Years after you’ve attended your friends’ weddings, while some details may fade, what remains is the memory of whether or not you had a good time. For most of us, a “good time” at a wedding is largely determined by creature comforts, namely food and music.
But while reception music is of the utmost importance, ceremony music is equally—if not more—important when it comes to setting the tone of your wedding. Here, some tips on choosing the right music for your ceremony.
1. Size Matters. Are you having a quaint, intimate affair in a small chapel with 25 to 50 guests? You may want to opt for a solo harpist (we love Karen Colin) or a classical or folk guitarist. Mandolins, violins, and woodwinds are also great solo instruments. A more formal or larger ceremony in a cathedral or huge space? A four- or five-piece ensemble might be more apropos. Strings and woodwinds are particularly beautiful, and choices abound in Westchester in the Hudson Valley. We adore the Devonshire Players and the Dorian String Quartet
2. Acoustics Matter, Too. It is important to choose the right instruments and, if necessary, amplification, for your space. A harp might sound angelic in a small room, but will get lost in the endless space of a large church. By the same token, a large ensemble could easily overpower a carpeted parlor or low-ceilinged room. A professional planner, venue manager, or the musicians themselves will be able to advise you.
3. When in Doubt, Opt for Subtlety. Generally speaking, ceremony music should be lovely, delicate, and on the subtle side—unless you are a metal-head or retro punk is your thing. I know a bride who walked down the aisle on her father’s arm to “Chapel of Love,” met her tattooed groom, and walked back down the aisle with him to the blaring sound of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” In that couple’s situation, since the groom was a rock musician, it was apropos. For most couples, though, something more tender usually works.
4. Know the Parts of the Ceremony. It is important to keep in mind that “ceremony music” is usually broken into three parts: the prelude, processional, and recessional.
The prelude music is what really sets the mood. This is the first music your guests will hear as they enter your ceremony space, so it should convey the feeling you want to impart. In general, it should be light, soft, and—unless you’re a regular in the society pages—unpretentious. Remember: It’s ambient, background music, not a concert, so volume is key. The prelude music should begin shortly before the guests start to arrive and last until the final guest is seated.
Music for the processional (that is, when all members of the wedding party enter) cues guests that your ceremony is about to begin and should quiet any chatter and have guests turning their attention to the aisle. Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major is a perennial favorite for processionals, but there are many others and this is a good place to show your individuality while choosing something that your party will look (and feel) good walking to. Cadence is extremely important here—be sure that it is not too slow, too fast, or too choppy or “marchy,” which may turn what should be a precious moment into an unintentionally humorous one. You may want to choose a different piece for the bride’s walk down the aisle and most couples do. Mendelsohn’s Wedding March never goes out of style, but you can consult with your wedding planner about this. If you plan to have a vocalist, the processional is a good place to do it. Whether you opt for a traditional tear-jerker (like Ave Maria) or something with a more bohemian or folky feel (think Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song (There Is Love)), be sure the vocalist and his or her range work with your chosen piece.
You’ve said “I do,” and now it’s time for a sigh of relief and a burst of joy. Your recessional music should convey both. Recessional music is meant to convey happiness and should be cheerful and bright. If you’re so inclined, this is the place in the ceremony to add a musical touch of whimsy.
5. Consider a Music Company. If you don’t have a planner or are uncomfortable choosing a soloist or ensemble yourself, you may want to opt for a service like gigmasters, which books thousands of musicians based on a variety of criteria, and includes music samples and customer reviews. Or, consider a full-service music company like Hal Prince Music & Entertainment or Maura & Co. Music, which will work with you to find the perfect soloist or ensemble for your taste, space, and budget.