Singing at my own wedding
Overcoming my own obstacles to be able to sing to my husband at our wedding
I never thought I’d be singing at my own wedding. When people asked me about it, I always said “Oh no, that’s too much pressure! I’d prefer to not be in performance mode on my own wedding day.” I had every excuse in the book as to why it wasn’t something I wanted to do. But when I actually got married, it became very clear to me that it was something very important to me. Singing is the way I communicate my emotions, and I knew I couldn’t say what I needed to just with words. I’d like to share my story with you, so that hopefully you too can find the confidence to sing for a significant occasion. Spoiler alert: it’s not about a perfect performance.
1. The inner voice telling me I couldn't do it
I told myself so many reasons why I couldn't sing at my own wedding. I convinced myself it wasn't possible.
Singing “I Could Have Danced All Night for the bride and groom at a wedding reception in full ‘performance’ mode, playing a character (Eliza).
I’ve sung at weddings before. Many times, actually. It’s a very emotional occasion to perform for, and I consider it an absolute privilege to bring something extra special to a couple’s wedding day. But because of this experience, I was sure I couldn’t do it for my own wedding. In no particular order, these were my main worries:
I worried about being too busy to warm up and ‘prepare’ on the day – I thought I knew enough about weddings to know that I would be very busy on the day of the wedding. Getting ready takes a lot of time, and I’d be surrounded by my close family and friends whom I’d want to spend time with. And performing without warming up? Without going over my words, or test-running the backing track? Inconceivable!
I worried about not being able to sing easily in my dress. I don’t like singing in outfits that are very tight/restrictive to the ribcage. We were always told how important it was for the breath to be free. But I chose a wedding dress that was exactly that – tight around the ribcage with not much wiggle room for deep breathing! (It had a stunning open back and V neckline that I LOVED, which seemed more important!).
Being overcome with emotion was a big fear. You know that feeling when you’re holding back emotion, and your voice chokes up? It’s really hard to sing with that feeling. I’ve had a couple of family weddings I’ve sung at where I’ve really had to steel myself and shut off my emotion to be able to get through a performance without my voice cracking. I didn’t want to feel like I had to close off my emotions on my own wedding day, but I also fully anticipated that if I felt emotional singing at someone else’s wedding, I would DEFINITELY be emotional at my own wedding!
I was sure that the pressure of singing in front of so many important people would be too much. We originally planned to have a very big wedding, with around 250 guests for the ceremonies.* The thought of singing in front of so many people, on such an important day, and screwing up, was not something I felt great about. I’ve sung to much bigger audiences, but the stakes have never felt so high. This of course says a lot about how much I care what others think, which is a whole other conversation…it’s something I’m working on!
I was more than correct about the emotion – read on to know why I’m bawling at a phone screen on my wedding day…
* In France, Church and State are separate, so you have to get married at the town hall first before going on to a second ceremony (if you wish) at a church or other place of worship (or for a non-religious ceremony! Hence, ceremonies plural!
2. Realising how much I wanted to sing at the wedding
Singing is about communicating emotions bigger than words can express
As we got closer to the big day, I started to realise that I needed to sing if I was going to be true to myself on my wedding day.
I’ve always been a singer. I’ve always used song to express emotions that are bigger than I can communicate with words. If a friend has a family death, I’ll send them a song rather than a card. If there’s a new baby, I send a lullaby. When there are family events, I sing a favourite song of the person we’re celebrating. It’s my way of saying, I love you, you’re important to me. So, how could I not sing for my husband?
One day, as I was doing my daily #singforyourself challenge, I realised I’d stumbled across the song I wanted to sing to him. The lyrics were right, and the melody felt so right that even thinking about it now I’m full of a warm glow feeling. (Does music do that to you too? Or is it just me?).
I didn’t know when on the wedding day it would make sense to sing, and I was terrified about doing it so I didn’t tell anyone I was even considering it. But the more I tried to push away the idea, the more it kept coming back.
It was time to address the obstacles, and make it feel like a safe possibility.
3. How changing my mindset made it possible
My view of what singing at my own wedding "should" be was getting in my way
I had this image in my mind of my performing at my own wedding being the same as singing at someone else’s wedding. A certain standard expected, a perfect, well-prepared performance, with a controlled level of emotion. Basically, a ‘professional’ quality, the same as if someone was being paid to perform. It seems silly to write that now, knowing what it ended up being, but I was definitely stuck in this mindset.
However, as I was doing my own #singforyourself challenge during the months leading up to the wedding, I made some really big discoveries that really helped shift my mindset around singing and performance.
Ways I Shifted My Mindset
1. I reconnected with my voice, and started to regain my trust in it that had been damaged through years of competition and comparison. This helped me let go of the need for ‘perfect’ preparation
2. This confidence was built even further by working with a singing teacher (Eryn Street) who encouraged me to sing what I loved, and coached me with a gentle and encouraging hand. We had so much fun exploring different corners of my voice I hadn’t dared to before.
