A long one today, as I am in a somewhat unique position to address the topic of music in your wedding ceremony. Not only am I a Celebrant, which has given me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of choices of ceremony music, but I am a musician and composer (pen name: Lois Brownsey). Here are some tips when considering who to hire and what to do for 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. I’ve actually had a DJ fail to play the recessional music because he was not paying attention!
And similarly, if you have a band playing your reception, one or two players from the group may be able to play the ceremony. If you want a different style of music for the ceremony and the reception – be sure the musicians can handle it. Although there are some wonderful small ensembles that are just perfect for ceremonies.
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. Music dissipates outside, without reflective surfaces, 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 amplification.
Putting the ceremony musicians at front with the bridal party can be very effective. Place them just a bit off to the side – it will provide a nice visual as well as having the music coming from the same direction as everything else.
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, or Gypsy music, evocative of Eastern European backgrounds, can be terrific. World music is more popular than ever, and the possibilities abound. African, Latin, Middle Eastern – it’s all accessible. 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!
I often request music to be played quietly during a ritual. It adds a wonderful feeling to a wine sharing, handfasting, or unity candle. It creates ambience, and fills in those quiet parts helping everyone feel more relaxed.
Featuring a live performance in the ceremony can be tricky. Unless they are undeniably 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, perhaps, that you wouldn’t dream of having them to miss the ceremony by ‘working’ it. But, if you can’t deny them, you may consider asking if they would perform at the party instead. Remember, there is so much focus, intensity, 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 next American Idol 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 it would be – something that was completely out of my musical style and beyond my technical skill. I was very 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.” So express yourself with music!