Wedding music

Wedding music

Wedding music applies to vocal and/or instrumental music performed at wedding rehearsals, rehearsal dinners, wedding ceremonies, and receptions (post-wedding party). In cultures of the Western Hemisphere, it initially provides background ambience for the audience as it assembles for the wedding. It then is used to announce and accompany a specific order of events, starting with the ritual seating of mothers and grandmothers by the ushers, followed by the entrance of the groomsmen and clergy, then the bridesmaids and lastly the bride and possibly the bridegroom self. All these events are accompanied by their own individual pieces, selected beforehand in conjunction with the musician(s) hired to perform. In lieu of live players, recorded music can be substituted to fulfill these functions.

Modern North American Weddings

A contemporary North American wedding ceremony, most often held in a church, typically begins with 20-30 minutes of prelude music. This generally includes reflective pieces such as Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". Use of string quartets and harps have in modern times increased in popularity, sometimes replacing the customary organ. After the prelude, there is generally special music for the seating of the mothers and grandmothers. A popular selection is the Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel. Then the bridal party (bridesmaids) proceeds down the aisle, followed by the bride -- often escorted by her father. They arrive at the church altar where the groom, groomsmen and priest are assembled. This bridal march is accompanied by a processional tune. For over 100 years the most popular processional has been Wagner's Bridal Chorus from "Lohengrin" (1850), often called "Here Comes The Bride." This has been historically played by an organist. Since the televised wedding of Lady Diana to Prince Charles, there has been an upsurge in popularity of Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince of Denmark's March" for use as recessional music, a piece that was formerly (and incorrectly) attributed to Henry Purcell as "Trumpet Voluntary". During the service there may be a few hymns, especially in liturgical settings. Optional solos and a short piece for the lighting of the Unity Candle may also occur. At the end of the service, the bride and groom march down the aisle to a lively recessional tune, the most popular tune being Mendelssohn's Wedding March from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1826). Another popular choice is Widor's Toccata from "Symphony for Organ No. 5" (1880). The ceremony concludes with an instrumental postlude as the guests depart. In the US, the most common musical instruments used for ceremony music is either a piano/organ or a string quartet, but a harpist, woodwind quintet, or classical guitar is sometimes used.

After a photography session, a catered meal and dance ensue, known as a reception. Receptions either offer couple dancing with a live band, or hire a DJ to play popular recorded songs, often chosen by the couple.

The Ceremony

The Prelude

This is actually the very beginning of the wedding, the time when guests first arrive. Often, refreshments or cocktails and appetizers are served. Other times, especially at church weddings, the prelude is treated as nothing more than the few moments before the Ceremony. Classical instrumental music is traditionally played during the Prelude, such as "Air on the G String", or "Ave Maria".

The Pre-Processional

This is the time usually reserved for special friends, family members and other honored guests (not part of the official wedding party) to be escorted down the aisle. While classical music is traditional, sometimes a favorite song may be played. A more contemporary favorite, "The Wedding Song (There Is Love)" written by Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul & Mary, has been a popular part of the wedding ceremony and pre-ceremony highlights since it was recorded in the 60’s. It is often used to set the emotional tone and to highlight the significance of the day.

The Processional

This is the actual entrance of the Wedding Party. It may include the immediate family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, maid of honor, best man, the groom (optional) and, of course, the bride. While the most popular Processional has been "The Bridal Chorus (Here Comes The Bride)", more recently, instrumental versions of "Con Te Partiro" have joined the ranks of ‘classic’ processionals.

The Ceremony

The actual Ceremony is for exchanging vows and rings. It is also often the time for special prayers, blessings, invocations and pronouncements. A friend may be called upon to sing a song of special significance to the couple on their wedding day.

Unity Candle

This is an optional part of the Ceremony, usually a candle-lighting and brief period of reflection on the unity of the Bride and Groom. These days, more and more ceremonies are being expanded to include the joining of the two families as well, especially for second marriages where children are involved.

