We've had a lot of requests for jazz and pop titles this summer, and a lot of questions to go with it. The thing I'm asked most often is, "Can you play any song I want?" The answer is -- almost. I know that's not the exuberant "yes" that you were hoping for (but considering many other groups would say "no" I feel pretty darn good about what we can do for you). Let me tell you how pop music and string quartets work.
Music not published: String musicians play off sheet music. As much as we'd like to just sit down and improvise any song called out to us at an event, we really can't (except Steve, who will happily demonstrate for you that he can play anything off the top of his head). But we can play any pop sheet music put in front of us. Here's where the real problem lies. Pop music is almost never published for string quartets. There are some out there, but they're not always good, or reliably authentic to the original song. Some sold arrangements just plain sound bad and it's hard to believe they're being sold on big sites. Also, certain large publishing companies hold the copyright and publishing reins very tightly on pop songs. It doesn't matter how much WE the string musicians want to play those songs, or how nice of an arrangement we might have, THEY have often decided we don't need that music. Some arrangers I know have been told something like this: "We already have that for solo instrument, or band, or [insert group that's not a string quartet here]. We don't need to publish another version of it and no, you can't sell your version of it either because we hold the copyrights." So, in short, we can't buy sheet music for that great song you heard on the radio by Fun.
The solution is, we can write our own music., LOTS of it. We don't sell it, and it's (sadly, very sadly) not available to other groups to buy. We could (and would) get sued if we sold our own arrangements of pop songs. But, if we have enough notice, and you're agreeable to the arranging fee for the many hours of extra work we'll be putting into preparing for your wedding, we're happy to write out almost any song you want ...almost....
Some music just doesn't work in string quartets well: There are some songs that just don't work well for string quartet. Yes, I know you heard strings playing in the background while Dr. Rippidy-Rappidy was doing his best hip-hop wedding song. But that doesn't mean the MAIN part of the song -- the melody, the accompaniment, and the rhythm section -- can be appropriately realized in a string quartet. In this I ask that you trust our judgement. We'll be honest with you, and if your song won't work well in a string quartet (because it will sound strange, incomplete, or just plain bad) we'll work with you to find something by the same artist or another favorite of yours that we can write out. Sometimes that pop song you love the most might be better if it is played as your grand march, or your first dance. Please don't rule hiring us as a quartet out if we decide we shouldn't write out that one song you love so much... We don't want to play something at your wedding that we know will sound terrible, and I'm sure you don't want that either! There are many, many other fantastic pop songs out there to explore and that we can write. I once had a groom decide to not hire us because I told him we couldn't play the old-school rap song he wanted. Give us a shot because, I've got to tell you, we're good at what we do, and have a darn good time playing those crazing pop songs. :D
"I heard the [---] string quartet play this song, so get the sheet music." Just like I can't sell the music that I arrange and write for my group, other groups you hear online who have a great pop arrangement can't sell their music to us either. It's all very unfortunate. There's a huge number of FANTASTIC songs out there played by string quartets that will never be published or allowed to be sold. But we'll do what we can to rewrite what you heard.
"You don't have to write out music or buy it because I bought it for you" We know you're trying to help us when you hand us a freebie piano score you found online somewhere, but that doesn't mean we can play it in a string quartet. Those piano scores don't have parts for each musician, and usually the notes a violin would play are too low in those piano scores. The notes that the cello would play are usually written on the piano score WAY below my lowest string, so I can't play them. Often the freebie piano scores are full of errors too, and you don't want us to play those do you? The old adage of You Get What You Pay For is usually very true when it comes hiring musicians, and also to paying for a quality arrangement. A free piano score usually results in our not being able to use it, so no music at all. Invest in our arranging fees, or choose from our current selections for the best sounding rendition of a pop song in string quartet. It's not easy making a pop song sound good in a string quartet (the "cheese factor" can be pretty high), but with our composing and arranging skills, and our experience performing pop and jazz, we can make it sound great! It's worth the investment to do it right.
Does that help? I hope so! So many of you had had questions about pop music this year I thought it was worth talking about. We're looking forward to seeing so many of you this summer. I have LOTS of song writing to do...tons and tons, and not just for my string quartet. So, off I go to finish our exciting version of "Viva La Vida" that, I must say, is really exciting and fun!
Have a great spring!