Wedding On A Cliff

Whilst sitting in the Green Room of the Wexford Opera House on 18 November 2018, I received a phone call from my first trumpet teacher,­­­ Phil Makin. Phil gave me my first trumpet lesson when I was ten years old, in my parents’ kitchen. I remember the excitement I felt standing next to a high-quality player for the first time. The sound he made was rich, centred and satisfying with excellent intonation. Phil continued to teach me until I left home aged 19, but I’ve stayed in touch with him ever since.

Phil told me that his middle daughter Katie, also a trumpeter, was getting married to her partner Harry the following June in Cornwall. The ceremony would be held on the edge of a cliff in a beautiful spot near Gwithian Beach, overlooking a lighthouse and across the bay from St Ives, which is famous for inspiring generations of artists. I was deeply honoured to be asked.

In the past, I’ve attended and played at a variety of weddings, but I’ve never been asked to play in such a dramatic setting. On the day, I arrived very early. I’ve heard many musicians say that the most stressful part of playing at a function, recording or concert is the process of getting there, especially for those of us who sometimes work in congested cities. For this wedding, the weather looked like it might go a number of ways. Phil had explained the day before that if it rained the service might be held at the beautiful farm complex which was to host the reception, but as the day unfolded it looked as if we were all on for a clifftop union.

One by one, the guests arrived. I had a lovely chat with one of the photographers, Isobel Neale, who was working with her husband Jonathan. Phil had taught her son the tuba when he was younger, so we shared stories and explored the merits of music education. We both agreed that learning an instrument and playing in an ensemble can really help with personal as well as musical development. Isobel took some photos of my A/B flat Yamaha Piccolo trumpet.

My A/B Flat Piccolo Trumpet. Photography by Isobel and Jonathan Neale.

It is often the case at weddings that musicians, be they in a string quartet, seated at an organ or standing with a wind instrument waiting to play, find themselves looking into the distance as the guests settle down and we all await the arrival of the bridal party. On this occasion, the distance into which I was gazing was particularly stunning. We could see the arriving vehicles from around half a mile away. In one direction was the very dapper-looking groom Harry and the guests, and in the other was the striking Cornish coast stretched out for miles in front of us.

Waiting to perform affects different people in different ways. To be honest, I felt more nervous than usual in the knowledge that I was to sound the entry of my former teacher and members of his family. I always endeavour to do a good job, especially at weddings, but because of the personal connection, I was particularly keen to play my best.

Although I was set up to play in the best possible position, I was playing straight into a very strong wind! Even with the assistance of about seven clothes pegs and my heavy bag containing my spare mouthpieces, my sheet music was only just about staying on its stand. The wind and waves were smashing against the rocks and the clouds were reshaping continually.

Before we knew it, Katie, Phil and the rest of the bridal party were on the cliff path a couple of hundred yards away, all looking like a million pounds sterling. I took a deep breath and smashed out ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ by Jeremiah Clarke. Katie had arrived and the wedding ceremony was underway.

Fighting the strong wind on the cliff edge. Photography by Isobel and Jonathan Neale.

It was a touching ceremony, bringing together two lovely people with the strong support of their families and friends. As the wedding continued, the sun beaconed in and out of the grey, casting numerous shades and colours.

One of the many beautiful views of the ceremony and coastline. Photography by Isobel and Jonathan Neale.

To end the proceedings on the cliff edge, Phil and I played a duet, ‘All You Need is Love’ by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, it was really great playing next to Phil again. We then all went down to a more sheltered area nearer to the beach where we were served with delicious pasties and bubbly before heading off to the reception.

Me and Phil after playing our duet, just like old times. Photography by Isobel and Jonathan Neale.

May I take this moment to thank Katie, Harry and their family for allowing me to share my experience of their wedding. It was one of the highlights of my summer.

The stars of the show – Katie and Harry. Photography by Isobel and Jonathan Neale.