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Wedding Music Advice

The following advice is based what I have observed when playing the organ for weddings; noting what works well and what doesn’t.

I like to meet you the couple well before the wedding, in order to discuss the music with you both, and I feel it is important to form this relationship. I am happy to play over samples for you or to find them on YouTube.

If you begin your search by listening to videos on YouTube, please remember that there is no control over the quality of performances there – some are world class, beyond most local organists, some are very poor, added to which, some of the organs featured are vastly more comprehensive than you will find in a typical village church.

My experiences with couples having CDs played for the entry and exit and during the service are decidedly mixed. I have witnessed a few disasters, mainly due to limited competence on the part of whoever is playing the disc, and the sound quality in terms of presence and volume is rarely satisfactory, so I would advise against using them unless you can be certain that they are going to sound great.

The same goes for Worship Bands – at their best they sound wonderful and I am an enthusiast – but they take up a lot of space in a small church, the sound reinforcement rarely works well in the time available for setting up etc., they can be a distraction, and their volume alienating to people who are not used to them.

Small ensembles like string quartets or solo instruments can work well, especially for playing items during the signing of the Register, but you do need to ensure there is room for them. Hire the best you can find, don’t skimp.

Even a moderate Choir is a bonus in leading the singing and helping to bring joy to the occasion. In most churches there will be room for them in the chancel at the front of the church, where they not only sound good but their robes are a visual bonus too. Remember, they will need Orders of Service.

The Organ Music for entrance and exit can be limited by the capabilities of the organ – I have had to play music written for the huge organ in a Paris church on a tiny village organ, and despite my best efforts it did not have the hoped-for overwhelming effect. For the entrance of the bride, you need to check how long (or often how short) a time it takes for the bridal procession to reach the front of the aisle. In most cases it’s not much more than a minute, so you need a piece which establishes itself straight away, is not too slow, and which can easily be brought to a satisfactory halt.

If you elect to have the bells, you need to agree when they stop ringing before the service, especially if they sound loud to the waiting congregation – often you can only have bells or organ at any one time, they don’t go together.
Don’t choose music you may regret in years to come – one bridegroom insisted on ‘Mars, the God of War’ for the Exit voluntary – hardly an auspicious choice. In other words, jokey choices may rebound on you and may upset some of your nearest and dearest.

For our own wedding my wife chose the entrance music – The St Antoni Chorale, and I chose the exit, Henri Mulet’s Carillon Sortie, which I hope shows you can have good appropriate music without looking too far if you want to avoid the familiar wedding marches. I play regularly at a number of very friendly and beautiful traditional parish churches around Taunton, which can make lovely wedding venues, for example St Giles, Bradford on Tone and St George’s Wilton.

When it comes to hymns, people who rarely come to church are reluctant to sing out, and what should be resoundingly joyous can just become embarrassing, so my advice is to go for hymns that are very well known, and to read the words. For example, Jerusalem is a popular choice, but could you explain what it is all about? Many people settle for hymns they learned in school.

Think about whether you want all the verses of a long hymn, and exercise extreme caution if you take the words from the internet. Some sources have verses long discarded by the hymn books. Your safest bet is to take the words from the hymn book the church uses, and if you wish to cut verses, to do so under the guidance of the minister. The church should advise you on copyright.

When it comes to the Signing of the Register, you need to dissuade people from chatting as the tension of the occasion is relieved. Announcing the music (and the performer) can be a help. You probably need upwards of four minutes of music to cover the Signing. Often the music here is a mixture of the quietly joyous and the reflective.

Make sure you have your service booklet diligently proof-read by both the minister and the organist – it’s terribly embarrassing if a minister has to apologise for an error during the service, or if it isn’t noticed until too late – for example ‘Prise my soul the King of Heaven’ will get past a spell-check, but probably not your friends and relatives!

Finally, it’s your day, and the bottom line is that it’s your choice of music, for better for worse. Listen to people’s comments, but follow your hearts, just remembering that your service is shared with those with whom your relationship is important – your family, your friends and God’s family in the form of the church community. Make sure you leave any arrangements with regard to the service in capable hands, so you can confidently forget all about them on the great day and just enter into the full spirit of the Act of Worship that is your wedding service.