So you have booked the wedding venue, hired the photographer, chosen the flowers and caterers. You may have even booked your wedding musician - or are at least thinking about it. There are 1001 other details you will also be thinking of, but one of the most important for many people is the choice of music - which music should you have for your ceremony? How much music is needed and when should it all be played?
As a professional wedding guitarist and pianist / musician I get asked these questions by everyone who hires me to play for their ceremony. The first thing to say is that it is always an individual conversation - there is no standard for what to have your wedding musician play and when and you will most likely want to spend some time thinking about it in detail. Make sure you communicate well with your chosen wedding musician on this - a good one will mention it early on in the process.
Generally speaking the main moments for music during the Ceremony are:
ii. Bridal Entry
iii. Signing of the Register
iv. Exit (Recessional)
I'll try to give some general guidelines from my own 25+years of experience playing for weddings.
Aka - 'Ice breaker music'. As your family and friends arrive at the venue there is always something of an energetic tension in the air - perhaps not everyone knows each other from each side of both families, some people are often saying hello for the very first time. The bride won't be there to make introductions - that is often left to the groom, who will likely also be feeling a little nervous and will have many people to talk to.
A little soothing music played during this time as guests gather and take their seats goes a very long way. It fills those awkward silences and gives some 'ear candy' to make the moment easier. Something gentle and melodic is generally needed but its usually best to not choose anything too 'special' or instantly recognizable - that would be best left until later. I personally like to improvise around gentle ideas as that will instinctively match the mood of the people in the room, but gentle classical tunes or a few easy listening tunes / instrumental love songs also work very well. For a civil ceremony the registrars may ask for a list of tunes in advance, as they need to be sure that the music has no religious content.
By far the most important part of the music - and also the shortest! You will remember this moment for the rest of your life so it is important to pick something that really appeals or means something to you. Many couples these days choose an instrumental version of a tune that is special to them, perhaps a famous love song or movie theme arranged for piano or guitar (see my blog on this subject here). Or perhaps you have always pictured walking down the aisle to a specific tune, like The Wedding March (Handel), Canon in D (Pachelbel), Cavatina (Myers) or Ave Maria (Bach), or another well known wedding-related tune. There are a few others in the Spanish Guitar repertoire that are very popular choices (e.g. Spanish Romance, Concerto D'Aranjuez).
Remember though that in a small ceremony room it can take only a few seconds to arrive at the altar and you won't want to wait for long when you arrive for a whole piece of music to finish playing before beginning the ceremony. This does vary though, depending on whether you plan to have bridesmaids, flower girls / boys, maids of honour etc preceding the bride on her way in, which can extend the musical time considerably - make sure you communicate this to your musician so they can plan accordingly. Even with this the required musical time is still likely to be less than one minute. So you will need just a short snippet of your chosen tune as there won't be time for the whole piece. It can of course be played in full later during the drinks for example when you should have more time to enjoy it.
If you are only having a short part of a song played then you should consider exactly which part of the song you do want to hear - there's not much point the musician just playing the 20 second introduction and then having to stop. There will probably be one part of the song that stands out most for you - the chorus or the main theme for example? Over the years I have learned countless tunes for this part of the wedding ceremony, many of which I had not previously heard - someone's favourite album track, or a theme from a movie that I have not seen etc. We have always decided in advance which section should be played by referring to a youtube video to avoid any misunderstandings.
Signing of the Register
This happens straight after the most emotional part of the ceremony - the intensity has peaked but feelings are still running high in the room. There is the feeling that the important part (the exchange of vows and rings) has just happened and the tension is easing slightly. On average the signing can take anything from 2 -10 minutes so it is worth having 2 or 3 chosen tunes ready to play. You will have time to hear this and you will doubtless remember it for years to come so it is a great time for tunes that you really like or that have special meaning to you. I always recommend to my clients that they have a listen to my playlists to see if anything in particular suggests itself to them and most people can usually find something, but if not then I can easily make an arrangement of almost any song for a small extra fee, and people always appreciate having this created just for them.
A joyous moment as the couple leave the ceremony room to applause and cheers. These are your first steps together as a married couple, so the music should be uptempo and cheerful. Be aware that you (the Bridal couple) will likely be outside the doors in a matter of seconds so again, you won't hear much of
the music before you are outside sipping something bubbly. The cheers die away soon after the couple have left but it can take a while for guests to file out, depending on the size of the room etc. One piece played in full is usually right for this moment.
Then of course the day moves on and for the musician the work (or fun) has just begun - the longer drinks reception / wedding breakfast are still ahead and guests are waiting for the music to start - but that is the subject for a future blog!