Musicians choosing wedding music

There are times when the musicians are asked to make the choices for the wedding ceremony music, deciding on pieces for the bridal processional, the piece for the bride’s entrance as well as the rest of the ceremony, including the recessional music.  That usually happens when the bride tells us that she is not familiar with classical music and would prefer for the musicians to make the choices.

Overall, we, as musicians, do not mind choosing the wedding music on our own.  Usually, our choices are based on the number of bridesmaids in the processional, whether the wedding ceremony is outdoors or indoors, and other factors. 

However, there is possible negative side to allowing musicians choose their own wedding music.  

For one of the wedding ceremonies, a bride has requested for the musicians to choose the wedding music for the ceremony. After selecting several pieces, one of them being “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, I have emailed the selected choice to the bride for her confirmation.  She emailed me a few days later, saying she had listened to the pieces on the internet and loved our selections.  The musicians proceeded to play the chosen pieces during the wedding ceremony. 

As we were packing to leave after the ceremony, we were approached by the father of the groom, who seemed somewhat upset and agitated.  He told us that we should not have played  “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” during the ceremony.  Turns out this piece was played during his mother’s funeral and it brought back negative memories for him, whereas a wedding should be a happy occasion, and by the musicians’s neglect we have ruined it for him!  

The musicians have extended their apologies to him, attempting to explain that the wedding music was approved by the bride, but it fell on deaf ears, since at that point he was already aggravated and upset.

Granted, this was an isolated incident, but it is something to keep in mind for musicians and brides.  There is no way to please everyone but we try to come close and sometimes unexpected happens… 

Wedding music in churches

This is mostly a warning for brides for times when they are in the process of choosing wedding music to be played at a church. Many churches, especially catholic, are still very strict on the allowed music to be performed at the weddings. Side note: I think that is one of the main reasons why many couples choose NOT to have their wedding at a church, but rather at a non -religious venue, where they have freedom on their wedding music choices.   As it happens, a few weeks ago, our wedding musicians played at a church in Pittsburgh, where the bride had requested  “Over the Rainbow” to be played during the prelude, not for the ceremony.  Our musicians were rudely  reprimanded by the music director and the priest of that church for playing that piece. Apparently, the mistake laid on the music director’s part who failed to double check bride’s music selections, since it is music director’s responsibility to approve the appropriate music at that church. Musicians simply got caught between the two parties, the bride and the music director.  Bottom line – it is always a good idea for brides to approve the final wedding music list with the church’s staff before the musicians play it. In my opinion, the bride should have a lot of freedom for that special day in her life, and be able to play the music that means something to her and her fiance, but that is a different subject.  

Musicians’ choices of wedding prelude music

How do our wedding musicians choose prelude music for wedding ceremonies?

When we work with wedding clients, the primary concern is to put together music for the wedding ceremony, while not much thought goes into prelude music.  Most of the time musicians play their own choices of wedding music selections, depending on the setting of a ceremony.  If a wedding ceremony is outdoors – the musicians will play music that is on the bright side volume wise, making sure it is heard by wedding guests as they arrive.  The absence of good acoustics during outdoor venues is to blame. If a wedding ceremony is to take place indoors, the prelude music choices might be on the softer side, more mellow, especially for church weddings: traditionally, prelude music is played quietly for these.  

In summary, here is the list of some of the factors that our wedding musicians consider when making choices for prelude music.

  • The location of the wedding ceremony
  • The style of the wedding ceremony
  • For indoor wedding ceremonies – acoustical qualities of the room/hall where musicians are to play
  • The number of wedding musicians playing
  • The amount of time reserved by the client for prelude music
  • Client’s requests for prelude music should match the rest of the music selected by the musicians
  • The prelude music should not be more “exposed” than the first piece for the wedding ceremony

Wedding prelude music for guests

This is an issue that affects musicians and guests while playing for outdoor wedding ceremonies.  It might also help to decide how long the musicians should be playing for during the wedding prelude and postlude. 

