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Beyond Pachelbel: Minnesota composer gives the world new wedding music

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Wedding Joe Raedle/Getty

How many weddings have you been to? Almost certainly not as many as Bob Mitchell, who in his capacity as organist, piano player, DJ, and guitarist has chalked up over a thousand.

Mitchell started playing ceremonies and receptions as a teenager, to pay his way through music college. While most of his fellow musicians, he says, "hated" wedding gigs, and did them mainly for the paycheck, Mitchell found that he actually enjoyed himself more than a little.

"I really liked weddings," he says. "I loved every wedding I ever worked at. You have four or five hours to get two groups of people that don't know each other to interact, and put smiles on their faces. They don't have to be sitting and listening to each note, but the music's there, creating mood, creating the atmosphere."

And while the weddings Mitchell played at varied enormously in size, style and setting, one thing was common to all of them. "Every bride I've ever met wanted her wedding to be unique. Every one."

Why then, Mitchell wondered, was he always being asked to play the same music? Pachelbel's Canon, Mendelssohn's Wedding March, "Here Comes The Bride" — the same titles were requested over and over. Might there not be scope for trying something more original, more truly distinctive?

That is where the composer in Mitchell clicked in, and the idea of writing his own wedding music started. Using a Logic Pro workstation at his home in Burnsville, Minn., he produced an initial run of 30 pieces for string quartet and took them to a music convention in Los Angeles.

The positive feedback that he received there encouraged Mitchell to develop the project further. Back in Minnesota he hired a professional string quartet, which taped his wedding music in a recording studio, with parts for harp and flute added.

The result is A Wedding by the Lake, a CD containing 17 pieces of music, mostly two to three minutes in duration. Each is tailored to a specific section of the wedding celebration, and the sequence can be used either selectively or in total.

"As We Gather," "With this Ring," "Rose Petals," "Hopes and Dreams" — these are among the titles Mitchell gave to individual movements, aiming to distill his vast experience of wedding ceremonies into elegant, listener-friendly music that would complement the special moments of a uniquely special occasion.

Having recordings of his music ready for grooms and brides-to-be to listen to was one thing, getting it out into an overcrowded marketplace quite another.

To that end, Mitchell converted himself into a one-man business, handling the artwork and CD pressing arrangements and setting up a website, where both the sheet music of A Wedding by the Lake and the recording itself can be downloaded.

"I sell a lot of MP3s, I sell a lot of sheet music around the world, I have 40 YouTube videos up where I have pictures of brides and landscapes using my music underneath," he says.

For maximum flexibility, Mitchell has also written versions of his wedding music for different combinations of instruments. "I have arrangements for flute solo and piano, flute duet and piano, trumpet duet, violin and cello solo. People use them and like them."

Initial reactions to A Wedding by the Lake have been enthusiastic, spurring Mitchell to explore the concept further. He's already recorded a version of the piece for solo piano, and has ideas for follow-up CDs of songs he's written to be sung at weddings, and self-penned instrumental pieces for processional and recessional purposes.

Though boundlessly enthusiastic about his own compositions, Mitchell emphasizes that the choice of music for a wedding is ultimately highly personal. One thing, though, would undoubtedly make him happy.

"What I want ten years down the road," he says, "is somebody saying 'Do I want Pachelbel's Canon, that's been played a billion times, or do I want Bob Mitchell's "Rose Petals," which is just as beautiful?' That's what I want."

Terry Blain was educated in Northern Ireland and Cambridge, England, and writes for a wide range of publications, including BBC Music Magazine and Opera Magazine. In his spare time he is an avid record collector, and walks his dog Buddy.