8 Things to Know About Wedding Ceremony Music

It's interesting how many brides we work with who will make a music request list eight pages long and pick songs on the timeline for every imaginable magic moment of the reception (grand entrance, first dance, etc.) but then, with a week left to go, suddenly realize they haven't even thought about their aisle music.Oh yeah... the wedding ceremony!  It's those little details that trip you up, right? ;)

If this sounds like you, fear not!  Let's take that aisle one step at a time:

1. It doesn't really matter

Regular readers will recognize the mantra, but it's still important to start with it.  Yes, you want everything to be perfect, but you're getting married to the person you love, and that right there is enough to make it one of the happiest days of your life. Plus, you're surrounded by loved ones supporting you and they truly want to see everything go great.  So basically, chill out and don't overthink it.

2. Setting the right mood

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about pre-ceremony music.  You might not even be in earshot of what's playing while you're guests are arriving and taking their seats, but it's the first impression they'll have of the whole affair. A little classical and/or instrumental music for that twenty or so minutes before the show starts is pretty typical, and if that works for you, any professional ceremony musician or DJ should be able to handle it without any further instruction from you than that.

If you're going for something less traditional, be sure to discuss with your musician or DJ what atmosphere you're hoping to create and how they're going to pull it off. And if you're looking for something in between, it can be a fun twist on the traditional to play classical or instrumental covers of popular songs. For example, there are plenty of albums out there of people performing pop music hits on classical guitar or string quartet. Check out the Vitamin String Quartet for a good example.

And if you are tempted to have something more upbeat and fun-- or downright rockin-- here's a word of caution:  Some crowds can handle being shot out of a cannon and still sustain the energy over the next five or six hours, but for most, it may be best to pace things more slowly at the beginning and let things build.

3. The wedding party

Yeah, this one's important, but everyone is well aware it's only the warm-up act.  In other words, as long as your musician/DJ doesn't play something seriously inappropriate, people are really only concerned with getting to the headliner (that's you, btw).  So something pleasant and background-y is fine here. If you're debating between two songs for your own music, the one that ends up as the runner-up might be a good fit

4. It's Show Time!

This is your moment.  The clouds part, the sun burns just a little brighter, the breath of God Himself blows a gentle breeze across the land as a choir of angels lift their voices in chorus to the most beautiful mortal the world has ever witnessed floating confidently, elegantly, majestically down the aisle! 

Or something like that.  You get the point: you're sort of a big deal.

As far as music goes, there's nothing wrong with the traditional.  Frankly, we see too many couples trying to reinvent the wheel and come up with something totally unique.  There's a reason why the Bridal Chorus (the one people call "Here Comes the Bride") and Pachebel's Canon in D are wedding cliches: because they work!  Plus, if you're that person who has imagined marrying their prince since you were too young to understand what that even means, maybe the traditional route is exactly what you're going for.

For those independent spirits who feel compelled to forge their own paths, you really can't go wrong with just about anything, as long as it is meaningful to you.  I've had some ridiculous requests over the years-- e.g., Red Hot Chili Peppers, the theme to Blazing Saddles, and even Survivor's Eye of the Tiger-- some of which I even thought would be a disaster (did I mention Eye of the Tiger?), and yet!  And yet, they have ALWAYS worked out.  Not only worked, out, they have ALWAYS been beautiful, and somehow, perfect. Just pick something you like, something that speaks to you on some level.  The important thing is that your music contrasts with the wedding party music in an uplifting way. For example, if the wedding party music is heavy and somber, your music might be bright and airy. Or vice versa! However you do it, even a subtle contrast between the two pieces can make that transition a beautifully dramatic moment.

5. Incidental music

This won't even be an issue in a lot of weddings.  But if you're doing a sand-mixing or candle-lighting thing-- or anything else where there might be a gap of time with no one talking-- you'll want some background music.  Any experienced ceremony musician should have something up his sleeve that will fit the moment.  Just make sure they know about it ahead of time so they can work out cues with officiant, and they'll be fine.

6. Recessional

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you for the very first time as a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Chakraborty" (or whatever your last name is).  And the crowd goes wild!  The music fires up, and you and your newly-minted spouse go hand in hand back down the aisle from whence you came, bound spiritually by your God and contractually by your state.  As would fit the moment, your recession music should be upbeat and celebratory.  It might even be a more lively reprise of whatever your processional music was. A traditional option would be Mendelssohn's Wedding March (look it up; you'll recognize it).  The nontraditional could be any song that gets your blood moving.  The party has begun.

7. Cuing

So... how does everyone know when to press Play?  If you have a coordinator (and you really should, but that's another blog), she will probably work it out with the musician or DJ to make sure the aisle music starts just when it ought to (you might want to confirm this with her). If you don't have a coordinator, it gets a little trickier.  You'll need to have someone who can cue the musician(s)/DJ at the right time.  This person should be standing near the wedding party and within line of sight of the musician/DJ.  This person should also talk with the musician(s)/DJ ahead of time to work out how she will be cuing them.  This person should be someone trustworthy but also someone who is neither in the wedding party, nor a close family member or anyone else who really should just be enjoying the moment. Yeah, maybe you should get a coordinator.

8. Timing

This isn't something you should have to think about during the big moment, but I get asked about it a lot.  Any musician or DJ who plays weddings for a living should have this skill down, so if you're sure you've hired a pro, you can stop worrying about it right now.  I have seen ceremonies, though, where otherwise very competent musicians (usually, a friend or relative of the wedding couple who plays guitar) have no idea how to come to a natural and seamless ending at the moment the bride and/or groom arrives at the altar and the officiant begins speaking.  So if that's you're situation, just make sure to remind your well-intentioned friend or relative to think about how they would either stretch or cut the music short if need be.  And seriously, don't even hesitate to have them contact us for a few pointers.  The last thing you want is to be standing at the altar for an extra minute and a half, waiting for your cousin the piano player to come to an ending. Awkward.

Wrapping Up

Canon in D?  Yeah, we know that one.

Canon in D?  Yeah, we know that one.

Wow, pretty long blog post today!  Sorry to make you read so much (who reads anymore, dang!), but it is kind of important, no?  And if the ceremony goes smoothly, that sets the tone for the whole event.  As always, write/call/text/email/carrier pigeon with any questions, concerns, comments or complaints.

Happy marrying!