A romantic Colorado winter wedding inspires dreams of fairytale snow, twinkle lights, steaming spiced drinks, and a crackling fire. My clients travel from all over the United States to be married in Colorado, and they’re drawn by the allure of the majestic mountains and pristine landscape. Colorado’s brilliant autumn foliage, epic snow covered peaks, and ever-changing vistas are an ideal setting for one of the most special days of your life. Live music adds the perfect warming touch to any winter wedding.
If you’re looking for musicians to play for your winter wedding, you may have discovered that it’s difficult to find musicians who will agree to play outdoors when the weather is cold. In fact, most musicians won’t play if the temperature is below 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Are musicians being overly particular, or are there legitimate reasons for their specific temperature requirements? What is it really like for a musician to play outdoors in the winter?
As both a flutist and a cellist, I decided to test out the claims that live music couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be performed outside in the cold, and I dedicated the winter of 2017 to my experiment, which culminated in playing my flute for an outdoor mountain wedding in the middle of December. I wanted to see exactly what would happen to me, my flute, and my cello! I uncovered the challenges to playing outside in cold weather and discovered a number of helpful tips for musicians who will be playing outside in the cold. I also put together a list of tips for the wedding couple who is planning to have live music for their outdoor winter wedding ceremony.
As winter began to arrive, I decided to play both my flute and cello outside every day for 15 minutes. At first it was easy, and I enjoyed the time outside, looking at the mountain view in my backyard.
The temperatures started to drop as winter approached, and I found that I needed to start wearing my winter coat. My fingers were quite cold, but I was able to play until one day that was in the upper 40’s. I was playing cello, but my winter coat was bulky and it made my movements difficult. My fingerless gloves were also too bulky to wear while playing, and the icy cold metal cello strings felt sharp and unpleasant under my fingers. Without a warm coat or gloves, my fingers went completely numb from the cold and the metal strings after about five minutes. I couldn’t feel the strings any longer and my fingers became quite stiff from the cold, which impeded movement. The result was a rather clunky sounding version of “Frosty the Snowman”. My fingers started to hurt from the cold, so I had to cut my playing time short.
In addition to my own discomfort, the cello itself is a very delicate instrument, and sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. Outdoor performances in hot or cold weather can cause the wood of the instrument to crack or split, especially at the seams, and this has happened to my cello on occasion. Dry air, temperature changes, and temperature extremes can all be culprits.
It’s also very difficult to play in tune on the cello in very cold weather, and I found this out in my experiment. When the weather turns cold, the strings on a stringed instrument contract. In contrast, the wooden part of the instrument expands and contracts in response to humidity. In cold weather, the instrument will go very sharp, and since the strings each contract at different rates, it's very difficult to keep a stringed instrument in tune in cold weather. When musicians have to play together in cold weather, their instruments will change pitch at different rates, so they not only have to stay in tune with themselves, but they have to stay in tune with the other musicians.
In short, I found that playing my cello below the prescribed 55-60 degrees was very difficult for the listener’s ears, my cello, and myself.