Ceremonious Strings for Sophisticated Occasions

May 31, 2017
Ceremonious Strings

While most SandPaper readers spent the long holiday weekend beaching, grilling and partying, local doers and makers were busy working to provide the services, goods, arts and culture that make the Island thrive.

Ceremonious Strings, based in Little Egg Harbor, is a side project of Southern Regional Middle and High School string orchestra director Jaime Chavan, who is also the principal cellist of the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra. Her ensemble is available for weddings and other special events and is a designated “preferred vendor” with Weddings of Distinction, which includes the local properties Mallard Island Yacht Club, Bonnet Island Estate and Stateroom LBI as well as the Ashford Estate in Allentown. At Ashford two years ago her ensemble had the “amazing experience” of performing at the wedding of comedian Tracy Morgan, in conjunction with Jenny Orsini Events.

This weekend she performed at four weddings, during the ceremonies and cocktail hours: Friday night at Mallard Island Yacht Club; Saturday at St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Vineland; and Sunday a double header, at Bonnet Island Estate and Stockton Seaview in Pomona.

“It seems Memorial Day weekend was a popular one with this year’s brides,” Chavan said. Next weekend she has three weddings, and the following week the ensemble will do five events between Friday and Monday. “So, things are picking up!”

Last year she performed at 55 events; for 2017 so far she has 60 lined up; and she is currently booking for 2018. For a change of pace from weddings, the ensemble has played corporate dinners, fundraising events and the occasional funeral. In a few weeks is the New Jersey Women of Excellence Awards in Cherry Hill.

Running a side business can be challenging, Chavan said. She expects to be working weekend nights from April to November – “but I don’t consider the performance aspect ‘work,’” she said, grateful to her understanding fiancé while she is “never home.”

Luckily the bonds of friendship that have formed after many hours of practicing and performing with her fellow musicians makes work fun, she said.

Chavan started Ceremonious Strings after she graduated from college 10 years ago. She has been at Southern nine of those years and directs 90 students in her orchestra program for grades seven to 12.

It started with referrals, she said. “I knew someone getting married; they asked me to play cello. Their friend knew someone getting married; they asked me to play cello. The music community in New Jersey is close-knit, and I became friends with two local school strings teachers who play violin. We clicked and started to play as a trio regularly for fun. Two years ago, things really started to pick up for us.”

Last summer, Chavan decided “to make things official with an LLC, so I could further advertisement and really kick things up a notch.”

Ceremonious Strings remains primarily a string trio, two violins and one cello, but can change to suit a given venue and setting, adding a harp for ceremonies and/or a piano for cocktail hours. Chavan plays cello and violin. As Ceremonious Strings has expanded, she has added musicians with whom she has performed throughout Ocean and Atlantic counties. Her colleagues are musicians who actively perform together – “not a thrown-together group,” she said. She has a group of about eight musicians she works with, depending who’s available, exclusively for events.

“Three of our main violinists are active school music teachers in the area,” she added. Violinist Susan DeGoey is the high school orchestra director for the Toms River Regional Schools; program coordinator/conductor, Chamber Ensemble and Symphonic Youth Orchestra for the Garden State Philharmonic; and performs with Broadway veteran David Meenan for area shows.

Once Chavan noticed string music was increasingly in demand for weddings and special events, she really started to enjoy the side work, she said, especially in the LBI region, a wedding hot spot.

“In college, my private instructor, Wayne Arndt of Manahawkin, helped to get me into the local concert and wedding circuit. He introduced me to music contractors who started to call me to perform for various events. As time went on and I met other local area musicians, I realized it was something I could start to do on my own.”

Chavan said she has found that if she stays in constant contact with clients and is understanding of their many questions and needs, the wedding industry needn’t be stressful at all. “I want their experience with my company and my music to be a positive one,” she said.

What sets Ceremonious Strings apart from the many other string and wedding groups is “I spend the time to custom write a variety of music to fit our ensemble. From Bach to Bruno Mars to Led Zeppelin to Taylor Swift, we play it all. We like to put a contemporary twist on a traditionally classical setting.”

To let prospective clients hear their music, last year Chavan and violinists Susan DeGoey and Susan Davenport Elsayed went to Sound Pound Studio (run by Mark Keeler of MK Productions) in Manahawkin and recorded some of their most popular tunes – traditional classical tunes for wedding ceremonies and a bunch of fun pop, rock, modern, jazz cocktail selections. Prospective clients can go to ceremoniousstrings.com for a preview and follow @ceremoniousstringsnj on Instagram for photos and audio clips.

As for the rewards of the work, Chavan sees nothing but. She gets to share in her clients’ happiest moments, live vicariously through them and enjoy “amazing décor, dresses and shoes; make friends with other local wedding-related business owners; (and) spend time making music with my best friends – and I get paid while I’m at it!”

— Victoria Ford


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