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April 27, 2016  TAGS:  MUSIC  CEREMONY  RESOURCES

Personalize Your Wedding: Selecting Music for Your Ceremony

Choosing Ceremony Music | Vermont Bride Magazine
photo by Steve Holmes Photography

You can perfectly envision the moment you’ll begin the walk down the aisle and into your new life.  The perfect location, gorgeous dress, the flowers. Now even the flower girls have completed their walk down the aisle, and the music stops. Your processional has begun.

It’s the moment you’ve dreamed of for so long, finally here. What music will usher you down the aisle to the love of your life? What will he be feeling when he hears the music? 

There are so many choices for today’s couples. While many make traditional music choices for their ceremonies, for twenty-first century weddings, just about anything goes. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by all the choices, here are a few thoughts to help you find the direction that’s best for you, to make the ambiance of your most special moment truly memorable, and truly personal.

First, are you a person who likes tradition, or someone who likes to forge new ground? Does a wedding without Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” at the end feel like a birthday without singing “Happy Birthday”, breakfast without orange juice, or Hanukkah without latkes? I know some who hate the song “Happy Birthday”– and can’t stand the thought of the popular wedding choices at their wedding. But for some they are as dear as “Silent Night” at Christmas time, as comforting as a “welcome home” hug, and as full of anticipation and excitement as a child’s birthday wish coming true. 

If you’re a tradition lover, your choices will be relatively easy. The vast majority of couples choose the Mendelssohn “Wedding March” for the recessional (Click the following link for a basic description of wedding music terms like “recessional”). In my experience, the most popular choice for the bride’s processional is the Pachelbel “Canon in D.” The second most popular choice is the traditional Wagner “Bridal Chorus” (“Here Comes the Bride”). I have played some weddings where both are played: the Pachelbel  Canon for the wedding party and the Bridal Chorus for the bride. 

Just about everyone wants music that’s joyful and lively for the recessional, so that’s an easy place to start.  Here are a few alternatives to Mendelssohn you may wish to consider: 

  • “La Rejouissance” from “The Fireworks Music” by Handel
  • “Trumpet Tune” by Purcell 
  • “Trumpet Voluntary” by Clarke (also called the “Prince of Denmark’s March”)
  • “Gigue” from Suite #3 in D Major by J.S. Bach
  • “Allegro” from “Spring” from “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi
  • “Hornpipe” from “The Water Music” by Handel

The list above works well for almost any instrument combination, and all are popular choices. Of course, some couples might choose a popular tune, a show tune, a hymn, or maybe a Celtic or Jazz piece – you name it! Here are a few truly alternative examples I’ve experienced:

  • “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schonberg
  • “Carolan’s Concerto” by Turlough O’Carolan
  • Medley of: “One Hand, One Heart” from “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein,  “And This is My Beloved” by Robert Wright and  George Forrest,” “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” by George Gershwin, and “All I Ask of You” by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
  • “Hallelujah Chorus” from “The Messiah” by Handel
  • “Everyone” by VanMorrison
  • A medley of traditional Scottish tunes played by the bride’s grandfather on bagpipes
  • “Get Happy” by Judy Garland
  • “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
  • “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay

 

Choosing Ceremony Music | Vermont Bride Magazine

I hope you get the idea about how numerous and varied the options are! You’ll definitely want to check with your musicians to confirm that your choices are workable for their particular instrument combination. Your musicians may have additional ideas as well. There are too many options to list here, and many work well for some instrument combinations, but not for others, so do be sure to talk about your thoughts early in the process with your musician(s).

The bride’s processional is probably your most important musical choice. The first question: would you like your processional to be of the fanfare variety (like the Wagner “Bridal Chorus”) or the flowing variety (more like the Pachelbel Canon)? Do you fantasize a regal and stately entrance following a trumpet style musical introduction? Or do you prefer the simple but elegant glide?

Here are some processional possibilities that work well for virtually all instrument combinations. All are workable for either the bride or the wedding party:

Regal, fanfare style processional suggestions:

  • “Trumpet Voluntary” by Clarke
  • “Trumpet Tune” by Purcell 

More flowing processional possibilities:

  • “Air” from “Water Music” by Handel
  • “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach
  • “Sheep May Safely Graze” by J.S. Bach
  • Theme from “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven

Below are a few possibilities that I’ve experienced that are more uncommon:

  • “Carol of the Bells” by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych, for a December wedding
  • “Leezie Lindsay” traditional Scottish folk song
  • “Meditation” from “Thais” by Jules Massenet
  • “If We Hold On Together” from “Land Before Time” 
  • “All I Ask of You” by Andrew Lloyd Weber
  • “Sinfonia” from “Cantata 156” by J.S. Bach

Choices for music in the middle of the ceremony vary much more than processional and recessional choices. You may wish to ask a religious leader or your musicians for specific additional recommendations. Many of the pieces listed as processionals could also work well here. Below are a few additional pieces I’ve found to be popular for such a moment:

  • “Simple Gifts” 
  • “Amazing Grace”
  • “On Eagle’s Wings” by Michael Joncas
  • “The Rose” by Amanda McBroom
  • Virtually any hymn that fits the mood 

And a few others that I’ve experienced:

  • “Fannie Power”  traditional Celtic tune
  • “Sarabande” from Partita for Solo Flute by J.S. Bach
  • “Sicilienne” from Sonata in E flat for Flute and Piano by J.S. Bach

It’s my view that the most important elements of planning music for a wedding are: 

  1. Consider whether there’s a special piece of music – a tune, a song, a classical piece – that resonates with you and/or your partner, or that has special meaning for a family member or friend. If so, work with your musicians and your officiant to include that music in some way in your ceremony.  A special tune on your wedding day may put a hum on your lips and in your heart, and in the hearts of friends and family, for many years to come!
  2. Ask advice from the musicians you’ll be working with. They may be able to easily guide you toward music you’ll love that works well for their particular combination of instruments. They will also be able to discuss with you whether a particular piece of music would not be ideal in the instrument combination you’ve chosen.
  3. Be aware that the music establishes the background feelings that will color your ceremony and your memories. Select music that resonates for you in the way you’ll want to remember forever.

Lisa Carlson is a freelance flutist, performing for weddings and other occasions throughout Vermont and beyond, with musical offerings ranging from a quartet of flute with violin, viola and cello, to solo flute, to duos and trios of flute with harp, violin, piano, cello, oboe, and more. She also teaches flute in Montpelier, Vermont and online to students worldwide.