Music for the Coolest Party

The unexpected makes a party memorable. Guests talk about it for months afterwards around the water cooler and for years afterwards at family get-togethers. My Aunt Dorothy fell into the pool, fully clothed, at a backyard party, but that’s not the kind of surprise I’m hinting at…Of course, I’m talking about the music!

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I in ruffled collar (Source: Wikipedia, “The Rainbow Portrait” c.1600)

Coming up with something new and inventive every year can be a struggle, so I’ve got examples to get your imagination going….

The winter Christmas party doesn’t need to be run-of-the-mill. I’ve donned the Elizabethan Renaissance-period costume, complete with the ruffled collar and hoop skirt, and played old English holiday music. Guests munched on finger foods, including turkey legs reminiscent of a feast thrown by King Henry VIII (but guests didn’t toss the bones over their shoulders and an indoor bonfire was absent):

Not fanciful enough for you? How about the harpist making an appearance as an angel? I’ve donned angel wings. The darned things fit uncomfortably and shed white feathers as I play, but watching the delight unfold on guests’ faces was well worth my discomfort.

Here’s the key: Shift away from the ordinary. Let the music, the food, and the visual design of your event revolve around your well-crafted central theme.

Of course include traditions, such as your mom’s pumpkin pie recipe that includes that hint of bourbon. Without staples that your guests expect, your party could disappoint a few people. Just throw in a little unexpected whimsy so that everyone will be eager to see what you’ve got up your sleeves for next year.

Do you get burnt out on hearing the same old holiday music? Change it up with selections from How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the “Chipmunk Christmas Song”. A bit of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘n Roses played in between all the fa-la-la music staples will certainly make  guests notice the music. They’ll wonder, “What’s she going to play next?”

The only rules about creating the party music playlist are rules of your own making. Mix and match with the theme, or even encourage your guests to make music requests on-the-spot, at the party.

Take my recent performance for the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) Impact Awards. This annual black tie event honors individuals who make a positive impact on local communities. As the name of this event suggests, every bit of the celebration aims at making an “impact” on the guests.

Kate Patay of Patay Consulting, invited me to perform on a balloon-festooned stage with the instructions to, “Surprise the guests.” I knew a number of the attendees and played their favorites–They lit up and applauded, even during the silent auction.

Red Porsche Boxster
Rolling the Porsche Boxster Silent Auction Prize into the Ballroom

The entire evening was about going “outside the box” to wow the guests. The music had to stand up alongside the grand prize item in the silent auction: a cherry-red Porsche Boxster (I still can’t figure out how they rolled that thing onto the ballroom floor of the Silver Legacy Hotel).

Your party plans need not be so grand. Who says you must invite hundreds to create the best memories?

The most memorable party—The wedding proposal for a party of two—is the most endearing when set to just the right music. Elaborate wedding proposals are not necessarily the rule. You don’t need to be over-the-top to guarantee a “Yes!” during the holiday season. All you need is sweet romance.

Select the music that your intended loves, the music that pulls at the heart, and you’ve got it nailed. Doesn’t matter where you pop the question—In a restaurant where the ring sits atop the dessert or in a castle turret at a Napa winery—The harp music ties it all together.

Cool music is memorable music.

I hope I ignited your imagination or brought back memories of the best party you’ve ever thrown or attended. Here’s my invitation: Help out party hosts that are saying “Bah Humbug!” to the party season.

Comment below to share your party advice. Transport us to the land of fun music interwoven with the theme, menu, and decor, and my “Velvet” CD, filled with romantic standards, is yours. It creates the perfect background for winding down after your holiday festivities or to set the tone for a holiday proposal. (You’ll receive the physical CD if you reside in the continental U.S., and a digital download if you live elsewhere).

Hosts are planning their end-of-the-year shindigs and need your  suggestions right away for their upcoming parties. So, I’ll close these comments by December 15th (or whenever I run out of “Velvet” CDs). Note: As of December 4th, I’ve run out of stock of the “Velvet” CDs! Thank you for your wonderful party advice!


  1. Thanks for all the cool ideas! I’m too lazy to do everything you do, but I definitely need to spice it up a bit! Your costumes are fabulous!

