How to choose wedding ceremony music, part 2: the signing of the register

After reading part 1 of our How to Choose Wedding Ceremony Music” series, we move on to the net part of the wedding ceremony where music is typically performed. Compared to the processional music (as the wedding party and bride enter) and the recessional music, where the bride and groom exit the ceremony space after being declared married, the signing is probably the most understood part of the ceremony, and perhaps the most difficult to choose music for. I’m going to help you with that, and give several suggestions on not only how to choose music but especially, how to choose music that has the right fit and feel for the signing portion of the ceremony, and that makes sense within the overall arc of the ceremony structure, and also helps to accentuate the other music in the ceremony.

The signing is the point in the wedding where the bride, groom, witnesses and officiant sign the marriage licence. Compared to the bridesmaids and bridal processional and the recessional, which tend to be more upbeat in character, the music for the signing is a great time to slow things down, and take a breather. I occasionally receive emails from clients wanting the signing music to be very upbeat, but upbeat signing music, actually tends to take away from the arc of the ceremony and put a slight damper on the recessional music. Let’s take a look at an example:

Wedding party: Falling Slowly

Bride: A Thousand Years

Signing: ???

Recessional: Viva la Vida

Here we have  classic pop music scenario with a slow rendition of falling slowly, followed by the more upbeat A Thousand Years (let’s pretend that we are playing the chorus for the bride). We also see that there is very fun and upbeat recessional, Viva la Vida.  What might be a good choice for the signing here? Well. That depends. Two things to think about before choosing signing music are:

  1. How many people will be signing the documents?
  2. Will part of the documents be filled out in advance?

For the first question, it is helpful to figure out in advance how many people will be signing the documents, as the greater number of people the more music you might need. Typically, in addition to the bride and groom and officiant, there are also 1 or 2 witnesses.

To address the second question, it is helpful to ask your officiant if some of the signing document will be filled out in advance, Because the document includes names, addresses and signatures,  and because like all documents the exact spot where you have to fill things out can be hard to find at the best of times, even more so when you are filling it in in public surrounded by an audience, this information is useful for everyone involved. Ok, so let’s say that we have the bride, groom, officiant and two witnesses, how do we go about choosing music? First, take my advice and think about a song with a slower tempo, or speed. This will keep everyone relaxed and calm, not just your guests but also everyone signing the documents. Secondly, think about choosing something classical. Many clients express to me that they are interested in adding a classical or traditional touch to the ceremony, but are not sure about how to make that happen, and the signing is definitely one of the best places for classical music to be included in the wedding ceremony, and it does not have to be a religious ceremony for a classical song to work its magic.

How long should the song be?

This is another question that I get asked quite a bit, and I always say, choose 1 classical song or 2 slower pop songs. As we mentioned regarding the length of the signing depending on how many people are signing and what has already been filled out on the form, I always say the more music the better. Signings can be short just a few minutes all the way up to 8 or even 10 minutes long. You would be surprised at the number of times where the signing pen suddenly stops working, or the papers have blown all over the place if it is outdoor ceremony. So choose more music then you think you will need.  If the musicians don’t have to play all the music before the signing is finished, that is the best scenario, much better then repeating music over and over until the signing is complete. Having live musicians that can watch what is happening and end at the appropriate point is perfect.

What do the musicians do during the signing?

As I mentioned, we are watching for the end of the signing, and just like the processional music, we are able to tailor our music to fit the signing perfectly. Often the last person to sign the documents is the officiant, so once they are finished and walk back to the centre aisle (as the signing table is most often either to the right or the left of the aisle), we use this time to do two things: find a suitable ending spot to the music, and quickly get ready for the recessional, which often happens just moments after the signing of the documents.

What are some examples of classical signing music?

Here is a short list of classical music that works particularly well during the signing of the register. To listen to these, take a look at our samples on the website.

Bach: Air on the G string

Bach: Arioso

Bach: Sheep May Safely Graze

These three selections by Bach are all wonderful for the signing—they have the right speed, and feel that really makes the recessional music stand out, setting a calm relaxed mood.

Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

Unlike the other selections by Bach, this is a great choice if you would like something a little more upbeat but still traditional.

Pachelbel: Canon

Most commonly used as processional music for the wedding party or the bride, Pachelbel Canon is not a traditional choice for the signing, but is a good fit it you would like to add a classical element to the ceremony that everyone will recognize. As this music is not religious, it also works well for a non-denominational ceremony. The other plus is that when Pachelbel Canon is performed for the processional, as musicians, we almost never get a chance to perform it in its entirety, and the guests also don’t get a chance to hear the whole piece of music, so playing it during the signing give you and your guests an opportunity to hear much of the music that is not normally performed.

Meditation from Thais

This is all about the violin.  Meditation from Thais adds a romantic a touch to the signing, and is one of our favourites to perform. The interplay between the violin and cello makes this sound much more full sounding than expected.

Vivaldi: Largo from the Four Seasons

Super cute and intimate. This would be a great choice for a smaller, cozy wedding. The violin leads here with a gentle melody with the cello accompanies by playing pizzicato (plucking the strings.) A true classic.

What are some pop examples?

There are so many pop options! Think Signed, Sealed, Delivered, or something a bit slower such as A Thousand Years, Photograph, Falling Slowly, What A Wonderful World—really many songs will work, as long as they are not too update, as you don’t want to steal the thunder from the recessional music. As well, as signings can take up to 8 minutes, we recommend choosing two pop songs. If one is more upbeat than the other, we recommend that the more upbeat song gets performed first, again to create a better jumping off point for the recessional. It is also worth mentioning that we may not need to play the second song, b due to timing, but is always a good idea for us to have a fall-back option if the signing does take a little longer than expected.

Can you choose a hybrid of pop and Classical?

Yes! This is a really interesting option, and one that we are seeing more and more. A hybrid of pop and classical works well, for example if you or someone in your family really wants a traditional element in the ceremony, but also something modern, then the signing can be a great time to add that in. The most difficult part of choosing a hybrid of classical and pop is finding songs that work well together. We are always happy to discuss and make suggestions to make sure that all the songs fit perfectly in the ceremony and set the right mood and tone.

What else should I know?

To recap, the signing is an often-overlooked place in the ceremony musically speaking, and there are lots of options. Remember, we recommend something slower paced, and adding an appropriate classical selection can create a wonderful sense of serenity and calm, before the fun, upbeat recessional music. More about the recessional in a later post.

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