“As we marvel at the path that has brought our couple to this momentous occasion, I invite you to contemplate the roots, the blossoms, the streams, the peaks and valleys of love in your own lives. May you leave here with a heightened sense of all that you cherish and value most deeply.”                                                                                       -from yesterday’s ceremony at Onteora Mountain House

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Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 5.41.16 PMScreen shot 2013-05-02 at 5.23.33 PMScreen shot 2013-05-02 at 5.30.29 PMLast November, Sarah, grower and designer at Vera Flora Farm, and I, shared a display table at the Alyson’s Orchard Wedding Fair.

I’m pretty enthusiastic about reaching out to couples at events like this because I find that most people have never heard of a Celebrant before and it’s fun to let them know what’s possible – even if they already have a minister or other officiant to work with.

Sarah overheard me describe the way I retell a couple’s love story and collaborate with them to create elements and rituals that are meaningful and reflective of all they value and hold most dear.

I shared with Sarah the joy I feel to be bringing that kind of creativity and personal resonance to all life-cycle events: baby blessings, coming of age ceremonies, new homes and businesses, and milestone birthdays.

And then she told me more about her baby Willa, and how she wished she and her partner Vanessa had done something more intentional to celebrate her birth.

I suggested to Sarah that a first birthday could be an ideal time to create a ceremony to honor and bless a child, her family, and her community.

And that’s just what we did…

Big sister Izzie walks around the circle dropping stars to form a path around the sun. Symbolic of Willa's first year and all the birthdays to come as she grows up in a circle of love.

Big sister Izzie walks, dropping stars to form a path around the sun. Symbolic of Willa’s first year and all the birthdays to come as she grows up in a circle of love.

Everyone chose a bead and made a wish for Willa.

Everyone chose a bead and made a wish for Willa.

Willa and her birthday necklace made their way around the circle.

Willa and her birthday necklace made their way around the circle.

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Music evokes memories, plays on our heartstrings, moves and delights our senses and sets a unifying tone for ceremonies.   Sometimes couples have clear ideas about the music they wish to include and that gives me a feel for the mood we are creating together.  Other times, ideas for music (like other elements and rituals) are inspired by the couple’s story and the themes that emerge. Here’s a musical look back at some of the love songs that accompanied my wedding couples in 2012.

Each couple’s ceremony is unique and reflective of the special qualities and spirit of their relationship. Sometimes that includes a desire for a very traditional element such as walking down the aisle to Wagner’s classic Wedding March  (the quintessential, “here comes the bride”) as Liliana chose to do.

In contrast, the very contemporary and wondrous Afternoon Love In  by Prefuse 73 played a special part in Sarah and Jonathan’s love story. It was fun to decipher the tune’s groovy structure and to choreograph the entrances of the wedding party around its varied rhythmic and melodic sections.

Sometimes rich song lyrics tie beautifully into the language of a ceremony. A couple who wanted to honor the groom’s mother chose to process arm in arm to one of her favorites, Elvis’s How Great Thou Art. I wrote my introduction to build on those powerful gospel lyrics, weaving them into a more universal expression that resonated with the couple and their chosen setting. Surrounded by lush green hills and a dramatic, expansive sky, as the music faded, I began their ceremony with, “How great thou art indeed – that which sings through all creation.  How great thou art – this magnificent spirit of love and grace that brings us to this glorious hillside to unite our couple as husband and wife.”

When I learned that Haley really liked Jason Mraz’s lilting love song I’m Yours, I suggested Vitamin String Quartet’s rendition for the recessional. This instrumental version matched the elegance of their ceremony and because I’m Yours was such a popular song I’m sure many of the guests heard the sweet apropos lyrics in their heads or were quietly humming along as the couple joyfully recessed.

When rain threatened a wedding in the Berkshires, the garden needed to be set-up with fewer chairs and the acoustic guitar had no amplification.  These changes actually made for a more intimate feeling as the guests gathered arm in arm and drew nearer with the entrance of the wedding party to hear Purcell’s regal Trumpet Voluntary

For Kelly and Mark who first met in London, then lived for a time in Australia and got married on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee, I proposed a parade of the guests (a tradition found in various parts of the world) from the boat dock to the ceremonial site. Three eager flower girls led the way while I played two tunes from the British Isles on flute: Haste to the Wedding & Marie’s Wedding.

Another couple thought they’d have a simple elopement ceremony and forego music altogether. But after learning about the groom’s love of the cello I suggested Josefin’s Waltz by cellist Natalie Haas and fiddler Alasdair Frazier. Accompanied by this beautiful duet, the groom and bride each walked a half circle and met one another before the large stone fireplace at their New England farm venue.

What melodies will accompany my couples up and down the aisle in the coming year? I’m eager to hear. Whether recorded or performed live, the musical possibilities for processionals, recessionals and within the ceremony itself, are endless!

Sarah and Jonathan danced down the aisle to Louis Prima's The Music Goes Round and Round

Sarah and Jonathan dancing down the aisle to Louis Prima’s The Music Goes Round and Round.

