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Choosing Wedding Musicians


Your wedding day is set. You’ve got a million things to think about among which is what you are going to have for your music. Let me “stipulate” at the beginning, we’re assuming you are having live musicians for your wedding: not recorded music. You have chosen your venue be it a church or garden setting. You know approximately how many guests you’ll have. You may even know how many maids you are having and if there are any children, i.e. flower girl(s) or ring bearer(s). At least these are things that the musician(s) playing for your wedding will want to know at some point.

But, for now let’s look at it from your perspective. You are planning what is one of the most important events in your life. This is a day you’ll want to look back on with fond memories. You obviously have to be realistic in terms of what will work for your budget. Like any important undertaking, the budget can change over time. Being prepared will help to keep your costs under control.

If your wedding is at a church then something as simple as a piano or organ could suffice. Upside, it’s not real expensive. Downside, it might be a tad “pedestrian”. There are some marvelous pianists and organist who can provide variety and quality. A lot depends on who’s playing. That goes for ensembles as well. One size does not fit all. Therefore, you should ask if they can provide you with some information . Any ensemble that plays for weddings on a regular basis should be able to provide you with audio sound samples. Perhaps they have a demo CD or can send you some mp3 sound examples via the internet. Some groups post sound samples on their web site. It might be more difficult for an organist or pianist to do that. They often rely on referrals or the fact they are employed by a church to prove they are worthy. I wouldn’t necessarily accept that as “proof positive”. You could ask them to provide you a couple names or testimonials of brides they’ve played for. Also ask for a repertoire list of what songs they play for weddings. They should have musical selections organized according to what they might play for the prelude portion of the wedding which is the period when your guests are arriving, the 25-30 minutes preceding the start of the ceremony. And they should have a list of songs for the processional part of the ceremony, i.e. when the bridal party and bride and officiant enter. There are a number of standard marches and pieces commonly used for that.

The reason they are used for weddings is they can be shortened or lengthened as needed, for the walking. For example, for the maids, whether you have 2 or 10, the Kanon in D by Pachelbel works quite well. It can be a fairly short piece or it can be “stretched out” as needed. Some brides ask for music that may not be practical for “walking music”. Some songs cannot be edited to fit the length of the processional. So, keep in mind, when the musician leader recommends certain music or tells you your piece may be better for the reception, they are thinking in terms of what actually works.

As a musician it sometimes is demoralizing to realize that a couple flower settings at a table probably cost as much your ensemble. Musicians are providing a very important service for you. This is one of the most important events in your life. You have dreamed about this day, done lots of planning and are spending a small fortune. Don’t jump at choosing the least expensive group, unless they prove to you they are up to par. The memory of a beautiful performance will long outlast the cost. Pricing will vary between groups. Most ensembles will have a web site.

On the site some will list their pricing. If not stated, you need to find out what time the group will arrive in relation to the start of the wedding. Ask how much prelude music the price includes. Some groups will provide 30 minutes. Some will play for as short as 15 minutes. So, ask if it’s not stated. Most protestant weddings are about 30 minutes in duration. Some things can cause a wedding to run long. They include starting late, a long-winded minister, dismissing of attendees by row or having a receiving line. Most ensembles play a recessional that gets the bridal party and immediate family dismissed. If you plan on having a row by row exiting of guests and you expect the music to continue throughout you should discuss that in advance with the musicians. There may be an extra charge. We anticipate some running over by including a 10 min. “margin” onto the 30 min. If the wedding runs over more than 10 min. then the bride incurs one unit of overtime. Typically Jewish weddings last about 40 min. and a Catholic mass will run about an hour for the mass not including prelude music. So, the pricing structure varies according to the type of service.

One other note about pricing. Not all weddings will occur within a convenient driving distance for the musicians. You may be having your wedding some distance from the city where the musicians live. For example, we are based in Louisville, KY. but we also play weddings in surrounding cities such as Lexington, Elizabethtown or Frankfort. Obviously, the rates posted on our site won’t apply in all cases. So, a musician will take into consideration the time involved in getting to your wedding. Most musicians I work with are paid by their time. So, if it takes 45 min. to get to your wedding they are dealing with an hour and half of extra time for the travel time. Most musicians are quite conscientious about being on time, so they will allow extra time on the front side to make sure they aren’t late due to traffic or other. It’s always a good idea  to give the leader a good contact cell number for the day of the wedding in case they get lost or there’s a traffic jam due to accident or other contingency they have a way to let you know. That rarely happens but it’s important to have a line of communication available.