Although musicians usually have overhead protection for outdoor weddings, most of the time wedding guests do not have such luxury; chairs for them are lined up at the ceremony site, possibly ending up in the hot, afternoon sun, resulting in a situation where most guests sit down for the ceremony just minutes before it starts.  In many cases there is either an outdoor large tent or a building near by where everyone gathers prior to the ceremony, avoiding the sun.

Many brides hire musicians to play twenty to thirty minutes of prelude music before the ceremony to entertain the waiting guests. In this case – this  can be a waste of money, since there are no guests at the site of the ceremony due to the hot weather.

It not that we mind playing outdoors, but the fact is: wedding guests cannot hear us.  Acoustical instruments’ sounds do not travel far in outdoors; we end up entertaining the nature around us!  The same applies to postlude music – guests usually retreat to cool areas immediately following the wedding ceremony, and once again, it us and and nature playing along.

For some weddings clients request us to move inside or in the shaded areas where guests are gathered for the prelude or postlude, hence making our music heard.

If it not the case for your wedding – I would strongly suggest having a very short prelude and postlude, and putting that extra saved money towards a honeymoon!

Wedding party processional music

Another issue to consider in selecting wedding music for a wedding party’s processional is the number of people involved in it plus the distance they will be walking to the site of the ceremony.  Mostly, the issue is the walking distance.  Our musicians have played at weddings where the wedding party had to walk a fairly long aisle distance, and the piece for their processional music that was chosen by the bride was a short one.  In such situation musicians usually repeat the piece as many times as needed until the processional comes to conclusion.  

Personally, I would suggest selecting a longer wedding processional piece if your bridal party is more than four people.  

The same can be said for a bride’s processional music choice: a wedding piece that will be long enough for the entire bride’s walk without a need to repeat it.  For that reason Pachelbel’s Canon in D became a favorite for many brides and bridal parties. It is pretty, sounds fantastic with three or four instruments, well known and long enough to be played without repeats for long processionals.

Bad choices in wedding music for processionals

As a part of our service as wedding musicians, we work with our clients on “building” their wedding music programs.  Usually, a client will provide us with a list of their choices of music for a wedding ceremony and at that point we can edit it as needed, giving our suggestions, making sure that their wedding music selections are suitable for a ceremony.
     Here is an example from a client who sent us an e-mail with her choices for the ceremony. We are looking at the pieces chosen for the processional, before the start of the wedding ceremony: 

Groom’s mother – Trumpet Voluntary

Bride’s mother – Amazing Grace

Pastor and bridesmaids – Canon in D

Ring Bearer, flower girl – Arioso

Bride and Father – Bridal Chorus by Wagner

    At a first glance, the choices seem to be excellent, providing plenty of processional music for the wedding party walking down the aisle. However, here are a few negative points on the above music selections that might not be obvious at first.
Having that many wedding music pieces for the processional IS quite unusual and can be overwhelming, not for musicians but for guests. For musicians the only issue might be is changing pages from piece to piece, leaving “gaps” between the music as a bridal party is walking down the aisle.
A very obvious contrast between the two wedding music pieces for mothers: Trumpet Voluntary is a happy, upbeat  wedding music piece, whereas Amazing Grace is a mournful, solemn piece, most commonly played at funerals, not weddings. Hence, it might not be a good idea to play them side by side, they might sound odd.  
Another issue with Trumpet Voluntary is its’ style.  The most “prominent”, spectacular piece of music during the wedding ceremony processional should be reserved for the entrance of the bride, not the bridal party.  Trumpet Voluntary IS very bright, loud, attention-attractive piece, used very often as a bride’s processional piece. Even though Bridal Chorus for the bride is a perfect choice, it clashes with Trumpet Voluntary.  Either one or the other, but not both.
Here is the solution we came up with for the bride in this case, altering the wedding music choices as follows:

Groom’s mother and bride’s mother – Arioso (same piece for both, gentle yet very pleasant piece of music, easy to fade as needed)
Pastor,bridesmaids and the rest of the bridal party – Canon in D(very beautiful, well known piece, and long enough for a large wedding party)
Bride and Father – Bridal Chorus by Wagner (as in the original selection; very appropriate choice of a wedding music piece that will especially stand out after softer sounding Canon in D)

