I was climbing the stairs leading to my apartment when I met my next door neighbors, a French couple in their late sixties, coming down, dressed in their best. “We’re going to a wedding,” smiled the wife wryly, “and another one tomorrow. It’s too much.”
“Much too loud,” explained her husband. Mimicking a walking movement with two fingers, he added that this meant they would be leaving early – filer à l’anglaise was his humorous choice of phrase.
Not to be outdone, I remarked that our English equivalent for an illicit absence was “to take French leave.”
Amiably disposed as they are, we parted on good terms – me to enjoy a quiet evening, they to undergo what would almost certainly be an ear-crushing, almost physically painful experience they would grin and bear until they could make their escape. Then it would all be repeated the next day.
The prevailing trend in Israel, and other places, to hire wedding bands that assault hapless guests’ eardrums as relentlessly as battering rams leads me to pose this question to families who make weddings, often at exorbitant cost: After all the planning, and all the time and money invested, is grim resignation followed by a speedy and relieved exit really the response you desire from a significant proportion of your invitees? Along with the lavish food on offer, did you think about providing “the greatest good for the greatest number”?
NOW THE majority of couples who marry are young, and young people – and their friends – naturally want music that expresses their exuberance and reflects their energy, joy of life and happiness at attending a joyful event.
In contrast, my French neighbors – and I myself – might well be dismissed as grumblers and killjoys on the path to old fogeyhood who’ve simply forgotten what it means to have a good time.
I was thus intrigued by the conversation during a car journey back to Jerusalem from a wedding held in the south of the country just a few days earlier.
My daughter and I had been given a ride to the event by a lively young couple in their late twenties; and on the way home, I raised the subject of the music, provided by a DJ, which had, true to form, been uninterrupted and earsplitting.
While some guests who looked to be 50 or over had danced with every appearance of enjoyment, others had sat at their tables wearing fixedly resigned expressions.
Conversation, beyond a word or two, was out.
“The volume is one of the reasons we left earlier than planned,” the young woman explained. “I’m giving a presentation at work tomorrow, and my throat was seriously hurting from all the shouting I had to do to be heard over the music.”
Did they prefer their music so very loud? It emerged that they didn’t. So does it really have to be like that? I wondered. Couldn’t people dance and celebrate just as happily with music at half the volume? “It’s the trend,” she shrugged.
“But who set the trend?” her husband persisted.
They tossed the point back and forth for a while, but clearly neither of them thought anything would change.
Weddings, while undeniably happy occasions, would for many guests continue to be an endurance test.
WHAT DO band players say about the decibel issue? Contrary to what you might think, it’s a topic that engages them.
The managing director of an acoustic music company posted this comment on a musicians website: “I did concert sound for over 20 years and the levels asked for kept increasing... We had one concert that was so loud I had three sets of ear protection on, and could still hear the music.”
Added “GuitarMax99”: “DJs and live bands are both guilty of turning up the volume to levels approaching (and exceeding) the threshold of pain. Personally, I hate it. I understand wanting to hear loud music, but I don’t understand pushing it to the point where you’re going to cause tympanic membrane damage and tinnitus.
“When I go to a movie, I don’t want the projectionist to turn up the brightness to the point where I’m squinting. So why do sound-guys think I want them to turn up the volume until my ears bleed?” Wrote another band player: “Often musicians don’t get the distinction between when they should be in the foreground and when they shouldn’t... Unfortunately, instead of talent being the focal point, volume often is.”
A guitarist had no doubt about who was ultimately responsible for the pervasive high volume: “One problem you run into when playing in a band is that while the guitars, bass and microphones are all amplified, the drums are not (unless you’re using electric drums). It’s pretty tough to play a set of acoustic drums quietly and have them sound uniform and good. [So] we tended to play to the volume of our drummer...
“It’s the damn drummer,” he stressed. “I’ve played with a few great drummers, and they all could play just as intensely at normal volumes. Unfortunately, most of them seem to equate emotion with volume. So everyone else plays louder. The volume is controlled by the naturally loudest instrument, which is the drums.”
“Personally,” countered a drummer, “I enjoy trying to maintain energy and interest at low volume – it’s challenging and fun, if frustratingly tricky.”
If this drummer plays at weddings here in Israel, I’ve yet to hear him. He belongs to an endangered species, and so I hope he’s taking good care of himself.
There’s always one poster who likes to be contrary, and in this case it was someone calling himself, perhaps understandably, SingleDad: “Most people have nothing to say to each other. The loudness the band provides relieves them of the embarrassment of exposing the shallowness of their personalities.”
TAKING A broader look at Israeli life, let’s agree that it tolerates a lot of noise, fitting well into the surrounding Mediterranean culture.
People talk loudly. Drivers sound their horns frequently, most irritatingly when they’re right behind you and the traffic light turns green, as if your dawdling is a foregone conclusion.
Unintelligible tinny piped ads in malls assail you when you’re trying to have coffee and quiet conversation with a friend. Stores and cafes play music that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called “background,” more for the benefit of the staff, it often seems, than the customers.
When my husband and I went to pick up our gas masks at a local mall, there was a children’s show going on next to the collection point. Several rows of tots sat transfixed before a couple of costumed performers dancing to canned music amplified to a point of near-pain. We could barely stand the few minutes it took to reach the head of the distribution line, and I don’t know how the soldiers manning the station could function. It seemed criminal to expose young children’s ears to such a distorted notion of entertainment.
WITH ALL the above, it seems that over-loud music at weddings and other celebrations will, with some welcome exceptions, continue to be the rule here in Israel. For things to change, more and more people – specifically those who hire the bands and DJs – will have to be extremely firm about what they are prepared to put up with. For now, they are putting up with a great deal.
But just in case anyone planning a wedding is listening, I have a good interim solution that will keep everyone happy, and no one deprived or in pain. Here it is: Stage 1: Request good background music for the wedding reception – there’s an amazing musical array out there to choose from. Many people already do this.
Stage 2: Any music played during the actual ceremony will, by definition, be tolerable as to volume and short in duration. At religious weddings, decide on 10-15 minutes of joyful (loud) “mitzva dancing” immediately after the huppa – and no more at that time.
Stage 3 is where we depart from hallowed custom: Continue with background music during the entire meal, enabling guests to relax, enjoy the food and music and talk to friends and relatives they may not have seen in years. Serve all courses of the meal – except possibly dessert – one after the other, with no significant breaks. (The rabbis don’t forbid it, and it’s healthier to finish dinner earlier rather than later.) Stage 4: Let the band or DJ finally turn up the volume to their hearts’ content for those guests who adore loud music and want to dance until they drop. The rest of us can leave quite happily at this point, knowing we have participated in all the important parts of the celebration – and suffered not at all.
How’s that for an idea?