How to choose wedding ceremony music, part 1: the wedding party and bride processional

I often get questions from brides and grooms, asking me how to choose appropriate processional music, something like, hey, how long should the song be, is classical or pop best, or even something like can you play “XYZ” song that is not in your repertoire list? Or even something more general like what IS a processional anyway. Before answering any of these questions, it is important first to define a processional (it’s the point when someone walks up the aisle towards the officiant, priests etc. Then the next question to ask is WHICH processional are you talking about, as there can be several. Though not always, there are two processionals: one for the wedding party (consisting of the bridesmaids and parents) and a separate processional for the bride. Though, again, there are many variables. The first question I ask couples is what mood do you want to create? Once we have an idea of that we can then look at the size of the wedding, the location, the size of the ensemble they have booked, the length of the aisle etc. There are lots of things to think about and figure out, and with years of experience, we enjoy helping our clients create a memorable wedding ceremony music and making the whole process fun! Very rarely, couples have said that they want to be surprised, and have us choose all the ceremony music, but as I mentioned this is a rare occurrence, something that is not common at all. Let’s look at a few different more common scenarios to see just a few of the options available, and how we can help orchestrate, plan and customize the music to help create a ceremony that you and your guests will remember for a lifetime.

 SCENARIO 1: Imagine that you have a small micro wedding, with perhaps a maid of honor and a bridesmaid, how would you choose music for that scenario? In this case, we often suggest just one song be performed. And again, this is where our expertise and professionalism really come into play. What we often do is ask clients what part of the song is their favourite? Often this is the chorus of the song. What can we do to get a really great sense of the song in question, while also making the brides entrance much more the focal point of the song? Often, we will begin at the start of the song (or another point that the couple has agreed on) and play this portion for the wedding party, then expertly and deftly skipping ahead to the chorus for the bride. This type of transition and custom performance can only take place with expert arrangements (which we love to create) and more importantly expert musicians, who can communicate and work very well together. Once the bride has reached the front, we generally continue playing for a few seconds before ending at a natural spot in the song, or even fading out seamlessly, depending again on preference and timing.

Wedding Party: A Thousand Years (intro)

Bride: A Thousand Years (chorus)

SCENARIO 2: Imagine a medium sized wedding, with a wedding party of 6-10 people in total and the bride. In this case we would often perform two songs—one for the wedding party and one for the bride. Sounds simple enough. But now, the question HOW to choose the music for these two very different, though connected parts of the wedding ceremony comes to the forefront. My advice to clients is that the bride’s processional should be the standout moment, and the bridesmaids a little less so. Think of being at a restaurant for lunch: a soup /salad and a sandwich is a great combination because they complement each other—who orders two sandwiches? The same goes for the music. If the bride’s processional is pop, I often recommend something classical, or perhaps lesser known or even music with a slightly slower pace than the bride’s music, as again, the music for the bride must stand out. While scenarios 1 and 2 are the most common, let’s move on to scenario 3.

Here is an example of the music selections in Scenario 2:

Wedding Party: Sheep May Safely Graze

Bride: Can’t Help Falling in Love

SCENARIO 3 a non-denominational wedding ceremony. Perhaps you are getting married at a winery or golf course, at a non-religious ceremony. How does this affect the choice of music for the processional, and the ceremony in general? The short answer is that it does not-you are able to choose anything that your heart and imagination desires. Also keep in mind that while we have one of the largest lists of pop and modern music in Canada, if there is something that is not on our list, we can most likely create a custom arrangement and learn new songs, at a very small additional charge. Here is an example of this scenario:

Wedding party: Beatles: Here There and Everywhere

Bride: Custom arrangement, XYZ song from the 1 minute to the 1:45 mark.

This brings us to another point—how long should the music be? That depends. Most processionals tend to be about a minute in length, though this can vary quite a bit. If you are getting married at a tiny Chapel, it is quite different than getting married at a huge Cathedral. The same goes for if you are getting married at a winery, and the wedding party and bride only have a short walk to the front, or they could also have an extremely long walk.  Again, this is where our experience comes into play. If the bride and groom choose an existing song in our repertoire, we will be able to fit the song or end at an appropriate point as previously discussed. If the client requests a custom arrangement, we will most often suggest selections about a 1 minute or less section of the music, and again, we can tailor that to the length of the processional.

Scenario 4: a large Church ceremony. This presents a few interesting possibilities for processional music. The first thing that we recommend is to ask the Church about their policies regarding music. Some churches will allow couples to choose pop and classical music, while some allow only classical, and others allow only religious classical music, and have an even narrower list for couples to choose from. As well, some churches require that you use their organist alone, or in conjunction with other musicians like Duo d’Amore. Let’s imagine that your church requires the use of their organist, as this option can be unique. We love working with organists, and this allows for an even grander and more varied sound throughout the wedding ceremony. In our experience, the organist will most often perform music during the prelude before the ceremony starts (more on that later) as well as during any intercessional music (such as hymns etc.) Our string ensemble will most often either trade off music during the ceremony, where the strings will play for the celebration of the gifts, and the organist will play for the offering or vice versa. And during some of the high points in the ceremony, such as the processional, we will often play together. Another important piece of information is that when we play with the organist our setup location is most often right next to the organist in the choir loft. For us this gives us good visual communication, not to mention a birds-eye view of the ceremony. For your guests (as they can’t see us) it gives them a very unexpected and welcome surprise, as the music really carries from the balcony throughout the church.

Here is an example of what a Church might have on their list of appropriate processional music:

Pachelbel: Canon

Purcell: Trumpet Tune

Mouret: Rondeau

Clarke: Trumpet Voluntary

Bach: Air on the G string

Wagner: Bridal Chorus

Here is how the beginning portion of the ceremony could look if we are working with an organist:

Prelude: 15 minutes before the ceremony (organist)

Wedding party: Bach Air (strings only)

Bride: Pachelbel Canon (strings and organ together)

Scenario 5. Sometimes there are 3 processionals. Often, the groom and groomsmen are already standing at the front (in silence, or the music from the prelude before the wedding is just finishing) but again, this is not the case. It is important to remember, if you have a vision of what you would like your wedding ceremony to look like (or more accurately sound like) we can generally make that happen and offer great advice along the way making sure things run, smoothly and efficiently. Here is an example of how that might look:

Groomsmen: Game of Thrones Theme

Wedding party: Falling Slowly

Bride: A Thousand Years

Now let’s move on to a slightly different, but related topic. How does the choice of ensemble affect you must choices during the processional? As we offer many different combinations of instruments from solo violin and cello players to small ensembles such as the violin and cello duo and trio, all the way up to a string quartet, how does the choice on ensemble impact the choice of the music selections. Again, that depends on a few things. The first thing to consider is will the song sound like it is supposed to. If you are having a very intimate ceremony, a solo performer is often a great choice. The music can range from beautiful solo Bach cello suites to upbeat violin pop music. I would consult with us about your music selections, as some songs sound fantastic with solo performers and some really need at least two players. Some music (such as At Last) requires 3 or 4 players, and much of both classical and pop music sounds wonderful with 2 players, as in our most popular ensemble, the violin and cello duo.

To sum things up. The best way to choose processional and ceremony music in general is to have a great idea or concept of the mood that you would like to create. If you have some song suggestions, even better. Then clear these selections with us and the venue (as some venues like churches may not allow everything). Once this is in place, we can start to look at specifics, such as maybe you don’t want the entire song played, maybe just the beginning on a loop, or just the Chorus. There are many options that we can suggest, some that you might not have thought of, and we love bringing this kind of expertise and professionalism to all our customer service and performance.

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