In October 2008, Rachel and Francis met through Match.com. After a few weeks of e-mails and phone calls that revealed easy conversation with a lot of laughter and a common interest in hip-hop, they met in person at the corner of 17th and Chestnut.
Once in the lobby of the Westin Philadelphia Hotel, Francis promptly sat at the piano and began to play. "He played something classical and fast. And then Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely,'" Rachel said. "Then we played 'Heart and Soul' together. He was all fancy with it, and I'm like pecking with my one finger."
Francis, a musician, used to play at the hotel when he studied at the University of the Arts. He had arranged to use the piano to impress Rachel, who was then earning her doctorate in chemical engineering at Drexel. She was wowed. After the private concert, the two headed to the Continental diner for drinks and more conversation.
Rachel, now 27, grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. Francis, now 26, is a native of Capitol Heights, Md., in the Washington suburbs, who had transferred from the University of the Arts to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he earned a degree in music composition. Shortly after the couple met, he became the music coordinator at the Please Touch Museum.
In 2009, Rachel left her roommates in the Northeast and she and Francis got an apartment together in University City.
Rachel had just arrived home from school on a February Friday afternoon. She was dressed in sweats and prepared to do nothing more than run some errands and enjoy a relaxing evening at home. She was upstairs when she heard Francis come in. "Please get dressed nice and come downstairs," he yelled up. She vetoed the change of clothes. "I just want to go food shopping," she said.
When Rachel came down to see what her boyfriend wanted, there was a slide show playing on the television. She saw pictures from around the time they met, an early beach trip, their first visit to see his parents, and move-in day at their apartment. An original song written by Francis played, and it was his voice narrating the scenes. "There came a point where I knew I couldn't just have you as my girlfriend," Francis said in the recording. "You had to be my wife."
In real time, Francis dropped to one knee. Rachel said she was so caught up in the emotion of the slide-show proposal and so shocked over the blingy ring Francis offered her that she can't remember his exact words - something he teases her about now and then.
That spring, Francis left the museum to form Learn Listen Play, a nonprofit that provides music and art education at schools and day cares, as well as interactive music- and art-themed birthday parties.
That August, Rachel graduated. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University, where she does research on spinal cord injuries.
Francis wrote Rachel a song for their wedding. He doesn't sing, so he had someone else deliver the words while he played the piano. "The song was composed to vocalize all the emotions about everything that happened with our engagement and our being together, and to show her how much I will always love her," Francis said.
"It was a really touching, nice moment," Rachel said.
Rachel was raised Jewish and Francis was raised Christian. While they are not now religious, it was important to them to include some of their cultural rituals and traditions in the ceremony. They signed a ketubah - the Jewish marriage contract - and broke a glass in the tradition that signifies the permanence of marriage. Following African American tradition, they jumped the broom.
At the reception, some of the couple's 90 guests lifted their chairs high for the horah dance.
The couple had three sets of parents enjoying the day: Francis' mother Gloria and father Francis; Rachel's mother Shelli and stepfather Phil, and her father Marc and stepmother Meryl.
The couple wrote their own vows: Francis promised that he would make the bed every day, and that Rachel would only ever have to ask him to do something once.
Rachel promised to always comfort Francis, but she couldn't resist taking a little jab at his love for former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. "I'll bring you up when you're down, even when the Carolina Panthers don't even want McNabb," she said.
Right after the ceremony, the couple hopped the elevator to their penthouse suite. "We even didn't talk to anybody or say hi," Rachel said. They spent 15 minutes sitting on the couch, marveling over the fact that they were now married. "It was good to enjoy the moment," Rachel said.
Francis was amazed by their first dance, to Adele's "Make You Feel My Love." "I was holding her, dancing. And it was probably the moment that it all came together for me, that 'I'm holding my wife right now,' " he said.
A bargain: The wedding package from the Omni Hotel in Old City was a savings of more than one-third of the cost at two other venues the couple considered, and it included more, Rachel said. Plus, Omni coordinator Tara Kareta suggested that the couple call the owner of a nearby public garage, which gave them a flat parking rate for all guests, whether their cars stayed in the garage for one day or three.
The splurge: Rachel said the budget-conscious couple avoided splurging.
Five days in Montego Bay, Jamaica. As soon as the couple entered the hotel, Francis sat down at the piano and played "Blue Bossa" and other numbers. Aside from their first date, he never gets permission, and "he does this kind of thing all the time," Rachel said. "He's so good that no one ever stops him."
Miki Young, Journeys of the Heart, Philadelphia
The Omni Hotel at Independence Park, Philadelphia
The Omni Hotel
Michael Nathan,Nathan Photography & Video, Willow Grove
Matt Blank,Synergetic Sounds, Bensalem
L&H Bridal, Philadelphia
Unique Invitations by Deborah Burman Carasso, www.invitationsbydeborah.com
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