There are many daunting parts to planning a wedding. Choosing music is sometimes just another decision. So as a classical pianist who helps people make these sorts of decisions, I'm writing a comprehensive guide to choosing ceremony music. Part 1 will deal with basic guidelines to narrow down your selection. Parts 2 and 3 will walk you through lots of youtube clips to consider.
Now, this won't list every piece of classical sounding music ever written. There is SO MUCH music floating around, it is impossible to list it all. I have narrowed it down to Classical music (as opposed to pop music, rock, or jazz. For those of you paying attention in music appreciation classes, this includes Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and some select modern pieces). All this music can be played on the piano by the average wedding pianist and should sound right for the occasion.
But first, Part 1:
7 Tips for Planning Music for your Wedding Ceremony
1. You'll need a Processional
The processional is the part where everyone walks into the venue to start the show. You can have multiple little processionals. For example: one for the grandparents, one for the groomsmen, one for the bridesmaids, one for the bride. Or you can cut it down to just a few, say one for everyone who needs to enter and then one for the bride. The combination is up to you.
2. You'll need a Recessional
The recessional is when you leave after saying "I do". This is usually one long song so that everyone can get out. If you want a pretty traditional playlist with something crazy at the end, this is where you would put it.
3. You might want something in the middle
There are some parts of the wedding ceremony that could use some background music or a special song. These are usually the "unity" symbols- tying a knot, pouring sand, lighting candles, signing the paperwork, etc. This would be a good chance to have a special song that you both love, regardless of time period. However, this one is really optional.
4. Length of the Song
Walking down the aisle can take anywhere from 15 seconds (in a super tiny church or hotel) to a minute. It probably won't take longer than that unless your flower girl has a nervous meltdown or you have a really long entrance at an outdoor venue. So when you are listening to songs, consider that only a tiny bit of it will be played. If you listen to the beginning and think, "I don't really like this part" you can always ask your pianist to start in a different spot. Or if you only like the beginning, you can just ask for just that to be played.
For example, at my wedding, I walked down the aisle to the first 30 seconds of this Ballade by Chopin: https://youtu.be/7tmQSWuYwrI If you keep listening beyond that, it gets a little sad and melodramatic. However the opening itself was exactly what I wanted.
If you want more of a song played, you can always combine groups walking in to a certain processional or just wait until the song is finished to start the next one.
Recessionals as usually played in their entirety, but don't have to be.
5. Choosing Your Instruments
All of the songs that I list in the following blogs can be played on piano (you'll notice that all of the recordings are for piano) . However, if you want some combination of piano and strings, or an organ, or a different sound, most of these pieces can be arranged to work. Work with your instrumentalists so they know what you want. They might also have some favorite songs to suggest to you!
6. The Case against Recorded Music
You may think, "a pianist is expensive, I'll just use this recording". I would STRONGLY advise against that (and not just because I am a pianist!). There are too many problems waiting to happen with recorded music. Say you are running late, and the prelude recording runs out of music and goes on to the processional to early. Or the recording won't start and you walk down to silence. Or better yet, when you get to the front of the aisle, the recording is just abruptly stopped with no regards to whether or not it was a good stopping point.
If you hire a good pianist instead, they will tailor the music to whatever is happening at the very moment. If you are late, no problem, they'll just keep playing. They'll make the processional fit perfectly to the length of the entrance. If your flower girl gets scared and takes 3 times as long to get down the aisle as anticipated, they'll cover it and keep going. Good background music makes those awkward moments endearing instead of terrifying. Hire a real life person who can make the difference.
7. Prelude and Postlude
Finally, the other music. Usually if you hire a pianist (or any instrumentalist), they'll play music before and after the ceremony for you too. If you have any requests, let them know. Otherwise, be nice and let them choose this music for you. They will draw from a wide range of repertoire that they already know and fill all the awkward silences. If you hand them a huge list of music you want them to play instead, be aware that they will probably charge you more to cover the amount of time it will take them to learn all the music. A large part of their job Is performed before your special day even happens, but when it finally arrives, they will make it worth the money.
Stay tuned for second part of this series coming soon!