Wedding Ceremony Music: A How-To Guide, Part I

by Diane Michaels

Violin or flute? Canon in D or a piece your guests have never heard? Are all of the choices you need to make as you plan your wedding ceremony music overwhelming you? Like every other aspect of your wedding, planning your ceremony music involves making a lot of decisions about a subject that may be outside of your comfort zone. It’s normal to feel as if you alone were solely responsible for finding the right solutions. Choosing a cake doesn’t mean you have to bake it, nor does picking out your centerpieces require you to grow the flowers.

The truth is, you don’t need to be a musician to choose the perfect music. You don’t even need to know a lot about classical music to make great choices. You just need an expert to guide you through the choices and help you turn discord into perfect harmony.

With over a thousand weddings on my résumé, I’ve seen a lot — and learned a lot about — wedding ceremonies. Firstly, I love love and marriage. I will confess to shedding a tear or two at more than a few of the weddings I have played, even when I didn’t know the couples. Secondly, with so many moving parts and so much emotion, time, and money invested in creating the perfect day, anything can and will happen. I’ve witnessed unforeseen problems arise from too little planning, too much planning, and weather. Mother Nature is the original wedding crasher!

Ellen and Chloe, characters from Ellen the Harpist, have followed my footsteps and built their careers around playing weddings. I’m going to let them share some of what they’ve learned about playing wedding ceremonies with you in a series of posts. I know the two of them will make planning the musical portion of your wedding ceremony an enjoyable and trouble-free experience.

Why Use Music During Your Wedding Ceremony?

Silent movies are not silent. Neither are the epic moments of modern movies. Whether lovers are kissing for the first time, or the hero is battling the villain on a distant planet, it is the musical score that hijacks our emotions and sweeps us into the scene. Have you ever pictured your wedding ceremony as a scene from a movie? Using music to underscore your ceremony from the beginning of the processional to your walk up the aisle as a married couple will enhance the emotions of the day in a way that flowers and veils cannot. Add a musical score to your wedding to enhance the emotional experience. Click To Tweet

“Jeez, Chloe! Should we get James Earl Jones to play you in the movie version of this guide? ‘Using music to underscore your ceremony…’ I can totally hear him saying what you just said. I thought we were going to make this fun.”

“Patience, Ellen. We have to set up the big picture first. But here’s an idea: Darth Vader, Event Planner. ‘Betrothed couple, have you considered wearing helmets like mine and hiring storm troopers as bridesmaids and groomsmen?’”

“That’s more like it! ‘Only I can lead you away from the dark side of weddings.’”

“I could play this game all day. But, for anyone reading this who is not planning a Star Wars themed wedding, we’d better get back to our original script.”

Whether you are getting married in a cathedral or in your backyard, providing music during key moments will complete the experience not only by involving another sense but also because humans are wired to respond to music. We’re not going to bore you with all of the science behind this concept because that’s not the topic of our guide. [If you’re interested, check out Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia]. But between our hearts acting like non-stop drum machines and the dopamine our brains produce when we hear music, we actively listen and connect to music. Choose musical selections for your ceremony that tug on heartstrings, and you will lovingly manipulate all in attendance into feeling what you lovebirds are feeling. How cool is that? Choose music selections that will tug on everyone’s heartstrings. Click To Tweet

How to Find Your Musicians

What pieces and songs best reflect your love, and which instruments should play your selections, is a personal choice. While we can’t tell you what to choose…

“Yes, we can. Harp and flute, or maybe violin playing the Intermezzo from Cavallaria Rusticana by Mascagni. That piece makes me melt!”

“Ellen, not everyone is you. And what’s this about you replacing me with a violinist? As I was saying…”

While we can’t tell you what to choose, we hope we can help make the decision an easier one. You, like Ellen, may have decided on a particular piece of music long before you met your soon-to-be spouse. But if you haven’t, and if you don’t know a lot about music, you may feel overwhelmed as you face this choice. My first piece of advice is to let a professional musician guide you. Let a professional musician help you select your music. Click To Tweet Of course, you’ll have to figure out who that musical guide will be. Whereas cathedrals come with music directors, backyards, catering halls, and forest glens don’t. So how do you find a musician?

Referrals are a great start. Family and friends may have recommendations for you. Any of your vendors, from celebrant to caterer, will have favorite musicians to introduce to you. Even if you are not getting married in a house of worship, a local religious institution may have a roster of musicians they can share with you. Perhaps you’ve already hired a band or DJ for your reception. These professionals, too, will be happy to recommend ceremony musicians.

If you need to start from scratch, two direct paths to meeting musicians are through the American Federation of Musicians and through specific organizations for each instrument. Most instruments have a club just for themselves. Even violists. The American Viola Society website doesn’t have menu listings like viola jokes or how to defend yourself against viola jokes, though. Ellen handled this particular area of research, and she won’t stop reciting her repertoire of viola jokes now. Very distracting. I’m a member of the National Flute Association and Ellen is a member of the American Harp Society.

And don’t forget wedding websites and magazines. Some offer listings of musicians, while others include ads placed by local musicians. Now that you’ve discovered one trove of musicians after another, how do you find the right one? We’ll discuss this issue in subsequent posts. See you then!


I hope you have enjoyed reading Part I of this how-to guide for choosing your wedding ceremony music. For in-depth answers to all of your questions about planning the perfect music for your wedding ceremony, get a free copy of From Here Comes the Bride to There Go the Grooms by Diane Michaels.


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