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Wedding Music – from the Organ Loft perspective
I’ve played wedding music - oh, I can’t tell you how many times - thousands, I suspect! I can play the wedding marches backwards in my sleep, and I’ve lost count of the hours, days, and months I have lost due to the late arrival of the bride ...
But what’s routine – all in a day’s work – for the organist is supremely important to the bride and groom, and each time you talk to yet another couple you need to remember this.
Often the couple arrive to see the organist feeling nervous, and with little idea of what wedding music they want. So how should you conduct the interview?
Firstly, arrive on time and put the couple at their ease. What’s an everyday event for you is new and strange for them. For some it will be the first time they have ever spoken to a real live musician, and they may be shy of making a mistake. You can streamline the process by preparing a CD of wedding music so they can make an informed choice. Let them have it in advance, then they can return it to you when they come.
Your CD will, of course, contain the wedding music you’re able to provide in your setting. Here are some suggestions of what seems to be enduringly popular wedding music.
Some people will think they have to have Wagner’s Wedding March Here comes the Bride, so you can explain to them that they don’t have to. But it's so firmly embedded in our popular culture that many couples will feel unmarried without it.
Would they like an anthem, verse or motet? Would they like hymns, and if so, which ones? There are gospel hymns too, and negro spirituals which many people love. Occasionally you'll get requests for psalm chants or Gregorian Chant - Plainchant - especially if one of the pair sang it at school.
You’ll need to explain the amount of time available for music: 15 minutes beforehand, 7 minutes at the signing of the register, and a wedding march at the end. If they don’t realise the importance of keeping it moving (and they won’t) their ceremony could be spoilt by shuffling of feet while a long piece of music holds up the action.
Let them know your fee, and if they want a difficult, non-repertoire piece which you have to learn, charge more accordingly. If the couple intend to make a video of their wedding music for all and sundry, you’ll need to add a supplementary fee. And if they bring their own organist you are still entitled to your basic payment. Arrange to be paid in advance - in all the excitement of the day you have little chance of getting your fee afterwards!
A Choral Wedding
If the couple would like to have a choir or a wedding singer, you’ll be able to advise them on what would be suitable, possible, and affordable. This is where your Wedding Music CD can come in very useful.
You’ll need to spell out the costs involved, and if you can, give them a choice. For example, the best choir will cost so much, but a very good choir will cost slightly less. A quartet will be cheaper again, and a soloist is the least expensive option. Most people choosing their wedding music will have little idea about singers – or their scale of fees – and they’ll rely on your expert guidance. Have them organise the singers’ fees before the service too.
All Things Weird and Wonderful
Couples will often bring their own requests for wedding music. You may expect the occasional oddity! At one wedding the plaintive military farewell The Last Post was requested … for the Bride’s entry! And it’s not unknown to be asked to play the hymn O Purest of Creatures for the entry of the Bride too … perhaps she wants to make a point?
There are always going to be requests for pop songs, or rap. Maybe the couple have sentimental reasons for wanting them in the service. Now if you’re not a rapper or a pop star, you might find this a bit difficult! When I was just 15 I played my first wedding and was asked to play the popular French song Because you come to me with nought save love. It sounded ghastly – partly because I was so embarrassed at having to play it.
But you should do your best to carry out their wishes. If your priest or minister agrees, you could play the original CDs of these songs over the PA system - a kind of wedding singer soundtrack. Some of these favourite songs are very good, and very fitting. It’s not for nothing that Bryan Adams’ Everything I do (I do it for you) – better known as the Robin Hood song - is one of the most popular wedding music requests.
With all the excitement, wedding nerves, and unforeseen dramas inherent in trying to get an entire extended family under one roof, you never know what’s round the corner. I did the music for a wedding in England which was scheduled for 4 p.m. The guests all shuffled in their seats while the organist played .. and played .. and played. Eventually, at 5 p.m., the Bride arrived. But the Registrar refused to marry her! Under English law a wedding must take place before sunset. Imagine marrying the wrong person because the church was too dark! There were great ructions as you can guess.
Then there was The Bride Who Said "No". Again, great ructions, but happy endings for the organist. Both weddings were re-scheduled, so he got double fees!
I've prepared a set of guidelines for choosing wedding music from the couple's viewpoint, and you'll find it here at Choosing your Wedding Music. You may download it free and let them go through it at their leisure. It covers some of the thornier points about fees, for instance, where you may be glad of third party endorsement.
And you could also help them get started by giving them our Favourite Wedding Music list.
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