The importance of Prelude music

Most of the times when our trios and quartets play at wedding ceremonies, they usually play anywhere between fifteen and thirty minutes of prelude music in different genres.  It is a nice way to make a transition from the “before” the ceremony time into the actual wedding ceremony.  It keeps the guests occupied as they are coming in, and in case if the ceremony runs late ( happens more often then some might think!), there is no awkward silence – the musicians will keep on playing. I work very closely with brides in helping them select the wedding music for their ceremony. However, ninety nine percent of time they ask me to come up with our own choices for the Prelude music. I have an extensive music repertoire for all group combinations, from duo to quartets and it is very easy to put together a program of the music for preludes. 
I mentioned in one of my other posts that Prelude music plays a bigger role in a wedding ceremony than it might seem. It is a period of time when guests are waiting for ceremony to start, either sitting in pews if the wedding is in the church, or simply meandering around if it is an outdoor ceremony.  It is also time when some people meet for the first time – distant relatives and friends from both sides of the wedding party, that can be uncomfortable as well.  Believe it or not, a familiar piece of music can be a start of a conversation. I have observed people listening to us while we play a very familiar piece : “..Oh,I know that! I played that in high school!… It is my mother’s favorite song!  I heard it on the radio and really like it!.. My friend’s daughter played that at her wedding, too..” Comments like that can lead to people opening up and talking to each other, creating a comfortable atmosphere during the rest of the wedding ceremony, making people feel at ease, and make them pay more attention to the ceremony and not their cellphones and I-podes ( I’ve seen that, too!). 
So, what is a good way to choose appropriate Prelude music? It might not be a bad idea to ask some of your wedding guests what their favorite pieces are, may be even include that question in their wedding invitation. When you get the invitations back – make a list of the pieces that guests mentioned in their invitation and then pass it along to us so we can add them in our Prelude music list.  If you really want to please your future in-laws early on – ask them the same question and we will make sure to play their favorite piece as well.   

What IS wedding music?

Since most of the jobs that our string quartets and trios play at are wedding ceremonies, the question that I am asked quite often by brides is “What is wedding music and how do I know if it is wedding related piece..?” 
There is really no one way to answer it. Really, it is your day and you may choose any pieces for your wedding music. The choice for wedding music is very personal. The first thing to decide is how personal you want your wedding to be, and that will give you direction in choosing wedding music. After many years of playing at weddings, I divide all weddings in three categories: traditional weddings, semi-traditional weddings, and non-traditional/unconventional ceremonies.  This division also helps me when I work with a couple on selecting music for their ceremony.
Traditional wedding will most likely include prelude music, ceremony music and postlude music. It also will have some key components such as seating of the parents, processional of the bridal party and the bride, communion, presentation of flowers to the Virgin Mary, possible Homily, Unity Candle and recessional. For each of these aspects there are specific pieces of wedding music that are played. Moreover, certain pieces of wedding music are almost expected to be heard by the guests since the ceremony is traditional. You wouldn’t want to play a Beatles song during a communion. More likely, a piece such as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” would fit here.  In my opinion, in a traditional wedding you have some flexibility with music choice, but you also have to choose it from a set wedding music repertoire that has been around for years and is expected to be played. 
In a semi/traditional wedding you have a lot more room for deviation from standard wedding music repertoire, and yet you still keep the element of tradition. We played at many weddings where the music for the processional was a pop-tune that meant a lot to the couple, and yet, the wedding music for the Unity Candle and the recessional was more familiar to the guests. Speaking of guests, and it is my opinion only. Over the years, I observed a lot of guests during wedding ceremonies and how they behave at them, whether or not they are bored or not, looking at their watches or cellphones, or if they are completely engrossed in the ceremony and the couple.  I think the choices of wedding music always made a difference in the way the guests were acting. If the program was put well together, and the guests got to hear pieces that they recognized or liked, it made it more interesting for them, verses the wedding music that was totally obscure for the guests, who ended up counting minutes until the ceremony was over.  I do understand that wedding day is for bride and a groom, but it also involves guests who are spending their time, money and effort to be there for the couple, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make a day memorable not only for the couple but for their guests.  Careful choices of wedding music is one way of doing so.
The last category, the unconventional weddings are the ones where musicians play either the songs that have an exclusive meaning to the bride and a groom and quite often unfamiliar to guests, or some popular rock and pop music. These ceremonies usually do not last more that fifteen minutes, with a very short prelude and just as short of a postlude. At these ceremonies it can be challenging to combine classical wedding music and wedding music that was requested by the bride or the groom. 
I guess anything can be referred to as wedding music as long as it fits your ceremony set up. The choices are unlimited among wedding music in classical, sacred, pop repertoire. You only have to be careful of how you combine the different genres in one wedding ceremony, making sure it all fits together.