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Give a very unique gift this season… a gift of celebration!  Do you know someone with something special to celebrate in the coming year?  A milestone birthday, anniversary or wedding, perhaps?  Contact me so we can discuss how I would  work with them to create a custom ceremony… to honor, inspire and remember!  

MarigoldCeremonies@gmail.com

“For weeks upon weeks afterwards, I had friends come and tell me that ours was the most lovely ceremony they’d seen. They said they felt apart of it, pulled in by it, that they learned so much about us as a couple from it and were touched themselves. I cannot thank Amy enough for shepherding us through this solemn and joyful occasion with so much love, wisdom and care. Amy is talented and skilled at her practice, and I cannot recommend her highly enough.” 

We Light Lights

Burning the candle stubs from the previous year at the winter solstice.

Burning the candle stubs from the previous year at the winter solstice.

From our earliest beginnings as a couple my husband and I have been approaching the winter holidays with the same sort of mindfulness and reflection that I encourage my couples to bring to their wedding ceremonies. Asking, “What is most true and meaningful to you?”

My husband Jeffrey grew up attending a Conservative Jewish synagogue with his family. As a little girl I loved to sing in my red and white robe with the puffy bow in the cherub choir of the Lutheran church my family attended — only to be somewhat troubled as an adolescent that we were singing such overtly Christian songs in our public middle and high school choirs. In our small Wisconsin town I didn’t know anyone personally who shared that they were anything other than Christian, but I somehow sensed that the world, our country, and even our town had to be more mysteriously complex and multifaceted than that.

We were good — the choir that is. We even recorded a Christmas album in a church with gorgeous acoustics, which Jeff still pulls out and spins on our turntable every year. I remember loving and resonating with the layered harmonies while silently wishing the lyrics were more universal.

With this perspective, I became a Quaker, and for several years walked that peaceful path of simplicity and thoughtful searching, with little ritual or ceremony. When I met Jeffrey I was drawn to his rich visceral connection to the music, language (prayers, blessings, stories, poetry), community, and rituals of Judaism. And we began to create our own celebrations – a merging of our most cherished experiences, traditions and evolving beliefs.

One of our first winters... a menorah, dreidels and a "solstice tree" with tiny ribbons.

One of our first winters… a menorah, dreidels and a “solstice tree” with tiny ribbons.

Surprisingly, the gingerbread house has emerged as a symbol of our winter family celebration. In the growing darkness, like the ancients who celebrated the winter solstice, we are drawn to create a shelter for ourselves and for our love.  When our daughters were little I began making gingerbread houses with what I like to call a “working fireplace” – a vented chimney — so that I could put a votive candle inside.  All the winter holiday celebrations, Christmas, Kwanza and Chanukah, kindle lights that illuminate our homes.  Growing up in a significantly Jewish community Jeff fondly remembers Menorah lights shining out from the windows of many houses in his neighborhood. As the light in the world wanes once again we seek to cultivate it within.  We come together, we light lights, we make good food, we give gifts, tell stories and sing songs to affirm that we are safe and loved.

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Gingerbread houses are a fairly labor intensive craft project and not something we’ve made time for every year, so I was delighted a week ago when our 17 year-old daughter Sophie said that she was going to make one.  I’ve just finished reading Wendall Berry’s heartbreaking novel Hanna Coulter about the loss of family farm culture and traditions, so to have my technology enamored daughter moved to recreate this simple representation of home is a joy – a simple blessing. Late one night, she made the fragrant dough, rolled it out, measured and cut out the shapes and baked the walls, roof and chimney pieces.  The next day she and I constructed it with the egg and powdered sugar mixture whose adhesive power is so strong it should really give anyone pause before consuming too many holiday sweets. Sophie and a friend decorated it.  No worries that she didn’t make a hole to vent the chimney. I went out and bought our first LED votives – the latest eco-friendly evolution of our beloved family tradition.

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As a Celebrant, I’m honored to meet my clients wherever they are on our human quest for meaning and celebration.  I’ve found that whether the ceremonies are secular or spiritual, they all ring with authenticity, and love.

May your winter holidays and the coming year be full of light and love and all you cherish most deeply.      xo Amy

Island Wedding

Looking forward to Celebrating a very special marriage on Bear Island, Lake Winnipesaukee this weekend.  I’ll be playing a couple of wedding tunes from the British Isles on my flute for the parade from the boat to the ceremonial site. There, the friends and family will bless our couple’s rings, before the processional.  Bridges figure prominently in this couple’s love story (and they’ve literally crossed oceans to be together).  So the guests will form a “wedding bridge” for them to cross as they recess to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and enter their newly wedded life. Full of beauty and meaning on so many levels!

Edward Acker, Photographer, e-mail: edwardacker@earthlink.net

It was just about time for the ceremony to begin, when dark clouds, thunder and lighting rolled across the expansive skies at Alyson’s Orchard. We waited for the storm to blow over. The friendly staff dried off the chairs. The wagon delivered the bride and groom and their 20 beautiful and handsome nieces and nephews to the ceremony sight. In their pastel clothes the children processed down the aisle with willow branches and formed a circle of love in which the bride and groom made their vows.

Edward Acker, Photographer, e-mail: edwardacker@earthlink.net

Such happiness and joy!