3. I stopped caring so much about ‘perfect’, zero-mistakes, singing. I sang because it made me happy, instead of striving for perfection. Years of academic classical training had sucked this out of me, so this was a big thing to get back.
4. I broke away from the box of thinking that requires a comprehensive warm up with the perfect exercises before performing. I got creative, played with my voice, and got to know it so much better. Instead of expecting my voice to do what other people told me it could or couldn’t do, I learned to trust it to do what I asked it to.
It’s all about your mindset. I warmed up singing along to my favourite love songs while getting my hair done. Conventional? No. Was it enough? Yes. Was I having fun? Absolutely!
4. The obstacles that went 'poof'
The circumstances around our wedding changed significantly, which made it clear what was important...and made the obstacles seem smaller!
“You’re allowed to cry at your own wedding!”
Thanks to the global pandemic (cheers, COVID-19), our wedding changed significantly. My family and bridal party weren’t able to come at all, we were whittled down to 20 guests, and we cancelled our big reception in favour of a lunch on a family farm. It was stressful and hard, and things were constantly changing even up to the last day when it was finally confirmed that we would be allowed to have all our guests at the town hall.
Finding our priorities
All of these challenges made it very clear what was important, and even clearer how important it was for me to sing on the wedding day. To tell him how much I loved him, to tell him that I was literally prepared to do anything (even get married without my family) for him and for us, and that I was ready to commit to our lifetime together. We don’t speak the same mother tongue (he’s French), and music has always been a way we’ve connected when language barriers got in the way. It felt easier to sing than to speak.
I realised that I could make time to warm up – it was my day! I decided that I trusted my voice enough to cope with the restrictive dress. The song I’d chosen is one I’ve known for years and could sing in my sleep. I did practice it with my singing teacher and we talked through a couple of strategies for dealing with a few harder notes. She also reminded me and encouraged me to sing with authentic emotion, even if it meant my voice cracked. You’re allowed to cry at your own wedding! The number of people being so reduced helped me get over my nerves too, and I knew that holding my husband’s hand would be a way to reassure myself if I started to feel overwhelmed.
5. Singing at my own wedding
It wasn't a professional performance...but it wasn't meant to be.
I had grand plans to warm up in the morning before my hair & makeup artist arrived. It didn’t happen – I had time to do about 2 mins of humming and vocal fry. We had music on while we were getting ready, and I sang along and used that as a warm up (see above). I also made sure I was hydrated enough.
When I was dressed, I did a test run with the backing track so the person who needed to press ‘go’ knew what they were doing. I barely made it through the song without melting into a puddle of tears, but it reassured me that my voice was warm enough. It would have to do!
I decided to singing during our civil ceremony. We’d postponed the church wedding, so we chose to exchange our rings at the town hall. When we got to that moment, the music started, and I started singing:
For you, there’ll be no crying (cue ironic voice crack, threatening tears, and a reset…I can do this)
For you, the sun will be shining (big smile, because he’s my sunshine)
Cause I feel that when I’m with you, it’s alright (he squeezed my hand)
I know it’s right (I knew I’d made the right call to sing)
I made it through the whole song, and even gave him his ring and said my words in French during the instrumental between the verses. He joined in singing with me in the second verse, which I wasn’t expecting at all, and it was probably one of my favourite memories of the whole day.
Everyone told me afterwards that it blew them away, and was one of the most perfect moments of the wedding day. It was authentic to us, and to who I am. And it was the best gift I could give to my husband – he was completely surprised!
What I learned about myself
(Because my teacher hat is always on!)
That I can trust my voice because I have spent time getting to know it and learning to ask it to do what I want.
I had practiced, but there’s something about emotion choking you up that throws a lot of that out the window. While I was singing, I followed my instinct about how much support, breath, pressure, volume I needed, and what dynamics I could pull off. It was a lot harder to sing quietly, so I didn’t.
That it is ok to be vulnerable and show raw emotion in a performance – and it won’t ruin it, it’ll make it real.
That I am a lot braver than I thought.
I was more nervous than I think I’ve ever been for a performance. It was really difficult – holding myself together took everything I’ve got. But I did it, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.
I'm so grateful I found the courage to sing at my own wedding
I enjoyed my wedding day even more because I was true to myself – singer and all – and overcame a huge amount of self-disbelief. My motivation was wanting to gift something special to my husband. I was able to do it through changing my mindset on what I considered to be ‘a performance’, and shifted from a professional to personal attitude, which is what was appropriate for the occasion.
A key aspect of preparing for this was the help of working with a singing teacher. I am a singing teacher myself, but even teachers need teachers! Eryn helped me prepared the song vocally of course, but the real preparation was in my headspace, and she was able to coach me through that too. This is something that is very important to me in my own teaching, and it was an amazing experience to be able to receive this kind of coaching from someone else.
(Is it weird that I’m telling you about another singing teacher? I don’t think so! We have very similar value systems, but we’ve got different strengths, and working with the teacher who’s the right fit for your personality and needs is key).
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