The Recessional

This is the bride and groom’s return down the aisle after the Ceremony. Usually an exuberant piece of music is played, such as the traditional "Wedding March". Again, there are no rules: ethnic choices are as appropriate as are pop songs as the couple, their family and guests exit and move on to the next part of the wedding: the reception. In one case, where the bride and her family were Irish, she chose "The Irish Washerwoman" for a fun recessional.

The Interlude / Postlude / Cocktail Or Champagne Hour

The time immediately after the Ceremony and just before the main Reception is often set aside for guests to congratulate the couple and their families. This can be done formally in a receiving line, or informally while pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served. Sometimes the guests are left to enjoy a pre-reception buffet, or other type of refreshments while the photographer and the family have a photo session elsewhere. Instead, the newlyweds may take a few private minutes to get ready for their grand entrance at the Reception. Musically, many different styles are appropriate for the interlude, from soft jazz, popular love songs, classical selections or other favorites of the couple.

The Reception

The time after the ceremony and interlude is the time for celebrating. Whether the Reception is a formal sit-down dinner-dance, buffet or a small gathering with light refreshments, music is always an enhancement.

Wedding Receptions are almost universally more than just time for dancing and fun. It’s a time to acknowledge special family, friends and relationships. In an attempt to provide a good time for all, different styles of music are usually woven into the dance sets for wedding guests are usually of different generations and ethnicities. Some of the traditional, though optional, highlights are as follows:

The Grand Entrance

For the grand entrance of the newlywed couple, a special announcement, introducing the couple for the first time as Mr. & Mrs. is standard. The choices for music are unlimited, though high energy numbers such as "We Are Family", "Celebration", or other favorite up-tempo songs are traditional.

The First Dance

Unless the reception is in a restaurant with no dancing, almost all couples look forward to their first dance as a married couple. If they don’t have one particular favorite song above all others, a good deal of time is spent finding and choosing just the right one. Many couples even take dancing lessons to choreograph their special dance. Popular choices that have stood the test of time are "Unforgettable" and "At Last". The choices are endless, from pop tunes of the 1940s through the present day.

Father-daughter dance

The father-daughter dance is one of the newer traditions of the reception. The song selected may be from the point of view of the daughter to her father, or from the point of view of the father to his daughter. At the vast majority of American weddings it's appropriate to share and exchange expressions of love and gratitude on a daughter’s wedding day to add to the emotion and bring guests closer to the family. Father-daughter dances are not limited to weddings; some elementary schools are known to host father-daughter dances, often near Valentine's Day.

Mother-Son Dance

This dance has also become a 'tradition' in recent years. Again, there are different points of view as from a mother to her son, or from a son to his mother.

The Family Dance

Sometimes DJs and band leaders call the entire family to the dance floor immediately after a special dance or just before the rest of the guests are invited to dance. "Sunrise, Sunset" is one of the most beloved family wedding songs. The dance can be especially effective to acknowledge members of blended families and children of second marriages. This can be a meaningful way to include step-siblings and half-siblings in the celebration.

Stepparents/Mentors/Special Friends and Relatives

Within the vast collection of American songs, there are selections to be found to fit almost every special situation. As 'tributes', songs like "When I Needed You Most" and "Because You Loved Me" are two more recent alternatives to the standard, "Wind Beneath My Wings".

Cutting the Cake

Always a welcome treat toward the end of the Reception dinner, the wedding cake, whether it’s an elaborate artistic creation, or a simply-decorated sheet cake is considered to be an important ritual at most weddings. At this time, the music is meant to reflect the fun of the tradition, and up-tempo versions of "The Bride Cuts The Cake" (to the tune of the "The Farmer in the Dell") or even "Chapel of Love" are appropriate.

