We enjoy hearing our vendor’s stories on Polka Dot Bride – they are such a special bunch of people! So we’re thrilled to introduce today, Koren Harvey Marriage Celebrant. Koren has been with us as a vendor for a long time and has shared many stories with us, not least of which was her own wedding day. She has a passion for wedding celebrations, of love, crafting unique and individual ceremonies to reflect the personalities of each couple. Love never goes out of fashion, and witnessing the next stage in a couple’s journey, she treats with honour and a whole lot of heart. Here’s Koren’s story…
Why did you become a celebrant? Have you always loved ‘all things wedding’?
If you ask my parents, this is the job I was always meant to do. As a toddler I would pour over bridal magazines at the library and my parents have strong (and possibly traumatic) memories of having to take their determined three-year-old daughter into bridal boutiques, just so she could see a ‘real’ bride!
As I grew older, my fascination grew to be with the emotion of the event rather than the aesthetics. I still love a beautifully styled wedding, but nothing excites me as much as seeing and feeling the emotion of a couple in love. (On that note, I am very eagerly awaiting the day when marriage equality is achieved here and I can marry all couples that love each other).
My first professional role was as a high school teacher and when I left teaching for a corporate role I found that I missed being able to contribute to meaningful moments in people’s lives.
I’d never been to a civil ceremony until a friend’s wedding in 2008. Their ceremony was beautiful – the celebrant did a wonderful job and seemed to get so much joy from her role. I had no idea ceremonies could be so engaging and moving and I realised that celebrancy would be the perfect marriage (pardon the pun) of my passion for weddings, people, writing and public speaking.
I was authorised as a celebrant in late 2010 and have now conducted over 140 weddings. Even now, with several years’ experience, it’s not uncommon for me to come home and dance around the house after a wedding, high on the excitement of it all!
Image by Leo Farrell Photography
What do you consider to be the particular talents and skills a good celebrant should possess?
An ability to put ego to the side, first of all. An experienced celebrant told me when I first started out that professionalism is key and he was so right. Clients have told me, horrified, about weddings they’ve been to where the celebrant has cracked unrelated (or worse, inappropriate) jokes, got names wrong or made things up! The focus should be on the people making the commitment to one another, not the person with the microphone.
You have to be interested in people and able to build rapport. What makes this job so wonderful is the people you meet and the stories you are trusted with. Some people are naturally quite shy and unassuming, so it can take some time to draw their stories out of them and to make them see the significance of what they might deem ‘ordinary’.
Strong writing and public speaking skills go without saying, of course. You can have written the most wonderful ceremony ever seen but if the delivery is droll, you’ll lose the audience straight away (and vice versa).
You also need to be able to think on your feet for those moments when the unexpected occurs!
What do you most enjoy about being a celebrant?
I think it would have to be the way I get to witness love, in all its forms, every single week, along with the people I get to meet.
What astounds me about marriage is how long it has endured. It’s an institution that has existed for almost as long as civilization because as humans, we acknowledge the importance of loving and being loved. Of having a partner, of having (to quote from Shall We Dance), a witness to our lives.
There seems to be so much bad news floating around at the moment, so there is something really inspiring about two people committing their lives to one another. It’s a huge leap of faith – two individuals acknowledging that the road through life won’t always be smooth but that they believe it will be more enjoyable when travelled together. To be able to witness that love and trust on a weekly basis is a privilege.
The happiness at a wedding doesn’t just end with a couple, either. It gives me such a rush to see how happy their family and friends are for them and the huge wave of loving euphoria they’re all riding.
I take great pride in forming strong relationships with my clients, so it is an honour when many stay in touch after their wedding day. I love getting messages from couples announcing new events in their lives – my fridge is covered in pictures of clients’ babies!
Image by Red Butterfly Photography
Do you feel you have a certain ‘style’?
I would say my style is relaxed, genuine and unobtrusive.
I want couples and guests to feel that they’re allowed to enjoy the ceremony, to clap or cheer or cry if they want to, to let all of their reactions come naturally and not have to behave or react a certain way just because it’s an important event.
I’d like to think I deliver ceremonies with warmth, grace and pose, and frequently tell clients that my role is to be the narrator of their story, not the star of it.
I stand with the bridal party (rather than between the couple) for most of the ceremony so that the couple can focus on each other and their guests. This also gives everyone else an unimpeded view of the couple. My aim is for guests to notice the story being told, not the person telling it.
