There are no rules about music at your wedding.
If you want to walk down the aisle to a recording of “Cotton Eye Joe” and hire bagpipers to get the party started during your reception then you go for it.
The only “rule” to remember is that the right music can enhance every moment of the wedding day experience by eliciting emotions and setting a mood.
Wedding Music 101 says you should have piano, strings or vocalists creating a romantic atmosphere during the ceremony and then a versatile band or DJ for the reception, when the performers’ job is to keep things lively but under control during the cocktail hour and then boost the energy level when it’s time to dance. Of course, keeping this structure in mind, you can get as creative as you want and make something that’s totally you.
First, think about what you want to hear at the ceremony.
Do you prefer the classics — Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” and Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus,” for example — or would you rather orchestral versions of your favorite Frank Ocean song? You can keep things simple with a pianist or organist or you could opt for a violinist, cellist or entire string quartet. A folk singer accompanying herself on guitar could work wonders — as could an entire choir. Heck, you could even pull a “Love Actually” and have singers and horn players planted in the crowd. And, of course, since you’re in New Orleans, you may want to feature jazz musicians at your event and plan a second line from the ceremony to the reception.
“Music will set the tone for the ceremony and usually reflect the personalities of the couple being married,” said Z Event Company founder Susan Zackin, who said it’s important to listen to music ahead of time and tell musicians which parts of the song you like best.
“It’s best to be specific about what portion of the chosen song is played during the ceremony,” she said. “Many are longer scores than [needed] so you must tell the musicians the portion you want to be played during the procession and recession portions.”
Zackin also said weddings during the pandemic are smaller — and shorter — so fewer minutes of music are required.
“Much less of the song has been necessary because there aren’t large wedding parties marching down the aisle.”
Just like during the procession and recession in the ceremony, there are certain key moments during your reception that will be enhanced by the right music — so plan ahead and think about what you want to hear during the cocktail hour, introduction of the wedding party and the father-daughter dance. Do you want to curate the music for the cake cutting and garter toss? Do you want line dancing or absolutely not? And, what’s the last song you want to hear as the event ends and you make your way toward the exit?
Once you’ve figured out what you want to hear, it’s important to find people you “vibe” with to make the music happen. Or so says John Hozey Jr., who books the New Orleans-based bands D’ivine Play, GOT Groove and Blue Rhythm.
“There are a lot of great bands and musicians in the city, so finding the people who really mesh with your vision and expectations is critical to get the absolute best experience,” said Hozey. “Ask questions like, ‘Do you run a show like a live concert or are you trying to sound exactly like the record?’ … Picking a band leader’s brain can help find out who is really serious about it or not.”
Hozey also said it’s important to tell musicians what you want to hear in advance but then stand back and let them do their thing.
“Get the information to the bands in a timely manner,” he said. “Allowing time to prepare and ask questions is essential. Also, allow the band’s song selections to breathe a little. Give direction, and then allowing them to call their set with that in mind while prioritizing a full dance floor has always been a successful approach.”
There are some national wedding reception music trends worth noting: Most notably, some couples aren’t choosing between a band or a DJ. Instead, they’re using both. In some cases, DJs will play between live sets and, sometimes, the DJ and the band will perform together. Some performers are even combining live music with pre-recorded vocals of famous artists singing their hits. Really over-the-top weddings are making room for a specialty performance act (picture a 30-minute condensed version of a Broadway play or a hip-hop concert) in the middle of the dance band’s set.
In New Orleans during the pandemic, however, it’s still probably best to spotlight one of your favorite musicians from the local scene.
Hearing one of your favorite artists while supporting one of the city’s essential cultural commodities is a great way to make memories while also making a difference.