The Wedding Series – Music From the Prelude to the Last Dance

To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable. ~ Aaron Copland

Music enhances the mood and celebration throughout your wedding. As with everything else you have planned, your music should fit your style and level of formality.

Source of Your Music

Whether you are considering an orchestra, a five-piece band or a DJ, the source of your music will depend on the level of formality of your wedding, your budget, lead time for booking, any restrictions imposed by your wedding venue for both the ceremony and reception, and of course the size of your venue and number of guests. (As usual, unless I indicate so I am not recommending or endorsing any particular vendor).

Some houses of worship may impose rules about the kind of music and songs are acceptable, or there might be acoustical, technological or other physical limitations that control which instruments can be used. Moreover, you’ll have to determine how much actual space you’ll have for live musicians and their instruments, and whether your wedding venue can provide them or you have to hire your own. As well, you’ll want to keep your music in tune (pun intended) with the style and spirit of your celebration, whether it’s very formal or very casual or somewhere in between.

You’ll want to take into account the flow of your music from the arrival of the first guest to the last dance at the reception. Decide whether you want to vary your musical selections to please the various ages of your guests, whether you are having a full-blown affair with dancing or an elegant low-key afternoon tea. Whichever source you select, be sure you vet your vendor(s) well so there are no unpleasant surprises on your special day.

The Ceremony

Whether you are planning a religious, especially interfaith, or secular ceremony, check with your officiant, wedding planner or venue manager so you understand the parameters of the musical selections and whether your selected house of worship or other venue will provide or arrange for the organ, piano, band, DJ or other musical sources, as well as a choir or cantor. Discuss costs and suggested donations. If you must hire your own musicians, discuss the guidelines and recommendations in making the arrangements. Make your decisions by balancing your wishes against practicalities.

Depending on the style and size of your wedding, you may choose from a range of music, including classical, popular or folksy. Let’s look at the overall ceremony.

The four parts of the ceremony include:

  • The Prelude – As guests are arriving, usually for the first 30-60 minutes, set the mood with something upbeat, such as Vivaldi’s “Autumn From the Four Seasons,” or a more solemn and romantic piece such as this gorgeous instrumental by The Piano Guys of “A Thousand Years,” by Christina Perri and David Hodges.
  • The Processional – The music switches to the Processional as the mother-of-the bride is seated, the officiant is standing at the altar, the groom and best man enter and take their positions, and the bride and her father/escort and attendants are in place to begin their procession down the aisle. As this is the most important and meaningful moment of the entire wedding event, your music should be selected accordingly. Two popular pieces are Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major,” both of which set the right tone between sweetness and solemnity, lift hearts and unstopper the tears.
  • The Exchange of Vows Hiring someone or inviting a family member or close friend to sing is a lovely addition and inclusive gesture. Some popular songs for this moment include the beautiful wedding hymn, “O Perfect Love,” words and music by Dorothy Blomfield and Joseph Barnby, respectively, as well as the folksier, “The Wedding Song (There Is Love),” by Noel Paul Stookey of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
  • The Recessional – The mood of the recessional typically is thrilling and triumphant; popular pieces to express this include Mendelssohn’s “The Wedding March,” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (we used this piece for the processional at our wedding) and Jeremiah Clarke’s “Trumpet Voluntary” (we used this for our recessional).

The Reception

If dancing will be a main feature of your reception, the bride and groom should dance to their favorite song if they have one or select something that reflects their relationship. Other pieces should continue the celebratory mood but can be a mix of sentiment, fun and romance. Please refer to these previous entries for the etiquette and protocol of the first and most important dances and some music suggestions:

Here Come The Bridesmaids
The Best Man
The Groomsmen
Mother of the Bride
Mother of  the Groom
Father of the Bride
Father of the Groom
The Stepparents

Make sure that your music is appropriate to the reception style and that it is not so loud that is overpowers conversation or so soft that dancers can’t hear it.

DJ or DIY?

When you are on a budget, doing your music yourself is a temptation. We did it for our wedding, which was small and casual; in addition, my groom was highly knowledgeable about music, had an extensive library of recordings, possessed state-of-the-art equipment and was technologically adept. (You are invited to visit Ted’s Website to see what I mean.) He pre-recorded our playlist and our venue allowed him to set up everything for both the ceremony and reception, and he had help. Our music plan went off without a hitch, at least as I remember it! If the stars are aligned for you along these lines, and your wedding is small and casual enough to allow for it, by all means do it yourself.

However, if you aren’t 110% sure you can pull off a DIY, hiring a DJ is an option. It’s advisable that you witness your prospective DJ in action to make sure he or she is the one for you. If this is not possible, at the very least get DJ recommendations from a trusted source — your wedding planner, caterer or other professional who has had experience with DJs and has a stake in the success of your wedding. Once you’ve hired someone, if your DJ has never played at your wedding venue make arrangements for her or him to check the sound system that will be used to avoid any acoustical or technical glitches on the big day.

Questions and Contracts

It’s important that all questions be answered up front — what is the cost, how long will they play, how many breaks do they need and how long will they be, can they play all the songs and type of music you want, are the actual musicians or DJ that you have seen or met with be the ones who will actually play on your wedding day, how flexible are they, what happens in case of an emergency (especially important in the case of a single DJ or performer), etc.

And, as with any vendor you hire, get in writing everything on which you have agreed — cost, music (including the “do not play list”), timeframe (will they be playing at the ceremony and reception), cancellation policy, emergency replacements, attire you want the musicians or DJ to wear, liability insurance and so on.  Leave nothing to chance.

Whichever type of reception you have, music – live or recorded – always adds a festive and elegant dimension to your celebration.

Until next time,



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