Music for the ceremony

Published date: 27th July 2019

As with every aspect of a wedding, choosing the music for the church, registry office or whatever other venue you use repays a bit of planning. We hope the information that follows helps the process, and avoids nasty surprises!

The first thing to note is that with something as personal as music bride and groom need to agree choices between them, though there are some pieces that fit so well – you’ll have heard them at half the weddings you’ve attended – they seem naturals. And in case love is blinding you, it’s worth a friend or family member taking a look before you finalise things: that might have helped prevent errors like the couple who chose Send in the Clowns for the bride’s entrance. Likewise be specific and check that what you want is what you get – there is a tale that one bride asked for ‘the Robin Hood song’, meaning Bryan Adams belting out ‘Everything I Do (I Do it for You); what she got was the decidedly unromantic theme song to the 1950s TV series: ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen…’

Your venue determines in great part what music you can have, and how it is delivered. For example, a registry office won’t allow music of a religious nature, though that leaves plenty of latitude. Does the church you are to use have a choir, in which case are you booking it (which costs money of course)? The same applies to an organist, though just about every church in the land will have one. A word of warning: though it could save a fee, asking Uncle Ken who can play a few piano tunes to do the honours is courting disaster. Then again, if you have a brilliant musician in the family (with plenty of public performance experience behind them, and we’d say at least music college or university standard musicianship) why not ask them to participate in some measure?

If your budget is enormous, you may want to do the string quartet thing or some equally elegant combo, but again you need to check well in advance with whoever is officiating that this is ok. Everybody loves the bit in Love Actually (don’t they?) where Keira Knightley marries Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lynden David Hall singing ‘Love is All You Need’ backed by guitar, choir, brass and the kitchen sink, something that in reality would have set the prankster best man back maybe £2000 if he was lucky.

When using musicians you need to make sure everything is organised and agreed – what they will do, times they arrive, any parking or equipment needs and so on. Or you could leave it with a wedding planner!

The running order for both registry offices and churches is pretty similar, though you may find more restricted choice in terms of songs with the latter.

We begin with the music played while guests arrive and chatter about hats – let’s call it assembly music. Some registry offices – which tend to be tighter on time-keeping – ask for three songs or other short pieces; churches may just have the organist twiddling. We’re looking to set a quiet tone here, with nothing raucous or stirring: in church Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, or Schubert’s Ave Maria are frequent picks; likewise Elgar’s Nimrod. Or more contemporary (just) ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ by the Carpenters.

Next is one of the great dramatic points of the day, the entrance of the bride, and her walk up the aisle: the processional. The most chosen piece is one that signals ‘the moment’ better than any other: Wagner’s Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin – ok, it’s Here Comes the Bride. Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is probably the second best-known, with Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March a close third. A tip here is don’t feel you have to be inventive: if there is something that you love and fits the bill, great, but again as a bride you may want the attention on you not the music, so comfortably familiar is good. Courteney Cox went with the Paul McCartney song Maybe I’m Amazed; perhaps surprisingly Jennifer Lopez chose Vivaldi, and Nicole Kidman went for the safety of The Bridal Chorus.

In church you will need two (occasionally three) hymns that will provide musical breaks between readings and vows. But they also set a tone, and for the nervous among us offer the opportunity to belt out a few verses and regain our courage. The King of Love My Shepherd Is, I Vow to Thee My Country, and Jerusalem are often selected, the last in that list a fine nerve-settler. All Things Bright and Beautiful and Immortal Invisible God Only Wise are two that everybody knows, another thing to take into account – you’ll get the energy of all those voices uplifted with such favourites, whereas something cleverly obscure will mean mumbles and embarrassed shifting of feet.

When bride, groom and witnesses sign the registers the congregation gets to listen to interlude music, which may be the trickiest choice. Something uplifting but not too loud, so guests can exchange a few thoughts on how nicely it is all going, and isn’t her dress lovely. Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a classic option; Pachelbel’s Cannon another. But again, if the church is ok with it a recording of a favourite – and acceptable – song can fit here: And I Love Her by the Beatles maybe. A tip: if you are going for a specific song whose tune you love, listen to the lyrics: for example You’re Beautiful by James Blunt is about a man seeing his ex with another guy, and it appears contemplating or committing suicide, so maybe not entirely suitable. Doubly so as it has swearing. Yesterday is another with a great tune, but the sentiment that yesterday all your troubles seemed so far away doesn’t bode well for the future.

Last but not least the recessional, the music to which the new husband and wife walk past admiring guests and leave the venue. The number one choice is Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Daaah daaah der dee dee dee dee and so on. Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 is another much loved recessional, a piece that is at once stirring and not entirely serious, a bit like Kerry Katona’s choice proved to be when she married Bryan MacFadden – Oh Happy Day! Whatever you choose it is usually belted out on the organ with all the stops out, a celebration in sound. The first song of the rest of your life.

And then you’re out the door.

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