First a little story: A few weeks ago, I officiated a wedding with a lovely string ensemble playing for the ceremony. I mentioned that the couple had a wine sharing planned and asked if they could play during it. Naturally, they readily agreed, and it enhanced the ritual so much. This was the week when we had several domestic terrorist attacks, and afterwards, as I was driving home, my heart was heavy thinking about those mail bombs, mass shootings and murders. Knowing there was little I could do at that moment, I remembered to put on some music, and it lifted me just enough.
That is the power of music and why it is important to think about music for your wedding. Think about it in depth, and (as they say) ‘out of the box.’ Music is powerful and touches our emotions and moves us in ways that words cannot.
I am in a somewhat unique position to address this topic because, not only am I a Celebrant, which has given me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of choices for ceremony music, but in an earlier period in my life I was a musician and composer.
Here are some of my personal tips when considering your wedding ceremony music.
If you are using a DJ for your reception, he or she may be able to provide music for your ceremony for a reasonable additional fee. Often DJ’s have a smaller set-up just for ceremonies, and that is perfect when the ceremony and reception are at the same location. But be clear about your needs and who you hire. I actually once had a DJ fail to play the recessional music because he was not paying attention! Read those reviews!
Similarly, if you have a band playing your reception, one or two players from the group may be able to play the ceremony.
With live music, amplification and volume issues are crucial. When we think about bands and volume, we usually think about them being too loud, but at a large, outdoor wedding ceremony, the opposite could occur. Without reflective surfaces, music dissipates, and quieter instruments may not be heard. I’m sure you would like your guests actually hear the music, so let the musicians know the situation. Most times they can use some amplification.
It’s almost never done, but I think putting the ceremony musicians at front, near the attendants, can be very effective. Place them off to the side – it will provide a nice visual as well as having the music coming from the same direction as everything else, which I like for some reason. But they may require a covered space, in case of dampness or rain, because for many instruments, the sun will negatively affect them, as would dampness of course.
If you are going for something a little more adventurous, consider bagpipes! Or why not have a sax player or fiddler lead you down the aisle? Ethnic music, such as Klezmer for a Jewish wedding, Celtic for Irish heritage, the many types of Latin music or even Gypsy music, evocative of Eastern European backgrounds, can be terrific.
With recorded music comes unlimited choices. You might even use different styles for your processional and recessional. Classical for the processional and a pop tune for the recessional, for example. Lyrics (even in an instrumental version) can express something humorous or personal. Think of your guests having that ‘ah-ha’ moment when they figure out the words to the song they’re hearing!
As I already mentioned, I often request music to be played quietly during a ritual. It truly adds a wonderful feeling to a wine sharing, unity candle, sand ceremony or other actions where there is no speaking. Music creates ambience and fills in those quiet parts helping everyone feel more relaxed and signaling the mood. That’s why you will no doubt have ‘guest arrival’ music for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before the walk down the aisle.
Featuring a live performance right in the ceremony can be tricky. Unless they are undeniably, amazingly talented, I don’t recommend it. When a friend or family member volunteers, and you don’t think their skills are up to it, it can become very awkward. Try to graciously decline a well-intended offer if you feel hesitant. Trust yourself. Tell them that you wouldn’t dream of having them to miss the ceremony by ‘working’ it. But, if you can’t deny them, consider asking if they would perform at the party instead. Remember, there is so much intense focus, and quiet attention at the ceremony – the pressure can be too much for an amateur.
On the other hand, if you want a friend or relative to perform you should ask them. Maybe the latest upcoming star is your cousin! It is an honor to be asked to participate in someone’s wedding. However, find out what they would be comfortable playing. While a musician may have achieved a level of proficiency and sound great, don’t ask them to play something out of their area of expertise. From very personal experience I can tell you how difficult that is. I was once asked to sing and play at a wedding and was then informed of what song they chose; it was something that was completely out of my musical style and beyond my technical skill. I was embarrassed, to say the least!
Whatever you select for ceremony music, it will add beauty and joy to your wedding day. Aldous Huxley said, ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’
And Leonard Bernstein wisely said: ‘Music can name the un-nameable and communicate the unknowable.’
— Lois Heckman is a certified Celebrant practicing in the Poconos. She writes about creating meaningful weddings, focusing on ceremony, ritual, and diverse traditions. Follow her on Instagram and facebook @LoisHeckmanCelebrant and on www.LoisHeckman.com