  2. Unexpected music us definitely a plus. People have such limited ideas about what “harp music” is! Pop music, medieval music, standards – it depends on the party. “Name that tune” is a lot of fun, especially if the harpist is playing music not usually associated with harp.

    • What a great suggestion, Peggy! I love “Name That Tune”, and at the holiday season, gifts provided by the host could go to winners of the game.

  3. Living in Arizona I love the outdoor holiday party. Invite guests to read a poem they wrote, or play a song on an instrument they love. I also love to play 2 truths and a lie. We always get lots of laughs out of that. Another thing I like to do is have them bring a family food tradition. We get a mix of all sorts of unique delights. I love the idea of dressing up to surprise the guests. So many great ideas I haven’t tried. Awesome!

    • Such great ideas to get the guests involved and to play a song on an instrument they love! Thank you for your wonderful ideas, Hollyloreen.

  4. Here is a party we have every year (for about 38 years now:) It’s a St. Nicholas-Evening always around the 6th of December (people can also invite for a Santa-Party closer to Christmas.).
    Welcome drink is Eggnog. Then we went outside all bundled up and walked with lanterns in the dark down to the close-by Park, sang a few Advent-songs below snowy spruce trees, returned and had hot redwine Punch for a “Warm-up” and Pumpkin soup. Later we munched on “Baked Apples” with hazelnut filling.our of the oven – and then – St. Nicholas visited with his Golden Book and staff.
    When the children were young, he was quite serious with them, listening to their songs and giving out gifts. – But later on we had the party just for adults and there Nicholas added quite some jokes when he read the short poems aloud with the good and not-so-good of each guest. I had to rhyme these things in a funny way. !.. Lots of laughing!
    Later we then had our Singalong accompanied with harps and guitars and may be some games. I found the guests rather want to sing and play themselves than listen to a performance. But sometimes a nice harp piece was enjoyed by all.
    Now these days with everyone getting older, nobody wants to play St. Nicholasl, so I don’t have to make poems anymore. – But everything else of the program stays the same. It’s quite some preparation but always fun.

    • Hi Aiga! I love this story and how everyone gets involved with the music, with or without anyone playing St. Nicholas. What a wonderful tradition!

  5. Great blog full of new ideas. Thanks, Anne!
    I think it would be fun to have a party where each person brings a CD to play. What a wealth of new music to enjoy.

    • That’s a great idea, Joanne! Simply asking each guest to bring a CD would be cool–To get all the music in, you could put a multi-track player on “shuffle” to mix up the music. I’m glad you are enjoying my blog 🙂

  6. Here in Appalachia we have parties or “gatherings” for many occasions! Knowing what kind of music to play is solely dependent on the mood! For festive holiday gatherings we like to dress for the occasion, but sometimes there are somber events where we prefer to play out of sight of the crowd so that they can concentrate on the reason for the event. I know it sounds weird, but it is a southern thing! On happier occasions it’s great fun to toss tee shirts of different sizes (of course that’s advertising) during different songs! Anyway, getting the crowd into your act is essential!

  7. Greetings! I am taken back to some wonderful Christmas parties back in my college days. A small group of friends always got together just prior to everyone departing for the Christmas holidays. The group decided to go carolling prior to the activities and it remains one of my fondest memories. Music is always a treasured part of every Christmas! May the peace and joy of the season be with you today and always. Merry Christmas!

    • Caroling is always a great party activity during the holidays (and a great way to work off a big feast)! Thank you for your comment, Jack 🙂

  8. If you want to offer them the unexpected, you might consider rather than dressing up as a Christmas angel…dressing up as a Christmas devil. I’ve never heard of this being done, so it ought to come as a surprise to the guests. And it would have the added advantage of not shedding feathers from your wings. Just a thought. Peace.

    • I only dress up as an angel when my client requests this–I don’t do so otherwise. Harps are associated with angels, not devils, and none of my clients have ever asked me to dress as a devil. I don’t own a devil costume, so dressing up as a devil would not be an option for me…

  9. Thank you for the wonderful ideas! I love dressing up for holiday parties. I once played the harp in an 18th century style gown for a historic museum. It was a lot of fun!

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