Essence comes from the Greek expression that means ti esti, literally “what it is.” I start here when planning—what is it I want to accomplish? What kind of party do I want to hold? The essence of a gathering doesn’t just happen; it is planned and created with loving effort. There are varying factors to planning a party to set the mood and tone so today, I want to focus on music!

Music sets the tone for a party. A bluegrass trio sounds festive for a barbecue, a small chamber ensemble sets a sophisticated tone for a quiet dinner, and DJs mean lively after-dinner fun. Your choice of music should always seem deliberate. Don’t pick something just because you like it—it should fit the mood of your event. During cocktails, I like guests to get into the party spirit, so I play music that is upbeat in tempo. During dinner, music should fade away and become a subtle part of the background, allowing the dinner conversation to be the predominant sound. And when dessert is served, a return to more lively music is a good way to get the blood flowing again! If you’re lucky, this can result in a little late- night impromptu dancing. In general, music should be loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough for karaoke. (Unless you want to do karaoke, in which case by all means crank up the music and let your friends sing with reckless abandon!)

For larger parties, cocktails-only gatherings, or outdoor gatherings, live music is perfect because it becomes a focal point of the event. Consider hiring a piano player to play jazz standards or Christmas carol sing-alongs. On a budget? A talented young high school or college student might be willing to play for a nominal fee to help add experience on a resume. A calypso, steel band, or reggae group is perfect for a summer gathering at the beach. A banjo player or bluegrass trio suits a pig roast or barbecue.

I prefer a DJ to a cover band because a DJ has the ability to play a wider variety of music, and he or she can adapt to the mood of the crowd, in both volume and rhythm. A DJ can play theme-appropriate music in keeping with the same feel
of the rest of the evening. Before hiring, make sure you hear the DJ play a live set, and that he or she has the type of music you want. When planning an outdoor event, check your local sound ordinances or at least warn your neighbors (a note on a box of cookies delivered with the warning can do wonders to sweeten up any potential problem). Make sure you have power in the area you plan to set up.

Here is one of my favorite cocktail party mix lists…..I hope you enjoy!


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