Welcome to Ceremony Music 101, a professional’s approach to your wedding ceremony music. Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a music expert to pick the perfect pieces to reflect your style during your wedding ceremony. But you should at least become familiar with some of the more traditional and most popular pieces used as for a starting point in wedding planning. Most couples use Classical and Religious music to complement their nuptials but you may be able to work in Pop, New Age, Broadway, Contemporary Christian, Romantic, and even Classic Rock hits. There are six key segments of the wedding ceremony that require special attention. I will outline them below in chronological order but for now let’s do them in order of importance.
The Bride’s Procession
All eyes will be the bride as she walks down the aisle, so this musical selection can be very personal. The Big Three procession pieces are, in this order of popularity: Canon (or Canon in D) by Johann Pachelbel; Bridal March from the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (pronounced Vog-ner), and the Trumpet Voluntary by Purcell. Other favorites include Trumpet Tune, also by Henry Purcell; Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons; Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring by Bach; Ode To Joy, which many people know as a church hymn but is actually the main melody to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; or selections from Handel’s Watermusik or Royal Fireworks. All of these pieces can be heard in various forms on YouTube. In selecting your wedding ceremony music, consider the length of the aisle you’ll be walking down. Some pieces take longer to develop – or make musical sense – so they may not be practical for a short procession. Often, when the Bridesmaids are coming down to a different selection you may want their piece of music to have a different character, style, pace, or feel to create a dramatic contrast between them and you.
Many of the pieces mentioned above for the Bride can be used effectively for the Bridesmaids, Mothers/Parents, and Groom/Groomsmen. A few more suggestions: La Rejouissance by Handel; Air For The G String by Bach; Winter from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi ; Prelude from Te Deum by Charpentier; Sheep May Safely Graze by Bach; and Rondeau by Mouret which served as the theme to Masterpiece Theatreon PBS.
During the Service
There are numerous opportunities for musical selections during the wedding service. During a full Catholic Mass the obvious choices are Offertory, Communion, and Rose Presentation as well the Responsorials. For simpler services you might have a Unity Candle Lighting, Presenting roses to the Mom’s, or a quiet moment of meditation. In the movies you may hear music while the vows are being exchanged but in real life this is much harder to balance. Nothing should be a distraction from that most important moment. Several favorite suggestions are Simple Gifts; “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach; Ave Maria by Schubert; Winter from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi; Reverie or Clair De Lune by Claude Debussy; or the Wedding Song by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary.
When the bride and groom ride off into the sunset as husband and wife, something bright, lively, and celebratory is in order. The most common is Wedding March from the opera Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn. Many other musical selections may be fitting including quite a few that have already been mentioned here: Ode To Joy; Rondeau; Spring; Hornpipe from Watermusik; Eine Kleine Nacht Musik by Mozart and many more. Any number of Pop tunes could work here as well.
This is music for after the Recessional to be played as the kissing and hugging begin and the guests move off to the wedding reception. Any of the Recessional tunes could be used. Most times you don’t need more than one unless you are planning a Receiving Line which slows the exit time.
Here is a chronological lineup of the events related to wedding music:
Prelude (as the guests arrive)
Selections during the service
Article by Steven Vance