How My Juilliard Training Almost Ruined My Wedding

On the day of my wedding — twenty minutes after the ceremony was set to start — I was still at home, locked in a violent struggle with my dress. It wasn’t staying up on its own, and thanks to whichever company it was that thought it was all right to make a roll of plastic ribbon that didn’t stick to anything (even paper) and call it “fabric tape,” I was coming dangerously close to living out my nightmare of having an epic, Janet-Jackson-worthy wardrobe malfunction halfway down the aisle. In my panic, I briefly considered sewing it to my skin, but our theme for the day was really more along the lines of “vintage library” than “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride ”— and I wasn’t a fan of red as an accent color.

Still, it wouldn’t have been my first attempt at wedding DIY. Nor my most disastrous.

After a recent move to Berlin had all but extinguished my career as a freelance violinist, I’d been reluctant to follow my two Juilliard diplomas into the realm of the decorative. And since I wasn’t qualified to do anything else (especially in Berlin, where a firm grasp of German is generally a prerequisite for any job application), I’d channeled all of my productivity into planning my upcoming nuptials.

Unfortunately, the weaponized perfectionism I’d cultivated over the course of my conservatory training had left me ill-suited to the world of wedding planning. You can take the girl out of Juilliard, but years of enforcing relentlessly high standards and training yourself to be completely hell-bent on eradicating imperfections (regardless of how long it takes, or how much your fingers ache, or how many days it's been since you've seen sunlight) don't just fade away overnight.

The problem was that whereas I'd always been able to resolve the shortcomings I'd encountered within the walls of my practice room, when it came to the wedding, I suddenly found myself confronted by a myriad of imperfections I couldn't fix.

There were the blaring, neon-green Exit signs that hung over every door in our venue, quietly undermining my efforts to evoke the charm of a bygone era. There was the scaffolding that covered the building next to our venue, and the parking lot that lay between the terrace and the view of the mountains. There were my mother’s shoes (a pair of flip-flops she’d found in Hawaii), and my sister’s date (whose constant flip-flopping about the seriousness of their relationship kept wreaking havoc on our plans). Plus, we couldn’t afford a big band — and I obviously couldn’t request “1930s black tie attire” on our invitations because my fiancé Stephan and all of his guests were German (and, well —Hitler).

I mean, I carved up my dress like a Thanksgiving Day turkey.

With each compromise, I could feel the frustrated, impotent scrutiny seething within me, threatening to erupt. It was absolute torture knowing that the wedding I'd planned was going to fall drastically short. But there was nothing I could do; given that I seemed to be wholly incapable of earning any money (have I mentioned that my degrees are all in music performance?), I was determined to prove that I could, at least, manage it — and it simply wasn't possible to throw a perfectly-executed old-Hollywood-worthy soirée in the fashion of Magic in the Moonlight or the Larrabees' annual bash in Sabrina while staying under budget. In the end, all that remained of my vision were a few vaguely art-deco-looking palms and a carefully-curated song list.

Then my custom-made, designer wedding gown arrived, with several minor but inescapable imperfections, and the tiny thread to which I'd been so precariously clinging finally snapped. Well, first there was a struggle — which lasted for about a week — in which my better judgment weighed against my burning desire to fix something, but in the end, the proximity of the scissors tipped the scale and then it was full-out The Perfect Storm -meets- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -meets-Project Runway. I mean, I carved up my dress like a Thanksgiving Day turkey. It didn’t matter that I only had three weeks until the wedding — or that my only experience with garment construction had been in high school, when I’d designed a costume out of vinyl, duct tape, and staples for Art-101 —because in my state of hyperbolic negativity, I was convinced that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Which brings us back to 4:50 p.m. on the day of my wedding.

There I stood, in a heap of droopy organza, cursing at a roll of fabric tape and trying not to hyperventilate. If I hadn’t been so afraid of the bruising, I’m sure I would have strangled myself. But however angry I was, I knew that I absolutely couldn’t make my guests — or Stephan — wait any longer. And besides, there was no point to dragging it out; between my dress, my misery, and the exit signs, the day was already beyond saving. So with one hand clutching at my sagging neckline, and the other strangling my bouquet, I set out with my father and bridesmaids on a solemn and miserable march to the venue.

When we reached our destination, not knowing what else to do, I sent someone in to get my mother (flip-flops and all). She examined the mess I’d created and convinced me to call upon my determination one last time. With the help of my bridesmaids, I pulled the top up as high as it could go and re-taped it to my skin. Then my mother and sister re-tied the sash as tightly as possible to hold the dress in place. “Please,” I prayed silently. “Forget perfect. Give me functional.”

It seemed that I’d hit upon the magic words. Because somehow, miraculously, it stayed up. And then, something happened. Suddenly, with no looming disaster ahead of me, I realized that I was about to marry Stephan. Stephan, the only man I’d ever met who made me rejoice that I wasn’t born into a Jane Austen novel, and who’d made me laugh every day since we'd met, even during the insanity of the last three weeks.

This day, I realized, wasn’t about being perfect. It wasn’t about my failings as a violinist, and it wasn’t, thank God, a measure of my talent as a wedding planner (or dressmaker). I’d blamed myself for each of my shortcomings — however small — but I hadn’t even paused to congratulate myself on the one, crucial way in which I’d excelled beyond belief. Sure, I’d made some questionable decisions as of late, and I’d certainly have some career struggles ahead of me. But that was for another day.

In the span of ten seconds, my anger melted away, and I smiled and laughed and cried — and laughed again. I heard my friend Francesca start to sing, in her beautiful soprano voice. I took my father’s arm and walked down the aisle, surrounded by people I loved, none of whom were angry or annoyed that I’d kept them waiting, none of whom blamed or judged me for my moment of emotional weakness.

When I finally reached the altar where my aunt stood presiding over the assembly, I looked across at Stephan and I felt, for the first time in months, entirely at peace. However imperfect my dress, and however terrible I’d been as a wedding planner, when it came to what really mattered, I’d nailed it. And not even the residue of a price sticker on one of the vases at the reception, or the DJ’s choice of up-lighting (which turned my beloved palm trees — the last vestiges of my vision —from art deco dream to fantasy island nightmare), or the heavy rain that left us and our guests stranded with only a handful of umbrellas to share amongst us — could change that.

Images: Hugue-Robert Marsan/HRMarsan Photography; Simon Darby/ Wanaka Photography