it was time to get ready to leave.  Fortunately my travels today went perfectly — I got home around 6pm, have partially unpacked (acknowledging that I’ll just be packing for another wedding trip in three days), and will go to bed as soon as I finish this post. 

I admit that in the beginning — indeed, until the moment I landed in Berlin — I wondered why I’d decided to go to the wedding.  Wouldn’t it have been better to go later when I could spend more time and avoid the conflicts with work and Mark’s wedding?  In some ways, maybe yes.  But I loved being there for the wedding, getting to be part of the special day and having the chance to mingle with QN’s and Niko’s other friends and family.  Not only did I feel like I was able to renew my friendships with each of QN and Niko, but I now feel further integrated into their broader network of family and friends.  And isn’t that, really, the whole point of all these traditions surrounding wedding celebrations — the melding of two people and their friends and families?  I think so, and I think the best wedding celebrations do that — this one certainly did a lot to accomplish that goal.  It was a whirlwind trip, and definitely worth it.   


  1. Vanessa · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing some photos! Glad you had an awesome time! Vanessa


  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Thanks again for flying all the way to Berlin to attend our wedding!
    You know, the full wedding bells have been something so common over the centuries here (as well as in France… well, all over Europe I guess), that hardly anyone here ever mentions them anymore – let alone refers to Disney movies. That is quite a shame in a way because even the professional videographer cut that part out of our final wedding video… Il a du penser que c'était trop banal ou trop bruyant ou trop kitsch… ou les 3! Tant pis! Merci pour ta video, c'est la seule que j'ai de ce moment 🙂


  3. Quelle chance alors que j’ai pu apporter un regard étranger pour apprécier les cloches! Pour moi, elles étaient magnifiques (tout comme toi, d’ailleurs). Dommage que je n’aie pas été mieux situé pour la vidéo.


  4. Anonymous · · Reply

    La video de face est postée sur mon blog si tu veux la voir. 🙂


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