When writing the vows, what is your inspiration? Do you ever get ‘writer’s block’?
As a general rule, I don’t write the vows – my couples do. I am on hand to help them, provide inspiration and workshop ideas with them but I think it’s really important that the words that take them into marriage are of their own choosing and representative of their relationship.
Do most couples request a standard ceremony or are they more inclined to want an individually tailored celebration from you?
I take a great deal of pride in creating an engaging, entertaining and individual ceremony for each couple I work with. The ceremony is written from scratch, with the format and wording determined by the personalities and preferences of the couple.
While a lot of couples will say at our first meeting that they don’t know what they want, they usually know what they don’t want, based on experiences they’ve had as guests at weddings. Bad jokes, a lack of personal detail or a ceremony that’s too long or too short are some of the most common complaints I hear.
Some couples say they don’t really care what’s in the ceremony as it’s ‘usually boring’ or just the part they need to get through in order to be married, which always saddens me a little – they clearly haven’t been to an awesome ceremony yet!
It is my personal mission to get couples really excited about the ceremony that takes them from engaged to married. The ceremony should be just as fun as the party that follows, from the planning to the execution. If guests walk away thinking ‘wow, that ceremony was so them,’ or feeling like they know the couple better for having been there, then I’ve done my job.
Image by A Touch of Flash Photography
What are some ways couples can personalize their wedding ceremony?
My advice is to forget all those wedding things you’ve been told are a ‘must-do’. If a tradition doesn’t ring true for you, either ditch it or find a way to make it work for you.
For example, one of my brides, an identical twin, had shared everything with her sister. As she entered this next stage of her life, she asked her twin to be the one to give her away, to honour the closeness of their relationship.
Couples also shouldn’t be afraid to bring in things they love. Some of the best wedding readings I’ve heard have been pieces that aren’t wedding ‘readings’ as such, but pieces that have resonated with the couple. Another couple I married, both movie buffs, asked friends to read quotes on love and friendship from some of their favourite films in lieu of a traditional reading.
Another way to personalize is through music choices – I love it when couples choose music that they enjoy instead of going for ‘wedding songs’. I encourage them to put together a playlist of favourite songs to play as guests arrive, so that as soon as guests walk in, they realise ‘ah, we’re at Simon and Nicki’s wedding!’
What questions should couples ask when they are choosing their celebrant?
Obviously, there are a number of logistical questions that should be asked, such as:
- How would previous clients describe your style?
- How long do you spend creating a ceremony?
- How often do we meet with you?
- How many weddings do you do a day?
- What happens if you’re sick or unable to be there on the day?
- What’s included in your fee?
On that note, with so many celebrants out there, it’s easy to think that price should be the main consideration when selecting the person to conduct your wedding. But unless you are after a brief, legals-only ceremony, I believe price shouldn’t be a deciding factor in choosing your celebrant.
While some people may think that the role of the celebrant is to turn up on the day, say the required words and sign the paperwork, it is so much more than that. An experienced, professional celebrant will not only write and deliver your ceremony, but they will also be a source of support to you both, providing you with resources, ideas and guidance, as well as being there to calm your nerves on the day.
Finally, I think it’s really important that there is chemistry between a couple and their celebrant so couples shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions – and lots of them – to find the celebrant that’s right for them. I’ve been asked why I became a celebrant, what I do with my free time, my stance on marriage equality and even my star sign by couples.
Remember, this is the person who is going to be standing beside you, telling your story and helping you go from two individuals to a married couple. It’s imperative that couples trust and feel comfortable with their celebrant and have confidence that the celebrant will respect their wishes.
Should a bridal couple have a wedding rehearsal?
In my experience, rehearsals are usually not required.
The best moments in a ceremony are often the unscripted ones – the fierce hug a father embraces his daughter in at the top of the aisle, the tears that flow unrestrained during vows, the laughter that follows when a groom reaches for the wrong hand to place the ring on.
I often find that if the ceremony has been rehearsed, these little moments don’t happen. Sometimes couples become focused on doing things exactly as they were in the rehearsal, or they aren’t in the moment because they’ve heard it all already.
Instead of a rehearsal, I usually get together with the couple the week before their wedding over a coffee or a wine for a relaxed chat about how everything will run and to sign their final piece of paperwork. To my mind, rehearsals are for performances and a wedding should be anything but!
