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Wedding Music 101: Where Do We Start?

Wedding Music 101 with Lisa Carlson | Vermont Bride Magazine
Photo by The Light + Color Photography

Many brides envision walking down the aisle to their favorite processional before they are even engaged! Tunes played by their favorite ensemble waft through their minds as they envision the guests arriving during the prelude, and then the big moment – the grand entrance! And then of course Mendelssohn Wedding March for the recessional – or maybe anything BUT the Mendelssohn – but either way, it’s all just as clear as a bell - a wedding bell that is. One phone call or email, sign the contract, and the music is set!

But some of you may be saying “Whoa! Wait a minute! What’s a prelude? I don’t have a favorite processional – I don’t have a clue what I’d like to walk in to. Mendel-who?” Trust me, YOU are not alone. I’ve spoken with many brides over the years, and the first thing you should be aware of is that no matter what you know or what you don’t know yet, you are not the only one in that boat. Furthermore, this is your wedding and you deserve to understand the big picture regarding your special music choices – and don’t let anyone make you feel awkward about asking a basic question - anything!

 So on that note, for those of you just starting this process and a little queasy about how to even know where to start, here’s a little explanation of some basic terms and an overview to get you started on your wedding music planning.

First, a few terms:

Ensemble:  Ensemble (relative to wedding music) refers to a group of musicians who play together.

Repertoire: The word repertoire (reh’-per-twar) refers to the specific musical selections/songs/tunes/pieces you choose, or have available. Different musicians have different types and ranges of repertoire available. In some cases, your repertoire will be limited to a specific list of offerings from a chosen ensemble, or a specific style of music. In other cases, your repertoire options are very wide. In many cases, making unique repertoire choices outside of your chosen ensemble’s standard repertoire will be possible with an extra fee to cover music purchase and/or time spent arranging or rehearsing that music.

Prelude:  The first music your guests will hear when they arrive on site is called the prelude. For weddings, the word prelude means any and all music that’s played from the time guests begin to arrive until the ceremony begins – normally about 20-30 minutes. If you choose an ensemble you like, you can normally just leave the specific repertoire choices for the prelude up to them – unless you have something either specific or general that you really want to hear. You can click the following link to find more thoughts regarding the prelude.

Processional: The processional is the big moment – the grand entrance! Most commonly, there are two musical selections for the processionals. The wedding party’s processional comes first – accompanying the bridesmaids (sometimes accompanied by groomsmen, or sometimes the groomsmen enter separately), the maid of honor, and finally the ring bearer(s) and/or flower girl(s). Once the flower girl has arrived at the altar, the bride’s processional begins. You can click the following link to find additional thoughts about processional choices. The most popular wedding processional tends to be Canon in D by Pachelbel – click the link for an article featuring YouTube videos of this piece in many different forms!

Interlude: An interlude is music in the middle of your ceremony – I find that about half of the weddings I play for have at least one interlude, and about half have none. Most commonly, an interlude may accompany a candle-lighting or other ritual. 

Recessional: The recessional is your walk back up the aisle at the end of the ceremony – your big introduction as a married couple, walking into the world together! 

So the bottom line is that you’ll most likely want to choose repertoire for two processionals and one recessional. The musicians you choose for your wedding will be able to offer many specific suggestions.

I’ll be writing more detail about all these aspects of wedding music, including both specific and general thoughts on how to make those special choices, so stay tuned for more. For now, I hope to make sure that ALL wedding couples can start the process with a basic understanding of the music lingo in order to begin forging into your planning with confidence!  

Lisa Carlson (, offers ensembles for weddings and other occasions in duos, trios, quartets in a variety of instrumental combinations, and is staff wedding music writer for Vermont Bride Magazine. She also maintains a private flute  studio in Montpelier, Vermont, in addition to teaching flute at Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and online.