As wedding season kicks into high gear, couples are choosing those perfect finishing touches for their big day—the flowers, the cake flavors, and of course, the music. From traditional church hymns to second lines to bands to DJs, the music at a wedding signals important moments and sets the mood for the evening. Getting that music just right is sometimes more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Nathalie Jordi, co-owner and general manager of Hotel Peter & Paul, advises couples to choose ceremony music that they will be happy to grow old with, because “those will be ‘your songs’ forever.” Often, the location of the ceremony and the music go hand in hand, as many churches offer (or even require) musicians trained in the church’s religious traditions. Such was the case when Marigny Ernst married John Dildy in November 2019 at Holy Name of Jesus Church. While the church does provide their musicians and cantor, couples are able to choose others if they wish. However, the church’s music coordinator must give final approval on the choice of both musicians and songs.
After Marigny and John decided to use the church’s musicians, it was time to select the songs. “I recall realizing how many choices there were to be made, that somehow escaped me prior to planning my own wedding. I always knew I wanted to walk down the aisle to Cannon in D with my father, but until it was time to plan, I had not put thought into all the other moments where music plays a role in the ceremony,” says Marigny. She and John spent hours choosing music that was both appropriate for a church liturgy and meaningful for them personally. John, wanting Marigny to have a grand entrance, planned a trumpet to “announce” his bride as the doors opened. Marigny, whose mother had passed away before the wedding, decided to include “Liebestraum” by Franz Liszt in the ceremony. Her mother had chosen it for own bridal processional and incorporating the same music that her parents used made Marigny and John feel like Mrs. Ernst was a part of the ceremony.
Like Marigny and John, Clare Colton and Walker Lasiter wanted ceremony music that reflected who they were as a couple when they were married in March 2020. Their first date included a concert at Wednesdays at the Square, so music had been part of their relationship since the very beginning! “For the ceremony, we wanted to do something a little different, but that would still sound appropriate for a church wedding. All of the processional songs, which included songs from the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, were played instrumental with violin and piano by Harry Hardin,” she says.
Clare and Walker exited the church as newlyweds to their cousin Lauren Hémard singing “A New Life” by Jim James as their recessional song. Like Walker and Clare, Marigny and John were thrilled to have talented members of their family make their day extra special. For their reception, Marigny’s cousins offered to be the musicians. “I was overjoyed as every visit with them ended up with beautiful music,” says Marigny. “My cousin Beverly playing the piano, my cousin Neil on the clarinet, and Linda with her amazing voice made the reception perfect.”
Whether played by family or professionals, music plays a huge role in a day that will hold a special place in a couple’s hearts for a lifetime. Therefore, Amanda Fritscher, Director of Membership and Member Events at Chateau Golf and Country Club, believes that couples should simply think about their relationship when choosing their wedding music. “It doesn’t matter if it is a hit song that has been heard 1000 times or a one of a kind. As long as it means something to you both, it will forever feel special,” she says. Sometimes, a couple’s vision for their music influences their decision about where to hold their celebrations, as was the case with Clare and Walker. “We knew we wanted to second line from the ceremony to the reception which is why we chose a church and venue walking distance from each other,” says Clare. Like any good musicians, though, they needed to improvise when the beginning wave of the pandemic made it impossible to get a permit for a traditional second line. When leaving the church, guests received tambourines and kazoos, and they all became impromptu wedding musicians as the party made its way to the reception. There, SOUL Brass Band was waiting to play a socially distanced set.
For many couples, a second line led by a brass band is a way to show out-of-town guests what makes New Orleans unlike anywhere else in the world. As Derrick Freeman of SOUL Brass Band cautions, there is a certain second line protocol to follow. First and foremost, research which permits are required and secure them well in advance. Second and almost as important, know the appropriate walking order for the second line. The newlyweds should lead the second line, walking in front of the band. The band—and the band alone—should be next, followed by the newlyweds’ family and friends. Not only is it a potential safety hazard for guests to surround the musicians, it also ruins the chance for the photographer to capture those wonderful shots of the couple with the band.
Everyone who has experienced a wedding second line knows that the hanky is a must, and the need for the perfect accessory to go with the music inspired Michele Wilssens to create an entire business, Laginappe-Life. “Lagniappe-Life was started when I was planning my own wedding and wanted a high-quality custom designed second line handkerchief. When I could not find what I was looking for I started making my own. I decided that other couples should be able to create a one-of-a-kind handkerchief for their wedding as well,” says Michele. Today, Lagniappe-Life specializes in second line handkerchiefs, and Michele loves knowing that she is creating something so meaningful to a couple.
Elizabeth Lyons seconds the idea that personal touches are the key to making memories: “The unique personal moments are what make the wedding special.” As a singer-songwriter herself, she played double duty at her wedding to Will Reily in September 2018. Not only was she the bride, she also took the stage with her band at the reception! They performed a song that she wrote for her new husband called “I’ve Never.” To make sure that everyone there could cherish that moment for years to come, guests also received Elizabeth’s album called “I’ve Never” in their keepsake bags.
