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Posted February 26, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Wedding singer a witness to nuptials of all kinds

George and Ruth Hoffman
George and Ruth Hoffman perform music for weddings with George handling the vocals and Ruth on the piano. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Jessica Wiant -- Daily Staff Writer

STRASBURG -- George Hoffman has sung at more than 100 weddings and still thinks no two are the same.

"They are all different, very different," he says. "There's so many variables."

At one, the musician who had promised to accompany him didn't show up until the last possible minute, after also failing to be there for the rehearsal.

"I sweated puddles that day," he says.

"We've seen some fun stuff, though."

At another, a bride requested the same music that had been played at her own mother's ceremony -- "Devoted to You," by the Everly Brothers.

And one time, a miscue to the pianist led her to play "Memories," from the musical "Cats," 13 consecutive times while awaiting the arrival of a tardy grandparent. At the same wedding, the church was so overcrowded that some people stood outside and watched the nuptials through the windows, Hoffman recalls.

Hoffman and his wife, Ruth, who sometimes plays the piano at weddings with her husband, have seen butterflies set free, and a bride arrive atop a Corvette like she was in a parade. They've seen a groomsman faint during the ceremony, and melting candles drip and splatter their greasy wax onto the women's dresses.

One bride carried her newborn down the aisle instead of a bouquet.

They watched the trend of bulky, ugly headdresses arrive in the 1980s, and were glad to see them go.

They've seen fussy children steal the show.

Hoffman started singing at weddings even before his own 30 years ago this August -- mostly for friends at no charge.

"If it's with a real, true friend, it's nice to be part of their day," Hoffman says.

He started singing way before that.

"I don't ever remember not singing," he says.

Both the Hoffmans grew up in musical families and have made music a big part of their own -- their two sons, 23 and 18, play guitar.

"It's just kept going," Mrs. Hoffman says, though their careers have nothing to do with music.

"So singing and doing music for us is kind of a bonus," Hoffman says.

Sheet music seems to be stashed all over the house, in books and binders in cabinets and on the piano, as they look for a wedding song to play.

Most songs that are good for weddings have the same type of sound, according to Hoffman, and even mostly the same words, his wife adds.

"Music's changed, obviously," Hoffman says.

"The Wedding Song" had its day, then went out of fashion, he says.

And for another time period, everyone wanted a Luther Vandross song performed at their wedding. "I don't do Luther," became a kind of mantra for Hoffman.

He gets requests for other songs that don't suit his voice, too, like Bryan Adams songs, and Faith Hill songs, but most often, the bride and groom don't even have a song in mind, according to Hoffman.

He keeps an eye out for new music and makes recommendations. A few favorites include "I Will Be Here," by Steven Curtis Chapman; "Gift of Love"; and "All I Ask," from "Phantom of the Opera."

Hoffman usually performs before the start of the ceremony or during the lineup and march. He discourages taking a break from the ceremony to perform a song in the middle.

After attending so many other weddings, the Hoffmans have a pretty good idea of how a wedding is done.

"You know how they're supposed to flow," Mrs. Hoffmans says.

She and her husband agree that it's surprising how many couples don't have any idea what to expect or what they want by rehearsal time.

And now, many people haven't even been in a church before their weddings, Hoffman says. He jokes that Mrs. Hoffman eventually started taking over rehearsals when people aren't prepared.

So after observing so many weddings, can the Hoffmans tell which marriages will last?

They say no, but a good sign is when both the bride and groom both truly participate in the planning of their wedding, according to Mrs. Hoffman.

But, by no means does a disaster wedding mean a disaster marriage, as the Hoffmans can attest.

"Our wedding was a real event," Hoffman says.

They met when they were both cast to perform in Winchester Little Theatre's version of "The Fantasticks" in 1978.

They chose an August day for their outdoor wedding the following year for its slim chance of rain, but nature had other plans.

"It started raining bloody murder," Mrs. Hoffman says.

As they recollect their own wedding story, they laugh and defend their choice of mint green tuxedos -- "It was a long time ago," Mrs. Hoffman says.

And as Mrs. Hoffman recalls the drama leading up to the wedding, her husband interrupts to remind her of how she locked herself in the bathroom in the middle of it all.

Their wedding was simple, Mrs. Hoffman says, and they paid for it themselves -- she guesses they spent about $200.

Now the pomp and circumstance of weddings and the size of the reception have become more important, she says -- "more emphasis on the wedding than there is the marriage."

The bride and groom, in the rush of things, usually don't remember what happened at the wedding, Hoffman says, and after 20 minutes, it's over.

"I love going to weddings, and I think they're fun," he says, but "we sort of lose track of what the day is all about."

Contact Jessica Wiant at jwiant@nvdaily.com

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