Part II (Order of Processionals in Wedding)
Normally, the grandparents will enter first, if they are being formally seated, next the parents. If you are having a unity candle later in the ceremony the mothers will light a candle before being seated. Then typically, the minister and groomsmen enter. You may keep the same music playing you had for the parents or you may decide the men should have their own music. I find a robust sounding piece works well here. Something like the Rondeau by Mouret. That is a standard march played for weddings, sometimes as a recessional.

Once the officiant and men are in the maids will enter. They will have their own music. The Kanon in D by Pachelbel is a popular selection, and there are many others. The music continues for the flower girl(s) and ringbearer(s) that follow on their heels. Next comes the bridal march.

Often we will play a short “fanfare” to signal the arrival of the bride. At this time the attendees will stand. The officiant will welcome the guests and bridal party. The bride’s father will acknowledge the “giving” of the bride and be seated. Then, there are readings or sometimes poems read by close friends, maybe a short homily by the officiant or minister, and then the vows. The next music heard would be for the lighting of the unity candle. A unity candle is optional. If you are having a unity candle, then a special song or instrumental selection gives voice to deeply held feelings of love, commitment and joy. Everyone is held captive for a few brief moments before the official end of the ceremony, pronouncement of marriage and the final recessional music.

If you are Catholic and are having a mass you will need a “cantor”, a vocalist who will lead the responses to the old testament and new testament readings. There are a number of standard “responses” that work for that and the cantor will also sing and lead the mass portions that follow. We often choose the music in consultation with the director of music at the church. If you are not using an organist but are using a string quartet or trio, then the musicians will have to have arrangements of music to accompany the vocalist in the singing of the mass responses.

Jewish weddings are similar to protestant weddings in that there is a prelude music portion and the processional portion. Traditionally, the rabbi and cantor walk out first, then the grandparents. Next, the groomsmen, in pairs and the best man. Then the groom enters escorted by his parents. Then the bridesmaids, maid of honor, ring-bearer and flower girls and finally the bride is escorted by her parents. The parents will walk up under the Chuppah and the groom will meet the bride and escort her under the Chuppah. In the more traditional or “conservative” Jewish wedding when the bride and groom walk up under the Chuppah, (canopy supported on four sides) they will circle one another seven times. This is a very general outline and there can be a lot of variety depending on the couple and the rabbi performing the ceremony. But relative to the music: there will be music for the grandparents, groomsmen, groom and parents, maids and finally the bride and her parents. During the ceremony rarely is music needed outside the singing done by the cantor or rabbi which is not accompanied. The only other music needed is the recessional which happens after the breaking of the wine glass and the congregational shout of “Mazel Tov!” . Then the instrumentalist(s) will launch into the recessional song(s)…typically Mazel Tov, Simon Tov and other well known lively Jewish songs of celebration.

We usually do not require a vocalist for a Jewish ceremony. I did have one a few years ago where the bride’s father sang a special song but that was an exception. The only singing at a Jewish wedding is done by the cantor and is not accompanied.

For Protestant or Catholic Weddings
If you are using a vocalist for your wedding you might consider having a vocal selection as the final prelude piece. I have found that works well to get everyone’s attention focused on the wedding ceremony which is about to take place. Your ensemble or organist is playing prelude music and the change to a vocal selection signals something special is happening. People stop visiting and talking and direct their attention to the front. That makes a nice transition into the start of the processional music.

If the wedding is outside most string ensembles will require that the musicians be shaded or out of direct sunlight. That is not so much for the musicians but for their expensive instruments which can be damaged by exposure to direct sun. The same goes for rain. Also, we’ve had brides who schedule outside weddings in mid to late October. Sometimes the temperature can dip quite low. Again, instruments can be damaged and it’s important to be considerate of that. What I’ve experienced is it can be uncomfortably chilly, with varying levels of humidity outside.
Consequently, the guests will often stay inside until the last minute and the poor musicians will have been outside for nearly an hour before the actual start of the wedding. In cold weather we risk getting cracks in our instruments, our hands are freezing, and there will be only a handful of guests actually seated. Brides and their mothers, who I’m sure under normal circumstances are even tempered fair minded people, given the stress of preparing for a wedding and unpredictability of weather conditions can become somewhat unhinged and lose their normal equilibrium. So, contingencies should be planned for in advance in case of possible rain, or inclement weather conditions.

Most groups will have you sign a contract in advance and also receive a deposit which will guarantee their service. I recommend you get a contract from any vendor that is providing a service for you. And while not every possible detail can be included in a contract it will provide a basic framework of what you can expect to get for your money. And of course, doing your homework by getting information about your vendors, (musicians, in this case) in advance will stand you in good stead.

Please contact me at for any questions or comments.

Steve Taylor
SMT Music

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