Michael Manners @ The ChurchMusic.ie Team
March 2, 2021
Wedding ensembles and musicians can generally play a wide variety of pieces, songs and hymns – classical, pop, traditional, or otherwise. All that is generally requested is that one month’s notice or thereabouts is given to prepare your wedding ceremony music requests. It really is up to you to find a musician that can cater to the style of music you would like.
If you are not entirely sure what pieces/songs you would like, musicians will usually have a repertoire list. This repertoire should have an extensive list of common wedding pieces that they are able to play.
For a catholic wedding ceremony, generally 8 pieces of music are required, either instrumental or vocal. The type of music you choose will dictate where it goes in the mass.
For other denominations, such as Church of Ireland, or humanist and civil ceremonies, the number of pieces is more down to personal choice or is sometimes decided by the celebrant of the ceremony.
You might already have a few songs in your mind that you would like played. Super! You can listen to the audio samples of popular wedding ceremony music to get some ideas for your mass or service. It is worthwhile doing some research on YouTube of Spotify.
Maybe there’s a film that you love? Maybe there’s a special piece of music that you’ve always had in your head for your wedding day? Would you like classical music, traditional Irish music or possibly upbeat more modern music? Here’s a Spotify wedding ceremony playlist that you can get some ideas from.
There's no magic formula to coming up with a list of wedding ceremony music. You can go with the middle of the road hymns and songs or you can be a little bit more adventurous and instrumental pieces of your favourite songs.
In general, the rule is that non-religious songs should be left until the register signing. Instrumentals, whether religious or not, can be performed at any stage.
If there is a particular piece of music that you would like that isn’t in the repertoire list of your chosen musician, generally the ceremony musician should be able to perform it so long as the proper sheet music is available – this is the music in written form. If no sheet music is available for a piece of music, it can be an arduous task for a musician to try and learn a piece by ear – in other words, by simply listening to it.
If you want to do some research for wedding music songs or hymns that might be possible for your ceremony be sure to visit the link to Sheet Music Plus.
In advance of your wedding ceremony you will need to touch base with the church or venue to arrange for where you musicians will setup for the ceremony.
Most musicians and groups will bring all their own equipment to the church – PA, microphones etc. This is because the PA equipment at some churches may be in poor condition, or simply non-existent. Pianists and organists will generally also bring their own electric stage piano/organ to the church, so there is no need to depend on the church to provide this.
The church or venue should be open 1 hour before the ceremony begins, to allow the group time to set up and rehearse.
If there is a gallery in the church, please make sure that the key to it, if it is locked, is available to your wedding ceremony musician at least 1 hour beforehand.
The musician or music group will generally make a decision on the day (if they haven’t performed in your church previously) whether or not to use the gallery, if there is one. The factors taken into consideration are the size of the church, the location of the gallery etc.
Generally speaking, the quality of sound will be better in the church when the music is performed in the gallery. But some musicians will prefer to play closer to the altar at the front of the church. In some cases, the layout of the church will leave the musician with no choice but to perform from a particular area or a part of the church that is specifically for music performance – sometimes in the middle of the church, sometimes on the altar, and sometimes even at the back of the church (when the church is small).
Musicians will have their own preferred method of receiving payment from you, but most should be happy to receive payment on the day, but prior to the ceremony beginning – so as they don’t have to chase the ever-forgetful best man when the ceremony is finished!
Its important to consider where you put the music during the wedding ceremony. Music during a wedding ceremony should only be used to accompany a particular activity. Music is not to be played on its own for the sole purpose of entertaining your guests. It is used to embellish the formality of the ceremony itself.
It is always a good idea to keep the music as religious as possible for church ceremonies. As the ceremony is officially over at the signing of the register, it is more appropriate to have modern songs or pop songs at this point, rather than say, at the communion or the offertory. However, it is essentially up to the couple what music is performed, so long as the priest or celebrant of the mass is in agreement.
As instrumental pieces don’t obviously have any words, and therefore can’t be considered non-religious, they can be performed at any stage during the wedding ceremony.
However, the instrumental versions of well known songs mightn’t be considered appropriate – for instance, ‘Molly Malone’. Whereas something like ‘Carrickfergus’ would be fine. Common sense should prevail here.
A variety of pieces/songs will ensure that the wedding ceremony music doesn’t become too stale or repetitive i.e. a mixture between classical, Irish, and modern hymns or songs.
More important would be a music programme that doesn’t just have hymns or songs, but instrumental pieces too.
The candle ceremonies only last a short period of time, and so a typical piece of music lasting 2 to 3 minutes is too long, and disturbs the flow of the mass. Therefore, some musicians will advise that an instrumental piece is performed here, because these pieces of music can easily be adapted on the day to last the length of time it takes to actually light the candles.
One piece of music is generally sufficient for the processional/the entrance of both the bridesmaids and the bride herself into the church. However, church musicians are generally open to suggestions if there is a requirement for two separate pieces of music.
Two pieces of music at the communion are sufficient in length to cover the duration of the communion. If there is an unusually large congregation receiving communion, your musician can always perform a third piece, and can defer making a decision on that until the day itself.
If you are choosing a piece of music that isn’t on the repertoire list of your musician or music group, you should always indicate the composer and or/singer most commonly associated with it. This will aid your music group and singers in locating the sheet music for the piece in question. Sheet music is available for most pieces of music. However, if it is an obscure piece of music that is little known, this may not be the case. In these circumstances, your singer and musicians might have difficulty performing it. An audio recording of the music is generally not sufficient for the singer or group to learn it.
You should always contact your musician if you are in any doubt about a piece of music and its suitability for the church ceremony.