The Last Dance

This is both a happy and a nostalgic moment. It’s a new chapter in the lives of the bride and groom and for their parents as well. Favorite ballads are as welcome by guests and family as up-tempo dance tunes. As always, there are no ‘rules’. It is often thought of as a perfect time for a last 'thank you's' and blessings. Sometimes a 'circle of love' is formed around the couple as music is played in a moving last highlight.

Jewish Weddings

At Jewish weddings, the entrance of the bride is accompanied by a tune called baruch haba. After the ceremony there is a traditional dance called the hora. This is a circle dance, with the men circling the groom and the women circling the bride.

Another song you will hear at a Jewish Wedding is Siman Tov ("Good Tidings"). This is a classic, all-purpose good Jewish celebration song. It may be heard at the end of the ceremony and is definitely played at the reception. The words are simple "Siman tov u'mazal tov, u'mazal tov v'siman tov, y'hei lanu ul'chol Yisrael!"

The Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin may not be permitted in some synagogues and churches because of Wagner's anti-Semitic political views.

Scottish Weddings

At traditional Scottish weddings there is often a dance, after the ceremony, called a ceilidh. This ceilidh involves traditional Scottish music and has dances such as a "Strip the Willow", "Dashing White Sergeant", and "The Gay Gordons". "Mairi's Wedding" (aka "Marie's Wedding", the "Lewis Bridal Song", or "Mairi Bhan") is popular in weddings with a Scottish theme. It was written by Johnny Bannerman using a traditional Scots tune in 1934 and translated from Gaelic into English a year later. It has since been recorded by Kenneth McKellar, The Clancy Brothers, The Chieftains with Van Morrison, The King's Singers and others, with The Rankin Family taking it to number one in Canada.

Australian Civil Wedding

The majority of weddings in Australia are a civil ceremony performed by an Authorised Civil Celebrant. Municipal parks are popular followed by the reception venue itself, which may have its own garden or an attached secular wedding chapel. The choice of music reflects the comparatively informal and relaxed style of this unique form of wedding.

The choice of music reflects the couple's musical tastes and ranges from classical to pop. It is sometimes played by hired professionals or friends who are trained musicians but is mostly supplied on CD-ROM and played by the celebrant on his or her portable public address system.

Light music, middle-of-the-road or classical, is played while the guests are gathering but this changes to a piece chosen by the bride for her entrance. The Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel is the most popular piece. The Bridal Chorus and Wedding March are regarded as musical clichés and rarely heard.

Quieter pieces are played while the marriage certificates are signed in the presence of the guests. After signing the official Certificate of Marriage is presented to the couple. The guests then stand while the bridal party exits, either down the aisle or nearby in the park. During this a bright, loud, cheerful piece is played to set a triumphant note at the end of the ceremony.

The Hawaiian Wedding Song

Coco Palms Resort was a luxury resort in Hawaii. It opened in 1953 and became the focus of the last 20 minutes of Elvis Presley's film "Blue Hawaii" (1961). The climax was a wedding with Elvis singing "The Hawaiian Wedding Song". This had originally been written in Hawaiian by Charles E King in 1926. It had been given English lyrics by Hoffman and Mannin. Elvis's version is a dual-language version of both songs. He sang it to his bride at his own wedding. As a direct result of the film, about 500 Americans per year were married at the Coco Palms Resort, and most of them used the famous song as part of the ceremony. Even after the hotel closed in 1992 the song is still a popular choice, especially for Presley fans.

Egyptian Weddings

In Egypt there is a specific rhythm called the zaffa. Traditionally a belly dancer will lead the bride to the Wedding Hall, accompanied by musicians playing the elzaff, on drums and trumpets, sometimes the flaming torches. This is of unknown antiquity, and may even be pre-Islamic.

Come Write Me Down

The traditional English "Wedding Song" is also known as "Come Write Me Down" or "The Second Answer is Better". It dates from before 1820. A young man woos a woman, who replies saying her freedom is more important than marriage. Just as he turns to leave, she changes her mind and accepts his advances.


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