Before the wedding ceremony, do you give some gentle directions to the bridal party, the groom and the father of the bride?
It’s a bit of both, really. Before the ceremony begins, I’ll tell the groom and groom’s party where to stand, and give advice to the bride, her parents and her party on what to do on the way down the aisle.
During the ceremony, it isn’t uncommon for the groom to go dumb with awe at the sight of his bride, so I often step in with a gentle reminder for him to step forward and greet her!
The rest of the ceremony tends to flow quite naturally and it is clear when the readings and vows will occur. At the signing of the register, I remind couples of any actions they need to take at the end of the ceremony but that’s about it.
I always tell couples at our final meeting that they can’t do anything wrong on the day. The celebrant is there to make sure they meet all the legal requirements, so just relax and enjoy it! Everything else will happen as it needs to.
Image by Julieanne Perara Photography
Can you describe a typical wedding day in your life as a celebrant?
If I’m up early enough, I’ll start with a walk around the Tan in South Yarra before having some planning meetings with couples over a coffee at a local café. It’s then home to do a final check of my documents and PA system before frocking up and heading to the ceremony site.
Once I’m there, I do a sound check and have a chat with the other suppliers on site (there are a few – venue manager, photographer, videographer, musicians) to make sure we’re all on the same page and aware of any key moments or events that are out of the ordinary.
My role then moves into one of reassurance and trouble-shooting. For example, if the groom is starting to get emotional or overwhelmed by all the well-meaning but somewhat repetitive askings of ‘are you nervous?’, I’ll encourage the groomsmen to take him for a walk or to a quiet place to compose himself.
Once the bride arrives, I go outside to greet her and her bridal party and to give them all some loose instructions for their walk down the aisle. Then it’s back to the groom and the ceremony gets underway.
After the happy, now newly-wed couple has made their way back down the aisle, I stay long enough to make sure they have everything they need and to offer a big congratulatory hug, then it’s home to my own special person. More often than not, I’ll have a celebratory glass of something in the couple’s honour that evening.
Do you travel away from Melbourne to perform wedding ceremonies?
I do! I’ve performed ceremonies all over Victoria, in South Australia and New South Wales.
I’ve also travelled to Germany to conduct the English component of a bilingual, double wedding and am authorised to marry couples in the United States. If you’ve always fancied a New York or Vegas wedding, give me a call!
Any unusual or exotic places you’ve conducted a marriage ceremony?
The wedding I conducted in Germany three years ago was very special. I was an exchange student in Germany as a teenager and lived with three wonderful host families. Julia, my host sister, and I became very close and as teenagers would spend hours designing our dream wedding dresses and talking about what our wedding days would entail.
Fast forward twelve years and Julia was getting married for real. She asked if I would fly over to conduct her bilingual, double wedding celebration.
Julia and her now-husband, André, were having a double wedding together with André’s sister, Myrie, and her partner, Matt (are you still with me?). As Matt and Myrie live in New Zealand, there would be a large English-speaking contingent in attendance and they needed someone to provide a running translation from German as it happened. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to be part of such a special day.
The ceremony took place in a picture perfect German town. It was exactly as you would imagine a German wedding to be – a church in a picturesque village, green fields, blue skies, guests in traditional clothing and, my husband’s favourite part – a trestle table full of beer and pretzels waiting for everyone as we left the church!
Working with a co-celebrant (and in two languages, at that!) was a new but exciting experience. It was really interesting to be part of a religious ceremony and see how it differs from a civil ceremony.
It meant so much to be part of such an important day for someone so important to me, and to be able to introduce my husband to my second home.
Image by Red Butterfly Photography
Being married yourself, do you have any marriage advice you can give us?
Now, this is an area I don’t profess to be an expert in!
What has worked for my husband and I over the many years we’ve been together is compromise and communication. We both strive to put each other first and listen to each other.
My husband’s aunty once told him that if he always considered my needs and I always considered his, we couldn’t go wrong. I think she may be on to something.
What do you like to do in your free time?
All the good things in life – spending an afternoon on the grass with a good book, having Sunday morning sleep-ins, lazy dinner parties at home where I can indulge in good food and wine and the company of family and friends. I’m also on a life-long quest to find the world’s best almond croissant (any recommendations eagerly accepted!).
Thank you Koren for sharing your story with us. To find out more about Koren Harvey Marriage celebrant visit the website.
Headshot of Koren by Warren Photography