A typical Christian wedding can be divided into four main sections: the ceremony, pre-meal drinks, wedding breakfast, and evening reception.

About half of the weddings I come across have the ceremony in a church, so this means that if they do require me to provide live music it will be during the drinks and before the meal and the wedding breakfast. Everyone’s requirements are different so don’t be afraid to discuss any special requirements with whoever your hiring.

As far as the choice of specific pieces of music is concerned, the only part of the wedding that you really have to think about is the wedding ceremony.

The Ceremony

The Church Ceremony

I’m not going to go into any detail with the choice of music for a church ceremony–there are so many religious denominations which all have their differences. A church wedding is easier from the music point of view in that you very seldom have to provide someone to perform your choice of music–unlike the civil ceremony. However, you won’t have a problem with a church service–you’ll be able to discuss everything to the finest detail with the relevant cleric and the resident organist if there is one.

The Civil Ceremony

One thing that has become popular over recent years is the civil wedding ceremony and I think that this is the reason that more and more musicians are booked for weddings each year. At one time you had to go to a registry office to have a civil ceremony. Things have changed as so many hotels and other venues have been able to apply for a license to hold marriage ceremonies on their own premises. The main advantage to a civil wedding in a hotel is that everything to do with the marriage can be carried out at the same place. That means less travelling and less hassle for everyone. Although you will have to sort out the music for a civil ceremony yourself there is a bonus in that if you choose live music for the service, the musicians can provide music for the pre-meal drinks and for the wedding breakfast itself–thus killing three birds with one stone. Your specific choice of music should be discussed with the musicians well before the event and they should be able to provide you with some ideas. If you don’t want to pick each individual piece of music for the proceedings then just give whoever is involved an idea of the style of music you would like or maybe a composer. For a civil ceremony you can have any music you want as long as neither the title or the lyrics have any reference to religion. Most couples prefer to have music of a classical vein for the ceremony and to have something lighter for the rest of the day.

The civil ceremony has four main part’s, as far as a musician is concerned, and they are:

  1. The gathering of the congregation (sometimes called “the prelude”)
  2. The procession
  3. The signing of the register (sometimes called “the interlude”)
  4. The recession

The Gathering of the Congregation

This section doesn’t really have a time span, so when a couple does select music for this part of the ceremony, they must accept that either you won’t be able to have all of your chosen pieces, or more frequently, the performer will have to play extra music of his choice.

The Procession

The next section is the entrance of the bride and traditionally this is carried out to Wagner’s Bridal March. Although most people stick to the Wagner, you can have any music you like. The one thing you must consider when looking for an alternative is that it doesn’t take long for the bride to walk down the aisle. I think that it is wiser to stick to the Bridal March.

The Signing of the Register

There never seems to be a problem with this part. A piece of up to five minutes is usually fine and anything goes really. I suppose that if you did choose something that was too long there would come a point where the musician would have to stop playing–however, the piece would have to be excessively long for this to occur.

The Recession

This is where everyone leaves the place of the wedding ceremony and traditionally this was always carried out to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. In this day and age wedding couples seem to request everything but the Wedding March. Anything seems to be appropriate for the recession and there isn’t a problem with the length of the music. As soon as the last person has gone; the musician or musicians finish.

That’s it! The ceremony is over and everyone can start the celebration.

Pre Meal Drinks

After the ceremony everyone usually starts making a lot of noise. They have so much to say because they’ve had to keep so quiet throughout all the serious bits. I said earlier that you needn’t concern yourself about the music after the ceremony but it is a good idea to discuss the style of music you are looking for and maybe give them a couple of requests.

The Wedding Breakfast

At one time I used to consider it a novelty if a wedding had live music for the wedding breakfast–now you often get jazz pianists, string quartets, harpists or even flamenco guitarists. It’s always nice to have music while everyone is eating and chatting as long as the music isn’t intrusive. Most of the time musicians just go with the crowd: playing more mellow music if everyone’s quiet and the more lively stuff if everyone starts making more noise. One of the most important thing to be aware of is whether the music is interfering with the conversation of the wedding guests: if it is, then there’s something wrong. For most weddings you need the music to carry on right up to the speeches and that’s where it finishes until the evening reception.

The Evening Reception

Most people will opt for a disc jockey at this point, but there are other alternatives. In a sense a marriage is the merging of two families and for most of the guests there will be a large number of people at the wedding who are complete strangers. I think that the wedding day should be geared to making things easy for everyone to get to know each other; unfortunately a DJ doesn’t always achieve this and as disc jockeys are getting more expensive, live music is rapidly becoming a viable option. Very often a couple fail to realize that quite a large percentage of the guests are going to be elderly and probably won’t be into the latest music trends so your choice of music should cater for these people. Also, the term disc jockey seems to be synonymous with high volume levels so this is something else that you ought to take into consideration when you make your final choice.

Whichever way you go; you won’t please everyone. If it is a big wedding you’ll probably have to hire the services of a disc jockey or a function band, but make sure that whichever choice you make; that they can provide music to cover most tastes. If the wedding is a small affair you will be able to be a bit more adventurous as there won’t be the same pressure to have the dance floor packed with their people in their suits and party frocks. You will be able to try something a bit more subtle–maybe something a little bit more specialized. A soul band is a great idea, but don’t expect them to be able to play anything–let them stick to what they do best If it is a small wedding there is a better chance of knowing you guests more intimately and maybe you could find something more to their taste.

There is a lot of scope in what you choose. Here are a few ideas:

  • Soul band
  • Jazz quartet
  • Steel band
  • Salsa
  • Ceilidh
  • Reggae

One of the best weddings I’ve ever been to had a ceilidh band and they filled the floor for the entire evening. The bizarre thing about having a ceilidh is that hardly anybody likes the music but it’s main advantage is that you don’t need to be able to dance in order to get up and join in. There is usually someone to show you each dance and there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Another plus is that you usually swap partners which helps get people together and helps with the merging of the two families.

I suppose to sum up this last section I would say that the obvious choice of a disc jockey isn’t necessarily the best. Think about the numerous alternatives and maybe you’ll make your wedding a little bit different from the norm and more memorable in the process.

Article Written By

Eugene Portman
UK Jazz Pianist
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