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When you’ve spent a year or so planning your wedding, the last thing you want is a snooze-fest punctuated only by the impressive snores of Great Uncle Eddie. But keeping a motley crowd of relatives, friends, and plus ones entertained for an entire evening can be a tough ask. Liz Tripodi is a Melbourne-based wedding singer who’s been doing just that for the better part of twenty years, and given that she has plenty of accolades and rave reviews under her belt, it’s fair to say that she knows her stuff. Today we chat to Liz not only about keeping guests on their toes, but also about Italian weddings, about which Liz is quite the expert.

Italian weddings are all about “family, food, and dancing”

Liz has performed at more weddings and functions than we can count, but she has a special place in her heart for Italian weddings. Given Liz’s background and her popularity as a wedding performer and MC at Italian weddings, we can’t help but feel that she’s perfectly positioned to tell us exactly what it is that characterises an Italian wedding. “Italian weddings in Australia have always been westernised,” she tells us. “They’re not as distinctive as those from other cultures, where there might be many traditional customs and dances.”

Things have changed in the past twenty or so years, though. “Where a reception twenty years ago may have had over 500 guests, the average Italian wedding today has somewhere around 150. Bride and Grooms want their wedding to be more intimate, as opposed to the old Italian traditions of having to invite every cousin and 2nd cousin you have–even if you haven’t seen them in 30 years!”

While some things have changed, others remain the same, and most Italian weddings have some key common features: they’re all about family, food, and dancing.

How to get the wedding crowd up and moving

The guest list at the typical Italian wedding might have shrunk, but the love of dancing hasn’t. Needles to say, a wedding band is always a standout element when it comes to celebrating a couple’s nuptials. We ask Liz how she and her band ensure that the dance floor is always hopping. “We encourage people to get up and enjoy themselves,” she says. “Our exact playlist depends on the crowd and on requests from the couple, but we play a mixed variety. I always ask about the ages and backgrounds of the guests attending to get a better feel for the crowd.”

While she’s happy to take on board recommendations from the married couple, Liz recommends that newlyweds don’t spend too much time fussing over their playlist–Liz and her band, after all, after the experts.

“I always advise a couple to pick the important songs of the night such as the bridal waltz, the father-daughter song, and the last dance, but then to leave the rest up to us. We do this week in, week out, so we know how the crowd responds.” Liz’s band also makes a concerted effort to interact with the crowd through singing and dancing, and by getting the audience to participate. “We use certain songs to encourage audience participation,” she says. She also tells fun anecdotes as a lead in to popular songs.

A word of advice to couples who want strict control of the playlist: you can’t expect that people will dance if you’ve vetoed all of the popular crowd favourites for being too cliched or sappy. “There’s no point in hiring a band if this is the case,” Liz says. “These songs always get the crowd up and dancing, and after all, you want the guests to enjoy themselves!”

Picking wedding songs that will woo a crowd every time

So with twenty years of performance under her belt, does Liz have any favourites that she loves to belt out at a wedding? “My personal favourites are Italian songs including Reginella Campagnola, O’ Surdato ‘nnumerato, Tu Vuo Fa L’americano and L’italiano. I also enjoy singing many popular disco and party anthems like Abba, Grease, and Tina Turner.”

The crowd favourites are similar, with plenty of Italian songs from the 50s through to the 80s cropping up as part of a collective nostalgia–and of course there’s That’s Amore. Other popular picks include tango, waltzes, rock ‘n’ roll, and “romantica”-style music. “Many Italo-Australians came to Australia in the 50s and 60s, so the songs that they remember and enjoy are generally from these eras or earlier. Most Italians in Australia today know very little about current modern Italian artists in Italy.”

Given that the crowd’s musical tastes tend to skew a little older, does this mean that Liz and her band face any restrictions when it comes to putting together a playlist? “Some couples request that certain songs not be played due to personal reasons, and certainly with many ceremonies you may or may not be allowed to perform songs depending on the Priest’s requests.” On other occasions Liz has found herself battling the narrow tastes of the wedding couple: “Sometimes people may request, for example, no rock ‘n’ roll, even though the guests from the older demographic will only dance to this! Normally I have a quiet word explaining our reasoning and things are fine.”

Those timeless Italian wedding traditions (and very long speeches)

It sounds like the older demographic still plays a strong hand in wedding customs. Does Liz find that many of the old traditions are still in evidence despite the shift towards more westernised weddings? “Most Italian couples will cut the ribbon when they walk in, and some brides may dance the Lauretta–a song about a father giving his daughter away--with their father. They will also thank all their guests personally during the night and collect the envelope, a cash wedding gift, too.” Other traditions that remain strong include playing a tarantella, or folk song, from their traditional region, and the newlyweds’ presentation of gifts such as flowers or photos to their parents during the wedding speeches.

And Liz knows all about speeches. One of her more memorable weddings involved a groom who spoke for an hour and a half before finally taking a seat, although that wasn’t quite as embarrassing as the time when the crowd failed to applaud for the bride and groom when they were announced. Or when a best man who sent home in a taxi at 7pm for being too drunk, or the time when a fight broke out just as the newlyweds were leaving the reception venue. “And those are just a few,” says Liz. “I should write a book!”

But there are plenty of lovely moments among the endless amusement. “We often do repeat services for families,” says Liz. “This is always nice, as we’ve got to know the family previously. And of course it’s always great when the couple is relaxed and the crowd is engaged and genuinely wants to be there.”

On love, weddings, and marriage

With her decades of experience in the industry, Liz is a seasoned pro when it comes to all things love- and marriage-related, so we ask her whether she has any tips or advice she might like to share with us. Liz answers with typical good humour. ”A wedding should be about the two of you. It shouldn’t be about what your mother wants, what his mother wants or worrying about offending someone cause they weren’t asked to be your bridesmaid. It’s a day that you’ll remember for a lifetime, so make it one to remember for all the right reasons.”

But Liz also points out that while a wedding is an important day, it’s just one small drop in the ocean of a life-long relationship. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take a moment together during the day to just breathe and remember why you have gotten married that day. Love shows no boundaries and continue to grow with each other and take the journey…together.”

Contact Liz

Liz can be found at her website VocalArtStudios.com, on Twitter at @liztripodi and @vocalartstudios, and on Facebook. She also performs with Allegro the Band, and as part of The Viva Italia Show.

Your turn: are there any songs you’ve banned from your wedding playlist?

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