Music That Sets the Tone

As a professional musician, I have played for many wedding ceremonies. On a sweltering June day, I sat in the shade by Seneca Lake and played my harp while the wedding party and all the guests melted in the sun. On a snowy January evening, I played romantic piano music in a dimly lit ballroom, wondering whether the bridal party would ever appear. In a small-town church I played a pipe organ as the bride came down the aisle well before her cue, causing the minister to request that I play “Here Comes the Bride” after the bride was already in her spot.

The music you choose for your wedding ceremony will set the stage for the day. It creates an atmosphere for your guests from before the wedding begins to after the final words are spoken. I will share with you a few tips for maximizing the musical experience at your wedding ceremony. You’ll learn how to save money, how to get the music you like, and what you need to do to prepare.

Dig for discounts
There are a few different ways to go about saving money on wedding musicians. The more musicians you hire, the more money you’ll spend. A string quartet, for example, will cost more than hiring a single musician because you’re paying for four people’s time and expertise instead of just one.

You may also be able to get discounts. The key is, you have to ask – and be creative. For example, the harpist who played for my wedding agreed to knock $25 off his fee after I told him he didn’t have to wear a suit.

The longer they play, the less you’ll spend per hour. Some musicians offer packages: hire them for the wedding, and they’ll play for the cocktail hour at a much lower rate.

Finally, of course it’s always cheaper to ask a friend (read: non-professional) to play at your wedding, but unless you’re sure of his or her skill level, you may be sacrificing quality.

Finding the right musician
Searching through ads, websites and the yellow pages is one way to go about finding your musician(s). Another is to simply ask others for advice. Who played at your friends’ wedding? Who does your clergy person recommend? If the musician you want is unavailable, ask him or her to refer someone of similar talent.

Once you have some ideas for who to contact, go listen to them. Some musicians have music files on their websites, and others have CDs they can send. Eventually, though, you’ll want to see them in person, either at an event at which they’re performing or at a private appointment.

In order for you and the musician to be on the same page on your wedding day, you have to either hire a musician who already plays music you like, or get someone who is willing to learn what you like and choose the music accordingly. However, some musicians may charge an extra fee if they have to purchase and/or learn new music just for you.

Picking your pieces
When choosing the music for your wedding, the main thing you’ll need to decide on is the “walking music.” This consists of the processional (one or two songs played as the bride and her bridesmaids walk in) and the recessional (played while the wedding party marches out). These are the two biggest slots to fill because they set the mood for the wedding. Usually the processional is something soft and pretty while the recessional is loud and jubilant.

It’s okay if you have no idea what music you would like for either of these slots. A seasoned musician will be able to give you several choices, and you can pick your favorite. If, however, you want something unusual, you’ll want to bring along the title and composer of a song of your choice or at least a song in the style of what you want. Then the musician can either learn that song or offer you similar options that they already know.

If you’ve chosen the processional and recessional, and you still have some favorite songs you want included during the service, there are other places to put them. These include: seating of the mothers and grandmothers, lighting of the unity candle, special solo music, and, at church weddings, communion or congregational singing.

The prelude and postlude (music played before and after the ceremony) are usually left up to the musician’s judgment, however, you can guide them in their selections by suggesting the style of songs that are played: classical, hymns, popular music, jazz, etc. If you can’t put your finger on the exact style you want, then use adjectives to describe the kind of wedding you’re trying to create: elegant, dramatic, casual, romantic, traditional, playful – any of these words will help the musician get a mental picture of the atmosphere you want to create. When he or she actually makes that happen, it’ll be music to your ears.


by Kari Anderson-Pink