Wedding Ceremony Music Basics
Step 1: Learn the Basics
Traditionally, the most basic wedding ceremony music setup involves a minimum of three types of songs: preludes, processionals and recessionals. Prelude music is light, ambient music that sets the mood while guests are being seated and waiting for the ceremony to begin. It usually begins when the doors open, or as early as 45 minutes prior to but no later than 20 minutes before the beginning of the ceremony.
Next is the processional, which accompanies the entry of the extended wedding party—family, bridal party and bride. The same song can be used for each, but we love the idea of changing to another song when the bride enters to add drama and highlight her entrance. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the recessional plays. As the name implies, this music accompanies you as you recess (that is, make your exit) and is traditionally bright and lively—a reflection of your joy.
Many couples choose to add interludes or songs played during significant moments such as the unity candle lighting or the ketubah signing. You might also want to include a postlude, which is a selection played while guests exit the ceremony. Have someone play a violin, or even a set of bagpipes, as guests head toward the exit. Some couples even ask the musician to lead guests out of the ceremony space in a paradelike fashion.
Step 2: Size Up Your Space
Before you start interviewing quartets and contemplating song selections, do your homework. Some ceremony sites and officiants may have strict guidelines about which music can—and can't—be played during a ceremony. Secular locations may also have guidelines you'll need to be aware of, setting limits on the noise or the space allotted for a band.
Consider the size of your venue when putting together your ensemble. For example, a huge brass quintet and a small chapel won't be a match—the sound may overwhelm the space. If you're having an outdoor wedding, you probably can't use a traditional piano, but if electricity is available, an electric piano will work—complement it by adding a string instrument such as a violin or cello.
If you've got your heart set on a harp, make sure there's enough room (they're huge), and scope out a practical way to get it inside your site (it would be difficult to have to drag a harp through a kitchen, for example). If you'll be outside, a harp may not be the best choice—the sound won't be as strong because it tends to drift upwards.
Where will you find your musicians who'll be a hit with all of your guests? Check with friends, look in our local ceremony musicians area and read reviews. Ask for references—you want to be sure the people you hire have plenty of experience accompanying couples down the aisle. Most musicians will have a demo on their website that demonstrates what the different ensembles are capable of playing. If you've got time, ask to attend a function where they'll be playing so you can hear them live before you hire them.
Most ensembles have a leader who works with clients to put together appropriate musical accompaniment from a single instrument (such as an organ or violin) to a 10-piece orchestra. The more instruments, the fuller the sound—but remember, the larger the combo, the higher the price tag.
Also, while you may like the sound of a certain instrument, including it might not be as easy as just adding it to your ensemble. For example, you might want to add a trumpet, but then to balance it out you'll need three or four string pieces such as a cello, violin, viola, and harp or else the horn will stand out awkwardly. Just ask the musicians what would work best.
Here are some good basic combos to consider:
- String duo (two violins or violin and cello)
- String trio (two violins and cello)
- Flute trio (flute, violin, and cello)
- String quartet (two violins, viola, and cello)
You might consider adding an organ or piano to any of the trios or the quartet, including a harp with any of the above, or jazzing things up with two trumpets.
If you decide to add vocalists, it's a good idea to have the singing begin after everyone is seated for your ceremony. When a person steps up to a microphone to sing, guests may feel obliged to be quiet and pay attention, which creates awkwardness. It's also wise to make sure the vocalist is comfortable with your selections, because when a singer is nervous, it shows right away in his or her voice. Ask which songs the soloist knows well, and work together to build a song list that satisfies you both. If there's a song you want included that he or she isn't familiar with, have a violin, piano, or flute play an instrumental version of the selection.
Step 3: Strategize on Sound
Ceremony musicians may cost anywhere from $200 to $500 a piece. To cut back on cost, Jessica Meyer, owner of Venus Ensembles in New York, suggests first taking a look at what may already be available in your space. "If your venue has a tuned piano, use it!" she says. You will save the additional charge of transport, which sometimes is tacked onto the overall cost per player especially when larger instruments (like pianos) have to be transported into the space.
Also you want to keep the number of guests to ceremony musicians ratio in mind. A quartet is appropriate for a group of 200, according to Meyer. To cut back and save, you might consider hiring a duo or trio and a sound person. Or, even better, ask your band or DJ to come with a couple of mics or an amplifier. Also be mindful of what will sound good amplified. Of the instruments typically requested for weddings, guitars and string instruments (like violins and cellos) resonate best.
The setting is a big factor too. If your venue is indoors, you'll be able to get away with more thanks to the room acoustics. Then again, if you're outside and you have 200 people, you won't even hear a duo. 'They'll just be eye candy," says Meyer. Plan ahead if it's an outdoor setting so that you're prepared with microphones or enough musicians to combat the outside noise. Adding a flute always helps when outside as well, adds Meyer, so if you can only afford a duo, try a classical guitarist with a cube amp accompanied by a flutist.