The formalities and legalities of a wedding can be regarded as the “bone structure” of the ceremony. Without those legalities, without the correct words, documentation, certificates and authorities, the ceremony cannot be a legal one.
But the bare bones of such a ceremony can be – and ought to be – beautifully “dressed” with things that add to the meaningfulness and fascination of the ceremony. The very word “ceremony” reminds us that a wedding is one of the important occasions of one’s life, that it is something deserving all the pageantry and ritual that the couple may wish to include. This sense of something more than simply an official procedure can be expressed more informally, too – in which case the “ritual” is quite relaxed and with simplicity and charm.
Whether the marriage ceremony is formal or informal, whether it is traditional or modern, there is no doubt that beautifully chosen music adds to the atmosphere and character of the ceremony – and a first-class celebrant can help the couple to choose the music that best fits their occasion.
How Much Music Should We Have?
A marriage ceremony is not restricted to use only a set number of musical pieces. In fact, some weddings – usually elaborate ones – can include a quite astonishing amount of music. Some – very simple ones – might opt to include virtually no music. But my recommendation as an Authorised Marriage Celebrant is that the couple include a minimum of one piece, to be performed or played during the Signing of the Register.
Many wedding ceremonies also have music played as the bride walks down the aisle; this is called the Bride’s Processional. Equally many wedding ceremonies include music to be played as the bride and groom walk out together once the final words of the ceremony have been spoken; this is known as the Recessional.
These are not the only places in the ceremony where music may be played or performed. Before the ceremony begins, there may be music quietly played to set the mood or keep the guests entertained; hymns may be part of a religious marriage ceremony; more music may be included before the vows or after the vows; and so on. There really are no bars to having as much music as one wants, or as little music as one wants.
The most frequently used musical layout in a wedding ceremony is thus as follows:
Signing of the Register music
What Traditional Music Is Played At Weddings?
Both the Processional and the Recessional tend to be Wedding Marches – that is, pieces which have a graceful beat and ceremonial quality that adds to the atmosphere of a traditional wedding. A wide variety of pieces fall into this category; for example, the Wedding March from Wagner’s Lohengrin, pieces from Handel’s Water Music, the Pachelbel Canon in D, the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, virtually all Trumpet Voluntaries, to name but a few.
During the Signing of the Register, music by Mozart, Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Purcell, Monteverdi and many more can be used. The duration of this music should be at least 5 minutes.
Can Non-Classical Music Be Used In Weddings?
Couples may choose to include music from other cultures – Indian music, music from China or Japan, pop music from Italy or Volksmusik from Germany, for example. So much music can add quite a fascinating quality to the ceremony, and the sense of ceremony will not be diminished if the music is chosen for its meaningfulness to the couple.
Equally, the use of music not usually associated with weddings – rock and roll, country music, medieval music, any sort of music – can be used if the couple wishes. A first-class celebrant will be happy to explore whatever genre of music will be appropriate for the bridal couple, and can offer a multitude of suggestions.
Live Music Or Recorded Music?
Of course, the easiest (and least costly) method of including music in the ceremony is with the use of CDs. The Authorised Marriage Celebrant is able to use specially compiled CDs of music for the ceremony without breaching copyright, and of course will provide the audio equipment to enable the music CD to be heard by all the guests.
It is the celebrant’s responsibility to organise the CD in the case of recorded music being used in the ceremony.
If the couple wishes to have musicians performing live and/or a singer performing live during the ceremony, it can add a very special quality to the wedding. The music choices would usually be decided upon by the couple with the help and advice of the Authorised Marriage Celebrant, and the celebrant may liaise with the performers on behalf of the couple. Alternatively, the couple may wish to speak directly with the performers.
The responsibility of hiring performers is the couple’s. A first-class marriage celebrant will frequently have some excellent contacts with wonderful musicians who can do justice to the ceremony’s musical requirements, and may be able to offer recommendations or suggestions to help the couple make their decision.
Is Music Necessary For The Wedding Rehearsal?
Because a wedding rehearsal is designed to sort out any potential problems beforehand, usually with a complete run-through, it is highly recommended for the music to be part of the ceremony. If a CD is being used, the celebrant will arrive for the rehearsal with the CD and the PA system, to make sure about volume, placement of the speaker, time length of the pieces, and so on.
If live music is to be played during the ceremony, it’s strongly recommended that the musicians and singers be present at the rehearsal. They will need to know where they are placed for the ceremony, whether they are playing or singing loudly enough, at what points exactly they will be performing, and so on. To ensure that the ceremony runs as smoothly as possible, it is definitely worth having a complete run-through. The musicians and singers may charge an additional fee for this rehearsal, or it may be included in their fee; this is the responsibility of the couple.
Why Have Music?
The poet Longfellow said of music that it “is the universal language of mankind”. Robert Browning described music as something that banishes aloneness: “He who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.” Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables, said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Tolstoy described it as “the shorthand of emotion”. Anaïs Nin wrote that “Music melts all the separate parts of our bodies together”. And Beethoven – well, for him it was an incredible intoxication that gave meaning to life: “Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.”
Because of this sense of marriage between great truth and music, and our emotions and music, music plays an incontrovertible part in the lives of virtually every human being. It is especially important during ceremonies that define us; it heightens our emotions gives meaning to the moment.
A wedding ceremony is unquestionably made more momentous and lovely if music plays upon the strings of silence, enhancing the words that make each marriage real and unique. A first-class marriage celebrant will be aware not only of the music pieces that can be perfectly added to your ceremony, but also of the greatest performances of those music pieces, so that you will be left with a sense of something almost beyond feeling – where the vows of your marriage are clarified and distilled to the very essence of meaning, to be remembered for the rest of your lives together.