Popular Music for Wedding Ceremonies

I am assuming use of live musicians, and not pre-recorded music. Pre-recorded music may need to be edited and timed at your rehearsal beforehand to insure a smooth ending for your march. A  three minute song  would be too long , or maybe you want the chorus instead of the intro and verse? See my post regarding live vs the ipod for more information. Another thing  to consider is that a rockin’ ballad may be made more suitable for the occasion toned down a bit as a solo guitar arrangememt. The older folks would be unaware that you snuck your favorite metal anthem in under the guise of a classical guitar or string quartet!

Adding your special song to your ceremony adds a very unique touch. The best places for a popular song come right before the bridal march, if your song is a ballad, or as a recessional if it is upbeat. Because marches are typically short, it is often hard to get through one whole verse and chorus and find a natural ending. If you do want to march to your song, keep in mind it will be a shortened version.

Talkin’   ’bout — Pop Music. For my purposes, a pop song is anything that would not typically be called Classical music or instrumental, such as film score. It is normally sung  in the context of a band; rock, country, alternative, jazz standard, punk – it’s all popular music (even if it doesn’t sell!). Pop music hasn’t changed much, every generation produces their fair share of good and bad music! Also keep in mind that you may love the current hits, but the majority of your guests will not be familiar with what is currently hip – and they are the ones that will be listening both during prelude music and the cocktail hour.

Are the lyrics important? Well of course the lyrics are important  – but are they what make the song special to you? If so, you may need a vocalist. If the song is so well known that everyone knows the lyrics, then maybe it’s not quite as important to have it sung. Because of the multiple generations involved, this is not usually likely! Some popular wedding songs that work well, and are generally universally known are ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘What a Wonderful World’, ‘Annie’s Song’ and a slew of Beatles songs. Although this contradicts my initial point of making your ceremony unique, there is good reason for why these songs are common to weddings.

What works: Melody, Melody, Melody! Pop songs frequently rely on rhythm and multi-layered harmonies –  this may be great for the dance floor,  but doesn’t often come off well as an instrumental. A pianist or guitarist can add rhythm and harmony, but for a flute or violin solo – you must have a strong melody.  A rock song played by a string quartet can come off quite bad or even cheesey, no matter how much effort is put into the arrangement, if melody is lacking.


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Sound Reinforcement for your Ceremony?

In addition to providing music for your ceremony, I can also provide sound reinforcement for your officiant and others who may be speaking. Outdoor ceremonies in excess of 50 guests should have some sound reinforcement.
Some venues are better than others with regard to background noise, and keeping sound in. In addition, some officiants project better than others, and older guests will especially will appreciate being able to hear the ceremony.

Another consideration is for video. Even if you are using professional videographers, sound can be muddled and low in volume unless they are close micing the ceremony (they often do not). Relatives and friends video taping your ceremony will have much better audio quality if I set up sound – and you will appreciate this later.

I offer a small wireless system with a mic clip for just $50 or a full PA set up  for $100. A small  price to pay to insure the most important part of your day is heard. Check with your venue, videographer and your officiant to get an idea of what may be necessary. I have played hundreds of weddings and am familiar with all major venues in the Estes Park area and many others throughout the front range and mountains.

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Choosing Your Wedding Music

Prelude: set the mood for the ceremony, while entertaining your guests. This is normally 15-20 minutes before the ceremony. You may choose specific songs especially as the wedding draws closer.  A general style or theme is often chosen. Traditional Classical, Celtic , Spanish, Renaissance or popular music can be mixed in.

Pre-processionals: Seating of the parents/bridal party. This is where specific choices come into play. Smaller wedding parties will normally use one song. If the procession is longer, with slow walkers, you may wish to choose one for the seating of parents, and another for the bridal party.

Bridal March: This is the one part of the ceremony where the bride will choose a specific song, even if the rest of the selections are left to me, with general guidelines. It is also where a traditional piece is normally used, though each year this seems less and less common. This can be a place for your special song – some songs work  better for a “march’ feel. Ultimately it is your decision.

Meditation: Candle Lighting/Sand Pouring/Knot Tying/Wine Ceremonies; these are common to many modern ceremonies. They can harken back to ethnic traditions, and provide a keepsake. Music here should be shorter by nature, and easy to get to an ending.

Recessional: Upbeat and joyous, a  traditional recessional followed by a pop, rock, or jazz tune works well here.

Post-Recessional: A few upbeat tunes while guests mingle and leave the ceremony site.

Cocktail Hour: Entertain your guests while they await your arrival. A mix of styles is generally appropriate here. I generally read the crowd.

Dinner Music: Solo guitar played softly adds a very elegant addition to dinner. Larger weddings may want to use Davis Duo.

After Dinner/Dancing add drums and bass for Davis Quartet;  jazz/pop/rock/Celtic. You can also use our PA for recorded music from your laptop/mp3 player.

I encourage use of my Music Selection Form on the website Weddings page.

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History of Traditional Wedding Music

Pachelbel’s Canon is the most famous piece of music by German  composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).

It was scored for three violins and harpsichord and was  originally followed by an upbeat dance called a gigue. It is now played by everything from solo guitar to a full orchestra. The Canon was forgotten for centuries but was rediscovered in the 20th century and published in 1919 (along with the Gigue) – most of his other music did not survive.

