Planning Your Wedding Processional Music
Whether you’re having an elaborate church wedding with hundreds of guests in attendance or a simple backyard affair the basic parts of a wedding are the same. There is the prelude period, usually about 30 min. before the wedding, during which your guests arrive and are seated. The processional part is next when the wedding party and bride and groom walk forward to take their places. Then, the ceremony proper during which the officiant speaks and may include readings followed by the vows and exchange of rings. Finally, the pronouncement of marriage and recessional period as the wedding party and bride exit.
Music will be played during the wedding. One thing that is optional but can be important, is the lighting of a unity candle or possibly a sand ceremony or a remembrance. This usually occurs after the exchange of rings. Music played here helps to convey deep feelings of commitment and love shared by the couple.
We’ll assume you’ve chosen your wedding musicians. Being a violinist I tend to advocate for a string ensemble as a starting point. Either a string trio or string quartet works great for weddings. Then are options such as trumpet, vocalist, harp, organ or piano which can be added to the basic core group. Music plays an important role in the parts of the wedding I outlined. During the prelude period the music creates a certain “ambiance” as your guests are being seated. The music is in the background and upbeat in character. Often, a potpourri of light classical music and popular songs that people know and love is chosen. You, the bride, can give the musicians some input as to what sort of music you would like played but I would suggest you give them a free hand in choosing the prelude music. They will want your specific input as regards the processional music and music in the ceremony. If you do have a specific song you would like played in the prelude period that is fine, but generally I suggest the program indicates “prelude music played by” (insert the name of the ensemble). If you have a specific one or two songs you want played you can list those.
After you decide on your “core” ensemble i.e. string trio or string quartet you then might decide whether you want to have a unity candle and if so, whether you will have a vocalist for this. This decision can affect other parts of the wedding.
During the prelude time guests are visiting and getting seated and the atmosphere can be quite lively with all the movement and hum of ongoing chatter. A vocalist can be very effective in helping to make the transition from prelude to procession. Often guests are not aware the prelude is ending unless there are candles being lit by ushers. A vocal selection at the end of the preludes gets everyone’s attention and sets the stage for the beginning of the ceremony.
The music becomes more prominent during the processional phase of the wedding. If the bride has chosen a vocalist they may decide to have Ave Maria or some other piece sung for the seating of the parents and the mothers. If there is going to be a unity candle later then the mothers will light a candle before being seated.
Even if the vocalist sings for the seating of the parents I still like utilizing them to close out the prelude. If you don’t have a vocalist then I would suggest having ushers light some candles, perhaps on either side of the aisle or up front, to help with the transition from prelude to procession. This indicates the ceremony is about to begin and helps quiet the guests.
Next, I would suggest you decide what sort of song you want to use as your bridal march. There are a number of pieces a string group can play that work nicely for the bridal march. There is the traditional Wagner March (Here Comes the Bride) and the Canon in D by Pachelbel also is still quite popular. There are a number of marches that use trumpet which also can be played by strings only. If there is an organist at the church then the bridal march works very nicely with the organ and strings and trumpet too, if there is one.
An organ can provide a “boost” to the strings for a more grandiose entrance of the bride. Or, you may like to take it up a notch and have the sound of a trumpet for your walk down the aisle. This is a personal decision and partly depends on the scope of the wedding. If you are getting married in an intimate space with 20-30 friends present it might be “overkill” to use a trumpet for the bridal march. That’s fairly obvious. If you are in a spacious church with 250-300 guests in attendance then you may find the regal call of the trumpet suits you. It’s an individual choice that has to do with the bride’s personality and style. I’ve played at very large weddings where we used strings only and I’ve had smaller weddings that added trumpet. There is no right or wrong decision.
If you decide you do want a trumpet be advised that you do have options to use it more than just for the bridal march and the recessional. Often the trumpet player sits for the entire prelude and then jumps up for the bridal march and then stirs again at the end for the recessional. And that’s fine, but there are a number of pieces of music that the trumpet can play with the strings. For example, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is a pretty tune by Bach that is often used for the seating of the parents or grandparents. It can also be used for both since the song is substantial in length. There is a nice choral section which repeats several times that the trumpet can play. So, it’s nice to have the option to use the trumpet. There are other songs … for example the trumpet can play the melody of Ave Maria in the absence of a vocalist. Arioso by Bach is another song where the trumpet can play the melody at times. If you like the Canon in D you can have the music leader come up with an obligado trumpet line that won’t overwhelm the strings. And there are a number of Baroque trumpet concertos
which have beautiful slow movements that the trumpet could play with the strings during the prelude portion of the wedding.
So, again it is an individual decision. Do you want to have the trumpet player or singer more involved and also get more bang for your buck? That’s a somewhat personal choice, but the purpose of mentioning this was to let you know that there are options.
If you do use a trumpet you probably will want it to be prominent for the bridal march. So, for the maids a piece like Canon in D works very well in tandem with one of the trumpet marches. You don’t want the maid’s procession to upstage the bridal procession so be mindful of what music you choose. There are lots of pieces of music which do not feature the trumpet available for the maids. Just to name a few: Somewhere Out There, Theme from Ice Castles, Marcello Psalm 19 for organ and strings, Vivaldi Spring from the Four Seasons and many others. The trumpet player will often play a brief fanfare to signal the arrival of the bride. The congregation will stand for the bride’s procession.
Next, let’s discuss the unity candle. This is an optional part of the wedding. If the couple decides to have this it normally occurs following the exchange of the rings. The officiant mentions something about lighting a candle to signify the unity of two becoming one through marriage. As the couple walk over to light the candle a musical selection is played or sung, to accompany that. A special song, or instrumental selection, gives voice to deeply held feelings of love, commitment and joy. Everyone is held captive for a few brief moments before the official end of the ceremony and pronouncement of marriage.
And then finally, the moment comes when the officiant pronounces the couple “man and wife” and presents them to those in attendance. It is a joyous moment. The bride and groom exit followed by the bridal party and then the immediate families of the couple. Music played during this of course, is the recessional music. It will be upbeat, joyful and loud. There a lots of marches and musical selections available for this which can be played by strings alone, or in concert with trumpet and or organ.
As a parting thought I would suggest if you don’t have a wedding coordinator you appoint someone to act as your “coordinator”. It can be a friend or relative. Make it someone who is not in the bridal party. They will attend your rehearsal and they will be at the wedding early to assist the musicians with any questions or needs they have in terms of chairs or lighting. They will stand at the back of the church or entrance area to help direct the bridal party and also will give a “signal” to the musicians (nod of the head or wave) when the seating of grandparents or parents is to begin. The musicians will finish the music they are playing and the next piece will be for the start of the procession.
The “coordinator” won’t let anyone walk until everyone is ready. You want the procession to have a flow without gaps. The role of a coordinator is not difficult and can be useful in helping the procession work smoothly. I hope these thoughts and suggestions will be of some use to you as you plan your wedding.
Tags: processional phase of the wedding
, processional music
, wedding musicians