Music for marriage ceremonies and wedding celebrations

Music is a crucial part of any wedding. It needs to be planned carefully — and well in advance. We're happy to discuss options, but have written some general guidelines here.

Violin with flowers

When is music played?

In the UK, it is common to have music at the following times. Experienced musicians will check the details for each one.

  1. At the ceremony or service
    • 30 minutes or so before the ceremony/service, while people are gathering (the prelude)
    • Entrance of the bride (the "In", a.k.a. processional)
    • Hymns or songs during the service
      • Note: many hymns can be sung to a variety of tunes — and requesting "the Robin Hood theme" (expecting "Everything I do" by Bryan Adams) might end up as "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Riding Through The Glen"!
    • During the signing of the register
    • For the exit of the happy couple (the "Out", a.k.a. recessional)
    • 5-10 minutes after the ceremony/service, while people are leaving the church, or moving to the next area at a dedicated wedding venue (the postlude)
  2. For 1-2 hours between ceremony and food (while the couple are having photographs taken; to entertain guests as they enjoy champagne and canapés)
  3. During dinner (the wedding 'breakfast') — people don't tend to listen much, so background music from a CD etc. is often adequate
  4. After dinner, for dancing — normally a function band or DJ

How is music played?

A couple will often request songs or pieces with a special meaning for them, and occasionally want to play these via CD, iPod/iPhone or similar technology. This can work well, but there are often problems, such as:

An experienced marriage planner should check and arrange for everything like this in advance, but having live (and acoustic) music means less risk of things going wrong, and more flexibility to cope with unforeseen circumstances.

For live music, there are many options, depending on the venue and budget. Wedding venues don't tend to have much on site, but a church will generally have a pipe organ or electronic organ, which can provide a huge variety of sound just from one musician. Professional organists such as ourselves can play arrangements of most pieces requested, and keep playing to cover any delays or awkward gaps.

Organ console

String quartets and similar ensembles can add a unique touch to the service, although it's often good to use an organ too to support the singing if there is a large number of guests. If the church also has a choir available, they can help with hymns (guests often lack confidence), and can impart a beautiful and uplifting element to other parts of the ceremony, especially if they perform an anthem, often by Harris, Parry, Rutter, Stanford, Vaughan Williams or similar British composers.

Bride arriving with quartet in the foreground

What type of music is played?

Couples normally choose their own playlists, but often they're not musical and have little idea what will work well, so we'd always suggest discussing it months in advance. Church weddings (in particular Roman Catholic) tend to feature classical & religious music, and may even have rules on what can be played. It normally works best to have 'serious' music for the ceremony, 'lighter' music during the afternoon, then quite different up-beat music later on during dinner and for dancing. There is a trend in recent years — particularly with younger people — to choose traditional pieces for the entry and exit. Some people take inspiration from televised weddings, e.g. of the Royal Family. In general, cheerful music is of course preferred, but it shouldn't be too quick on either the exit or entry — it should match a slow walking tempo. Nor should the entry piece be too long, as otherwise the bridal party may be waiting awkwardly at the front until the piece finishes — or it gets cut off halfway through! It's good to measure in advance how long it will take for the bride and everyone else to reach the front, as in some churches or other venues it can be less than a minute.

Popular songs and instrumental pieces for the ceremony

Some of the most common classical requests we play are shown below.

Singing hymns

Hymns and worship songs for church weddings

Most of these are appropriate for any denomination — Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, etc. — depending on the preference of the family and the priest or minister conducting the service. In recent years less traditional songs by Sydney Carter, John Rutter, Graham Kendrick and Stuart Townend have become more popular.

Garden wedding on the lawn

After the service

Once the formalities are out of the way, people will want to relax. The newly-weds will often use this time to take photographs, while guests may enjoy a glass of champagne and some light refreshments before the main meal. The soundtrack behind this time is similarly light-hearted — generally familiar tunes, including more modern pieces with an upbeat feel and lots of variety.

Quartet in the foreground, with lots of wedding guests and staff in the background

Even though it's frequently thought of as background music, we're delighted to find that on almost every occasion, people are actually listening quite attentively — they'll sometimes come up and ask us what we've just played because it's so familiar... or sometimes when we're packing away at the end of the afternoon, they'll say "I noticed you played ___, one of my favourite songs".

Our repertoire covers several hundred pieces, including those above. We also specialize in making custom arrangements to suit your particular occasion: some are shown in the 6-minute video below we made back in 2009.