During coronavirus lockdown, weddings were scaled down to such an extent that many postponed their nuptials for a later date. Most brides and grooms want their friends and families to be there with them, not on the other side of a computer screen. Summer 2021 may well be a bumper season. If you’re thinking of tying the knot this summer (and you’ve been lucky enough to secure the date), then now’s the time to start planning the music. Here are some suggestions for the music to have at your church wedding.
But first things first. Will you have the services of a choir? Will your organist be up to the musical demands you throw at them? It’s worth asking these questions. A choir can add a considerable sense of occasion to a service. On the other send of the scale, a poor organist can ruin it. Know what you’re dealing with, and if you sense that the musical skills on offer won’t be up to scratch, hire someone in. You won’t regret it.
What sort of organ music should be played before the arrival of the bride?
You could let the organist choose their own programme to amuse the congregation, but we’d advise against that. Meet up with the organist and discuss options, knowing that a wedding congregation will talk at the top of their voices in the half hour or so leading up to the start of the service. So, mix soft pieces with some spectacular, louder works to keep everyone on their toes.
What music should a bride walk down the aisle to?
You don’t have to go for Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ (‘Here comes the bride’), although it can easily be timed by the organist to end suitably when the bride reaches the altar. Be aware, however, that Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ is tricky to play, so beware. And Pachelbel’s Canon, another popular choice, will have your congregation snoozing before you even begin. Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Tune is fun, as is the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music (Suite No. 1). Purcell’s Trumpet Tune is worth considering, too. How about hiring a trumpeter to provide the melodic line for any of these? If you have a choir, you could try Handel’s Zadok the Priest (the opening), Parry’s I Was Glad (it’s long, so don’t start walking up the aisle until the final minute or so) or Finzi’s My spirit sang all day.
What are the best hymns for a wedding ceremony?
It always seems a little odd having ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways’ at a wedding – your marriage is presumably not a foolish way that needs absolving. You need hymns that raise the roof, such as ‘Praise my soul, the King of Heaven’, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, ‘Angel voices’ (niche but lovely), ‘All my hope on God is founded’ (one of Howells’s finest), that sort of thing. For some odd reason, people have a tendency to go for hymns they sung at primary school, such as ‘Morning has broken’ and ‘Lord of the dance’. You need hymns that everyone feels comfortable singing.
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You can find lyrics to famous hymns here
What music should be played during the signing of the register?
This is where hired musicians will come into their own – singers, choirs and organists will have a ready collection of suitable music to perform while you pop into the vestry with the in-laws and parents to do the legal bits and bobs. You’ll have around ten minutes to fill, so you could get the choir to sing any number of choral works. Rutter’s Gaelic Blessing or The Lord bless you and keep you are both beautiful. Tallis’s If ye love Me is a simply scored masterpiece. Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine is more fiddly for both choir and organist, but worth it. Either Elgar’s or Mozart’s Ave verum would go down well. For organists, something quiet and contemplative: Rhosymedre by Vaughan Williams, perhaps, or some French Romantic music. Again, Bach always works – some chorale preludes, a sprightly prelude and fugue? Or a singer could perform Schubert’s Ave Maria or Franck’s Panis angelicus.
What music should be played during the recessional part of the wedding (when the newly-married couple walk back down the aisle)?
Of course, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is entirely suitable, but for something a little different, how about these. (NB, these are for skilled organists only.)
Toccata from Widor’s Symphony No. 5
Final from Vierne’s Symphony No. 1
Mulet’s Carillon Sortie
JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G BWV 541
Walton’s Crown Imperial
We can’t stress enough the importance of sitting down with your musicians to talk about the music that will work for your wedding. Will your ideas translate well to the realities of a small parish church with a dodgy one-manual organ, for instance? There is a lot to ponder, but seek help from those in the know.
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Oliver Condy is the former Editor of BBC Music Magazine, a post he held for 17 years. His debut book, Symphonies of the Soul: Classical Music to Cure Any Ailment, will be released in November 2021 with Octopus Books. He is also a semi-professional organist, having previously given recitals in Bach’s churches across Germany.