Its jump start to fame came in the 1970’s when it appeared in several films, most notably Ordinary People.  Countless popular musicians have made use of its flowing chord progression: The Beatles, The Who, David Bowie,  Oasis,  Brittney Spears, Pet Shop Boys and Belle & Sebastian –  to name a few!

The “Bridal Chorus” (Treulich Geführt) is from the 1850 opera Lohengrin, by German composer Richard Wagner.

We know it as ‘Here Comes the Bride’. We are used to hearing it as a bridal march (processional), though in the opera it is sung after the ceremony by the bridesmaids, as they accompany the heroine  to the bridal chamber. The marriage is an almost immediate failure. Jewish weddings never use it as Wagner was well known as an anti-semite and his heroic music later became closely associated with the Nazi movement.

Catholic and Lutheran weddings traditionally  also oppose its use, citing its secular nature . John Rutter put it best:

“To those people who associate Wagner’s chorus with religious wedding ceremonies, it may come as a surprise that it is sung in the opera as the bridal pair are escorted by their retinue into the bridal chamber. No amount of bending Wagner’s text in translation will make it fit a church wedding…”

It was first used as a wedding march at the royal wedding  of Princess Victoria, the daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858. From then on, the ‘Bridal Chorus’ was a common choice for a  wedding march.


Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”  was  written in 1842, a few years before Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ , and is the best known of the pieces from his suite of incidental music  to Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

At weddings,  this piece is commonly used as a recessional. It is frequently teamed with the “Bridal Chorus” of Richard Wagner and also became famous for its use in the ceremony of Princess Victoria to Prince Frederick. Our two most famous wedding songs were composed within a few years of each other and came into use very quickly – some 150 years ago.

The Prince of Denmark’s March, commonly but erroneously called Trumpet Voluntary,  was written circa. 1700, by English  composer Jeremiah Clarke, the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was famously chosen by Princess Diana in her wedding with Prince William.

For many years the piece was attributed incorrectly to Clarke’s  better known contemporary Henry Purcell. An organist some 150 years later adapted it for organ and sourced it as written by Purcell. Clarke had worked with a brother of Purcell which likely led to the confusion. Many contemporary books still attribute it, and another  famous wedding piece commonly called ‘Trumpet Tune’, to Purcell.

J.S Bach has composed a long list of tunes that are part of the traditional wedding repertoire.

The two best known pieces are Air on the G String and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.  The ‘Air’ is adapted from an Orchestral Suite and gets it’s name from The title comes from violinist August Wilhelmj’s  arrangement of the piece for violin and piano who was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin –  the G string. Classic rock fans recognize Procol Harum’s  ‘Whiter shade of Pale’  makes obvious use of the music. It was also the first of Bach’s work to be recorded (1902).

‘Jesu’,  like Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’,  is based on a Chorale work. It was originally meant to be played at a considerably faster tempo than the reverent tempo in which it is commonly heard at ceremonies. I prefer its use as a recessional at a brisk tempo.

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Live Music vs the ipod: Music for your Wedding Ceremony

James Davis/Classical Guitar


Should you hire a live musician(s) or use recorded music for your wedding ceremony?  Not so long ago  it was unheard of to use pre-recorded music for a wedding – it would have certainly been considered more than just a little tacky.

You may save money by having a talented friend or family member perform – or bring along a boom box to play  a CD or mp3’s.  If you have little or no budget for your wedding, then this may be the way to go. Some weddings, I’m told, don’t use any music.

I can’t imagine a beautiful ceremony that doesn’t include live music, it is a very small fraction of the average wedding budget, but is often overlooked.   There is the budget to consider, though use of prerecorded music will likely necessitate rental and set up of a PA  – and someone to run it, which in itself may cost  as much or more than  a solo musician. A DJ is far less likely to experience ‘technical difficulties’ than your 16 year old nephew.

I have spoken with many people after ceremonies that  expressed regret at not hiring live music for their wedding. A recent Modern Bride poll  showed that not using a larger percentage of their budget for live music was the biggest regret newlyweds had regarding their wedding day.

Do you have your heart set on a popular song for your wedding? Normally, the lyric is vital to these songs. Some pop/rock songs do not stand up well as instrumentals. You will then choose between hiring a vocalist or using a recording. Classical musicians will have no problem arranging these songs, you should expect an extra fee for the service. Some may already work this into their fee structure. You may consider instead using these songs as integral parts of your reception.

There are also logistical matters to consider. Prerecorded music will force the transition between the wedding party music and the bridal march to be cut unnaturally.  The bride will either time the march to a natural break in the music, have everyone wait at the alter for a natural break, or cut the music off/fade out. Experienced musicians have alternate endings and can adjust the tempo, making sure the music matches the transitions. If music is really important to you, given the choice between professional live music and recorded music – live wins every time.

Receptions are another matter, especially if dancing is involved. Wedding musicians will offer a good rate to handle your cocktail hour and dinner music if they’ve already played your wedding.  Many Classical musicians also play jazz and other styles so you may want to check on multi-faceted musicians if you are considering ceremony musicians that can also cover dinner and cocktails. When it comes time for dancing it’s time to consider a wedding band or a DJ. DJ’s are certainly more plentiful, but the energy of a live band can not be matched. Even if they can’t reasonably play all songs/styles that you want, a good band will be infinitely more memorable than a good DJ.

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On top of Vail Mountain

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Weekend Weddings

Two weddings tomorrow; one at St Malo’s and one at The Stanley Hotel.

Music & Video of a past wedding: St Malo’s, Church on the Rock

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