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Ceremony Music

How many songs do I need to choose for the ceremony?

For the ceremony, usually at least 2, and sometimes as many as 10.  Usually 3-5.  Here’s a very typical breakdown for a non-Catholic ceremony:

  1. First processional/entrance of parents and family
  2. Second processional/entrance of attendants including ring bearers and/or flower girls
  3. Entrance of bride
  4. Ceremony interlude, e.g. unity candle, sand ceremony, special song
  5. Recessional (exit)

Some couples like to strip it down to the barest elements, like so:

  1. Entrance for everyone including bride
  2. Recessional (exit)

It could be anywhere in between for you.  And for a full-mass Catholic ceremony, it’ll be much more involved, like this:

  1. First processional/entrance of parents and family
  2. Second processional/entrance of attendants including ring bearers and/or flower girls
  3. Entrance of bride
  4. Responsorial Psalm
  5. Unity Candle
  6. Presentation of flowers to Mary
  7. Preparation of the Gifts
  8. Communion (this might take a while so it may be a good idea to choose 2-3 pieces)
  9. Recessional

And there may even be more – such as another candlelighting or remembrance or meditation… Your officiant will be of great use in determining the proper order of things, and figuring out where music can fit within the ceremony.


How will you know when to start the music for processional?

We’ll need a cue of some sort.  We always arrive at least 30 minutes before we are to start playing, in order to work out a cue with your coordinator and/or officiant.

Our very favorite and most elegant method of cueing is to have the officiant take his/her place at the front once the family, bridal party, and bride are all assembled and ready to walk.  Once we see him/her, then we’ll know to conclude prelude music and begin the first processional as the next piece.

What is prelude, processional, recessional, postlude etc?

Prelude Think of it as “welcoming music.”  By no means bland, this is harmonious music with a calm, often pastoral air to it, designed to set a tone of relaxed composure, alleviate the stresses of traveling, and – added bonus! – it lets the guests know by ear where the ceremony will be located.  We usually start between 15 and 30 minutes before the ceremony begins.

Processional refers to the formal entrances of family and bridal party (and groomal party?).  The word also is used to refer to the pieces of music we’ll play during these entrances.  These special entrances include:

  1. Family: Parents, grandparents, and any other family or honored guests
  2. Attendants: Bridesmaids and groomsmen and any flower girls and/or ring bearers
  3. The Bride

We often play a piece for family, then change the music and play another piece for attendants, then a third for the bride’s entrance.  Many couples opt for a single piece for family and attendants, if the processional distance is short and/or there are fewer than three or four people in each group.

Recessional refers to the formal exit of the bridal party including bride and groom and the bridesmaids and groomsmen; it also refers to the piece of music we play for this exit.

Postlude is the music we play after the recessional, as the guests exit the ceremony area.

How do you figure out the timing of processional songs?

We hear horror stories all the time about musicians not stopping when the bride arrives, creating an uncomfortable and awkward moment right at the beginning of the ceremony.

Please know that we will *never* do that.

This is the brilliant thing about experienced live musicians!  After ten years and hundreds of weddings we’ve developed a collective mind, and we can make any song sound like it was supposed to end *right there* – just as the bride arrives, for example.  We won’t leave you standing there waiting for the song to end.

We will, of course, ask you for a detailed outline of how many people are walking down the aisle to each piece of music and where they’ll be starting from, and we also benefit from a cue to begin the first processional.

Do you attend the rehearsal?

Because we rely on visual cues, watching while we’re playing,  it won’t make any difference to us whether we’re there at the rehearsal or not.   Because of inevitable scheduling challenges on Thursday and Friday evenings, we are not able to offer rehearsal attendance as a matter of course.

We are more than happy to discuss further over the phone and/or email, and in some rare cases where it’s absolutely critical, we may make an exception, for a fee.

Will you accompany my friend/sister/cousin/etc for a song?

Lots of folks ask if we can accompany a singer for a song during the ceremony,  so here’s our take on this potentially awesome and potentially perilous endeavor (made exponentially more perilous when it’s a singer who lives in another state, which somehow is always the case)…

First, the answer to the question is generally yes, we can totally accompany a singer of your choice.

What a singer needs from us is for us to make them sound good.

What we need from a singer (and possibly from our client) is a few tools to make that happen.

Here’s a list of the elements at play:

  • Amplification and Sound System — every singer deserves a good mic that they can easily use.  It’s extremely rare that a singer will be able to fill a room without a mic, especially if they’re singing a pop song that requires some subtlety.
  • Arrangement – it’s actually unusual to perform a song in its original entire version at a wedding ceremony.  Almost every time, we will end up making some adjustment to the length or form of the song.
  • Key – about half the time, we will end up changing the key of the song to something other than the original key.  Determining the appropriate key can be tricky if the singer isn’t sure.
  • Sheet Music — every time, without exception, we will have to make special sheet music for ourselves.  Even if you or your singer kindly provides us with a piano/vocal/guitar arrangement from musicnotes.com (and please do – it will save us some time), we will still need to adapt that arrangement to suit the particular ensemble that will play it, and the singer, and any adjustments we’ve made to the song form.
  • Rehearsal – Somehow, somewhere, we all have to learn the song.

Here’s the part where we cannot resist making mention of the fact that all the lessons we’ve learned about accompanying singers have been learned the hard way.  Hooray for experience!

And now is probably a good time to mention that, yes, of course, we do charge extra for all of this.  Not a zillion dollars, but enough to cover the time and cost of dealing with all of the above.

Here’s our fee breakdown:

1. We charge an extra $50 or $100 for the arrangement and the special sheet music even if you provide us with sheet music.  Because as I noted above, in 100% of cases we will have to take extra time to make customized sheet music for ourselves.  $50 if guitar is in your ensemble; $100 if you have no guitar.

2. We require that you book us for an extra 30 minutes to allocate time for rehearsal on the day of the wedding.  This 30 minutes needs to be immediately before our normal start time.  And of course we need the singer to be there for this time.  This time is not billed at our hourly rate; instead, we require a flat fee of $50 per musician for this rehearsal.

And, depending on the ensemble you have booked,

3. We may have to charge an additional $50 flat fee for providing sound for your singer.  This will depend entirely on your ensemble.  It may be wise to see if there are other resources, such as your DJ, who can provide sound for your singer.

So, if we would normally have a day-of timeline like this (this is a hypothetical one-hour ceremony booking for a ceremony happening at 4 pm):

  • 3:10 musicians arrive for set-up (we always arrive 30 minutes prior to start time and we don’t charge for this time)
  • 3:40 prelude music start time
  • 4:00 ceremony start time
  • 4:30 ceremony ends; recessional and post-lude starts
  • 4:40 musicians stop

With a singer, we’d do it like this:

  • 2:40 musicians arrive for set-up
  • 3:10 singer meets musicians to rehearse song
  • 3:40 prelude music start time
  • 4:00 ceremony starts and somewhere in here, we execute the song brilliantly with your awesome singer!
  • 4:30 ceremony ends; recessional and post-lude starts
  • 4:40 musicians stop

So what would have normally been a one-hour booking needs to be booked for 90 minutes.  Make sense? It’s just an extra half-hour right before prelude music.