Before my father married my mother, he presented her with a would-be romantic pre-wedding gift: a music box. But not having put too much planning into this present, he made a mistake. My mom recalls, “When I wound it up and opened it for its twinkling performance, the song ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles filled the room. We both started to laugh, and Dad was pretty embarrassed.”
He exchanged it for another box – one that plays “The Emperor Waltz” – much more romantic than the lyrics, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away; Now it seems as though they’re here to stay.”
Bridal music should set the tone. The music should be cheerful, optimistic, maybe a tad nostalgic and romantic – you’re looking forward to a bright future with your loved one.
Wedding planner Susan Maria Johnson of Classic Weddings & Events by Susan recommends that 5 to 10 percent of the total budget be spent on wedding music, though she says if the bride-to-be wants a live band for the reception, (or a second-line), then she’ll have to allot more funding.
“If there are certain genres of music that must be played – because they’re your favorites – you may want to hire a DJ,” says Johnson. “A band usually can’t cross several style genres.” Another advantage of selecting a DJ is that he or she can usually play more “on-the-spot” requests, says Johnson.
“You can download whatever types of music the couple wants to hear, and it’s usually cheaper than a band, so you can save money.” DJ Captain Charles, for example, plays a wide variety of music at venues around town, and he plays at weddings about twice a week. He says he takes requests:
“Anything to satisfy my supporters. The music creates the atmosphere.”
A live band can generate crowd interaction, says Johnson. “Guests love live music playing. Songs can be more personalized because a band may learn one or two special songs for the day – the money spent is worth it.”
Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the music should be celebratory! “Couples and parents should remember you’re hosting a big party for guests who may have traveled – so you want to show them a good time,” says Johnson.
THE WEDDING PLANNER: Susan Maria Johnson of Classic Weddings by Susan
What’s more popular these days: customized or traditional wedding music?
People still use traditional, but tweak it to fit their personalities. They may choose a different way to hear it. For example, they hire a solo guitarist instead of a piano player.
At what points during the wedding should music be played?
Music for the ceremony consists of prelude (played while guests are arriving before the processional begins). After the prelude, music for processional – normally consisting of a song for the parents and grandparents, followed by a different song for the bridesmaids, then followed by the bride’s song. The end of the ceremony is marked with the recessional, which has a song played while the bridal party exits. During the ceremony, the couple can make it ‘their own’ by having a song played or sun during certain aspects, such as “Our Father Prayer,” or lighting the unity candle. Even a poem could be sung or read during the ceremony.
How does the music enhance the wedding?
Music makes the ceremony seem polished, thought-out and it’s that extra little something. For a reception, it helps guests mingle, dance and just have a really great time.
THE DJ: Charles Leach aka DJ Captain Charles
What kind of music do you play?
A wide variety of music including blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, old school, new school, country and top 40s.
What was the most fun wedding you ever played at and why?
I really don’t remember, but every wedding that I play at I enjoy. The reason is because I love what I do – I love seeing people get on the dance floor and enjoy themselves.
What part of the wedding do you play at?
Reception and wedding because there are times when they get married in the hall and have the reception there as well. It depends on the request of the bride and groom.
THE HARPIST: Rachel Van Voorhees – Principal Harpist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and New Orleans Opera; Solo Harpist at the Windsor Court Hotel; freelance wedding harpist
What kind of music do you play?
I play a wide range for weddings – most people request classical and standard wedding music choices, such as the “Canon in D” by Pachelbel and “The Prince of Denmark March” by Clarke. Others request love songs, standards, religious music or Irish music, for example. We’re game to play almost anything.
At which part of the ceremony do you play?
I play a half-hour of prelude music before the ceremony starts, the entrances and seating of the family, wedding party and bride; all music requested for the ceremony itself and the recessional music.
Do you perform by yourself or with others?
I perform both ways – though often solo at weddings. We also provide ensembles of every size imaginable from a harp, violin and cello trio, to a full orchestra. Many people have us add one or two instruments and one or two singers to any of our instrumental groups. We can also provide bagpipes, classical guitar, second-line bands and reception bands, among others.
How does music affect the wedding?
The music may be the most important part of the wedding. It sets the entire tone for the event and lifts peoples’ spirits to the occasion. It also gives the bride and groom a chance to express themselves through the music they choose.
THE BANDLEADER: Dr. Russell Steele, aka Dr. Jazz, of Dr. Jazz and the New Orleans Sounds
How do you make a wedding personal?
I work very closely with the bride and groom to talk them through some things they might like to do … to play the first dance song that was their parents’ … I write music, and I write a new song for every bride and groom. I try to put in some things after I talk with them, maybe incorporate how they’ve met … When it looks like [the couple] isn’t that interested, I prod them to try and make it more personal and more involved.
We feel that wedding music is different. Instead of contemporary music and “YMCA” and stuff like that, I think the best expression for it is romantic, smooth jazz … think Diana Krall, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole and Peggy Lee.
You have to segue into music that young people are used to doing… But I think a first dance song has to be something like Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” or Harry Connick Jr.’s “It Had to Be You” or Etta James’ “At Last” – those are songs that will last forever and people will remember.
What makes the wedding music fun?
The more family and friends you can get involved in the wedding and the music, the better it is. If someone wants to sing something with the band, i.e. sorority sisters or fraternity brothers, there are a lot of great songs that will be personal for the families and friends.
What other advice do you have for a bride-to-be?
Take the music seriously. They are going to remember the first dance song for the rest of their lives. The bride’s first appearance at the ceremony usually blows people away – they don’t realize what it’s going to look like. One other thing I always joke about: there’s only one person who’s important and that’s the bride! It’s not me, it’s not the band, it’s not the groom – it’s the bride. I make sure the bride gets exactly what she wants!
Popular wedding songs
Like wedding gowns, not all wedding songs are created equal. By Nicole Wroten
Classics – “At Last” by Etta James, “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra, “Have I Told You Lately” by Van Morrison, “Dreaming of You” by Selena, “Everything” by Michael Buble
Something a little different (Modern songs) – “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, “Crash” by Dave Matthews Band, “Kissing You” by Des’ree, “Chasing Pavements” by Adele, “All I Want is You” by U2, “Come Away with Me” Norah Jones
With a little Twang (Country songs) – “It’s Your Love” by Tim McGraw, “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait, “Long Trip Alone” by Dierks Bentley, “Had me From Hello” by Kenny Chesney
Last Chance (Fun Options for Last Dance Songs) – “Walk it Out” by Unk, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Crank that Soulja Boy” by Soulja Boy