Of course, not every couple includes a double-duty-playing musician. Most couples enlist a band or a DJ for the reception. Susan Zackin, owner of Z Event Company, stresses how helpful a planner can be when making the choice between a band or DJ. “Just because you saw a band or a DJ at a friend’s wedding or someone referred one to you does not mean it is always the best choice for your wedding reception,” she advises. “There are many factors to consider before making that decision and a professional planner can help you weigh your options best. If you solely rely on the booking agent, they cannot direct you based on the space and other information they are not familiar with.” Maggie Bondi, the Director of Events at LeBLANC + SMITH, whose properties include The Chloe, notes “Couples should consider how they want their guests to feel at their wedding. Jazz trios are great for buzzy conversations, while a live band sets the tone for a rowdy dance party. In New Orleans, the only thing more important than food is the music, so confirm your talent early as the best bands and DJs book out far in advance.”
One of the most popular bands for New Orleans weddings is The Essentials, who played at Walker and Clare’s reception. “We knew we wanted 60s and 70s classic soul and R&B that young and old alike could dance to,” says Clare. “Many may stress over which band to hire, but it was the first decision we made when starting to plan our wedding.”
As Essentials vocalist Micah McKee notes, weddings provide the opportunity for musicians to hone their skills: “Besides the honor of providing the sonic backdrop for a couple’s special day, playing weddings is also a great way to stay tight as a band. In the Essentials, we play mostly classic soul music. These compositions are no walk in the park, and vocally they are a heck of a workout. Exercising this musical muscle is challenging in the best possible way and gives me tools that I will use moving forward in my career.”
While bands enjoy exercising their musical muscles, Derrick of SOUL Brass Band stresses that some songs may simply be beyond a band’s scope. If a couple loves a certain song for their first dance but the band knows they cannot play it successfully, he advises couples to simply play the recorded track they fell in love with. The newlyweds will be sure to get a moment they treasure, and the band will be able to focus on the music they play best. Micah of the Essentials echoes this sentiment: “It’s always my hope that couples who are hiring a band do a little bit of research into what the band’s forte is, what their strengths are. If a couple has a special request, it’s best that the song is in that band’s “wheelhouse”–something that is on-brand for the band, or at least something that is in the same vein of the band’s repertoire.”
Obviously, those special requests are only a few of the many, many songs throughout the night. Nathalie of Hotel Peter & Paul notes that thinking about the timing of the songs is crucial—”what music would work best while people are talking at cocktail hour or eating, and what music is better for when people are dancing?” Amanda of Chateau Golf and Country Club advises couples to lean on the experts when making these choices: “Have your band or DJ assist with creating a well-rounded list. Remember you are hiring a professional for a reason!” As Elizabeth and Will learned, giving others input on the music selection helps ensure everyone is happy. Elizabeth’s sister helped them curate the list of music, and they asked their parents what songs they’d like to hear so that they had different generations’ opinions.
Derrick of SOUL Brass Band, who also works as a DJ, encourages couples to get everyone’s opinions early, so that couples have time to curate the perfect wedding playlist. “Pick your 100 favorite songs, narrow that list down to 30, and get that list of 30 songs to the band or DJ at least one full month in advance,” he advises. This gives the musicians time to decide which order the songs should be played to keep the dance floor full all night!
That being said, some couples choose not to select the songs. If they’re fans of the band or DJ, they may simply communicate a few special songs, such as the first dance, and then let the musicians take control. This allows musicians the freedom to shine, doing what they do best and bringing the party to life. Micah of the Essentials is always thrilled when he has the opportunity to play “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” “Marvin Gaye is my hero, and his work with Tammi Terrell is the stuff of legend,” he enthuses. “Larger than life, but so down to earth. And this song really sums that up.” Derrick of SOUL Brass Band has one song sure to get every guest onto the dance floor—“Back That [Thang] Up.” “That song goes hard at every wedding,” he laughs. “Young, old, black, white, it doesn’t matter. Everyone comes out.”
While many couples can party until the wee hours of the morning, they should check both venue and city regulations concerning amplified sound. The Hotel Peter & Paul, for example, has a decibel limit to protect their ancient stained-glass windows—though it’s high enough to keep the party flowing! Maggie of LeBLANC + SMITH takes care to ensure that the neighbors in the residential neighborhoods where their properties are located can live peacefully with the venues: “Amplified music cannot exceed 70 decibels, and excessive bass/subs are not allowed, and in outdoor spaces specifically at The Chloe, amplified Live Music (band or DJ) must end by 10:00 PM.” Susan of Z Event Company notes that different venues, as well as different parts of the city, may have different have rules about noise levels or timing that music can happen outside. Knowing these rules before booking can help a couple ensure that the venue and the entertainment fit into their vision.
However, rather than seeing these regulations as a hinderance, many couples use them as an opportunity to get creative, as Elizabeth and Will did. When amplified music was no longer permitted outdoors, they shifted gears to a silent disco. Guests put on headphones and listened to a DJ play different songs on their choice of channels!
It’s important to note that keeping a party going for hours is physically demanding. Couples should remember to designate someone to keep the band or DJ supplied with bottles of water throughout the night. For longer events, be sure to provide at least light snacks, if not a full plate at the reception. Happy musicians make for happy guests!
Even though the music might not be as meaningful for the guests as it is for the newlyweds, Nathalie of Hotel Peter & Paul points out that it can create a lasting impression: “People may not remember the specific songs that were played at your wedding, but they’ll certainly remember how they felt at different points during the event.” Whether reverent, sentimental, or just plain joyous, we look forward to all these different feelings that the sounds of wedding season create!
Hotel Peter & Paul
2317 Burgundy St, New Orleans, LA 70117
SOUL Brass Band
Chateau Golf and Country Club
3600 Chateau Blvd, Kenner, LA 70065
Z Event Company
508 Metairie Rd, Metairie, LA 70005
4125 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70115