Pachelbel Canon dilemma

If Johann Pachelbel was still alive today, he probably would have a heart attack after hearing many versions of his famous Canon, and all the debates over that piece.  I have many clients, mostly brides, who  ask me to explain to them what Canon is. First, here is the definition of a Canon from a musician’s point of view.
“…Pachelbel’s Canon combines the techniques of canon and ground bass. Canon is a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music, only enter one by one, each after a delay. In Pachelbel’s piece, there are three voices engaged in canon (see Example 1), but there is also a fourth voice, the basso continuo, which plays an independent part.  The bass voice keeps repeating the same two-bar line throughout the piece. The common musical term for this is ostinato, or ground bass…
Now, to the simple version for non-musicians.  Let’s use the string quartet as a basis, since it is one of the more common group combinations that the piece is performed by. I will dissect the piece as follows:
1) First, the cello comes in with a bass line, playing the same eight notes throughout the piece
2) First violin comes in with the main melody
3) Second violin comes in a few seconds after the first violin with the same melody
4) Finally, viola comes in a few seconds after the second violin, again, with the same melody.
Thus, we created a “canon”, or a round…  
The reason why I bring up the issue at all, is I just played at the wedding where the bride had requested the Canon for her entrance. It was played only by two instruments, myself on viola, and a cellist. Afterwards, I spoke to the bride, congratulated her. She was really grateful that we were there since it was a last minute wedding, and she loved the music. She also mentioned that I was right when originally I suggested for her to hire three musicians, not two, especially because she wanted to include Canon as her processional piece. She did say it sounded “..sort of empty, not like a round..” 
I usually don’t like to push my opinion on people when it comes to hiring musicians. I will tell my clients what I think would work best for them, but the final decision is theirs. I don’t like sounding as if I am pushing more musicians so we can get more money. However, in this case I tried to insist on at least three instruments because of  bride’s choice of wedding music. So, please keep in mind that if you decide to hire a duo as opposed to a trio or a quartet – some of the pieces that you might love and want to use for your wedding ceremony, might not sound anything like you expect them to. My opinion? The best combination is a trio – violin, viola, and cello,  unless you have a very large wedding. You may still use two musicians for a ceremony, but then think about omitting some of the pieces that will not sound “full” with only two instruments…

Prelude Music to Ceremony Music Transition

This is mostly for brides and families that are hiring our musicians for weddings.  Once the music is selected and pieces to be played for the wedding ceremony are solidified, we are all set to go.  The only other thing that we need to know is when to stop playing the prelude music and when to start the first piece for the ceremony, usually the piece for the seating of the parents or grandparents.  We do need a cue from someone who will be familiar with the flow of the ceremony, such as a wedding coordinator. That person could give us a nod from a distance (we do watch for those even while we play), or simply come up to us and tell us to stop the prelude and begin the ceremony music.  Even though we are usually told the specific time for the start of the ceremony – it almost never works out exactly on time.  We don’t like to take the risk of staring the first requested piece at, for example, 5:30 and the parents for whatever reason are not being seated yet.  Once we have a cue – we know what to play, and after that everything flows accordingly, with the entrance of the bridal party, then the bride, or any order that was established.  Sometimes, however, there is no such person as wedding coordinator who can give us the cue for the start of the ceremony.  In that case, the solution might be to use the entrance of the groomsmen or of the person administering the ceremony as a cue.  Once we see them – we quietly fade away the last piece of the prelude, wait until they are present and then start the first piece for the ceremony itself.  Basically, a cue is needed for the musicians to let them know that prelude is over and ceremony is about to begin. 
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