Let's demystify the traditional wedding ceremony terminology and help you make your wedding ceremony your own!

Historically, a wedding processional symbolizes the bride and her attendants coming to meet the groom, perhaps for the first time, hence the reason for the groom and groomsmen already being at the altar, the veil for the bride, the father giving her away, etc.

Modern couples are free to create a wedding ceremony that suits their beliefs and desires, yet some of the traditional language is helpful in communicating the points of a ceremony where music may be needed.

While the terms "bride" and "groom" are used below, for same-sex and non-binary couples, please disregard that terminology.

A typical wedding ceremony includes most or all of these musical points:

  • Prelude
  • Processional
  • Musical Interludes
  • Recessional
  • Guests' dismissal
  • Postlude

To view my current event repertoire lists, please click here.

The Prelude is 15-30 minutes of music played before the ceremony as guests are arriving and taking their seats. Prelude pieces are typically slow to moderate tempo, and may be calming or introspective to help focus everyone's attention. Classical music, Celtic waltzes, and slower tempo pop covers are a great fit, however, if clients prefer to keep things upbeat, that's fine too! Many clients leave the choice of Prelude music up to the musicians, though some choose special pieces they'd like to have performed. 3-6 songs covers a typical Prelude portion.

A few Classical suggestions:
It's hard to go wrong with anything Baroque, including Bach's Arioso, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and Air on the G String, Handel's Water Music Suite, and Vivaldi's Largo from "Winter." Romantic melodies like "Le Cygne" (The Swan) by Camille Saint-Saëns and other songs listed in the "Processional" section would also be well suited.

A few Pop suggestions:
  • La Vie En Rose - Edith Piaf
  • In My Life - The Beatles
  • Moon River - from "Breakfast At Tiffany’s"
  • Oceans - Hillsong United
  • Secret Garden Theme - from "The Secret Garden"

The Processional marks the official start of a wedding ceremony. It may be simple, with one song played as the bride walks down the aisle to meet the groom, or include multiple songs as groups of attendants and family members make their entrance.

A more elaborate Processional may begin with groups such as the parents, the mothers, and/or the grandparents. Often, towards the end of the Prelude, the groom and officiant will informally take their places at the altar (and sometimes the groomsmen as well), however, if the officiant and groom choose to have a formal entrance as part of the Processional, they would enter here as well.

The bridesmaids typically enter next. If groomsmen are walking in the Processional, they usually accompany the bridesmaids, either hand in hand, in groups, or alternating one at a time. If there are flower girls or ring bearers they would typically enter after the bridesmaids/groomsmen, or as the final entrance before the bride.

The bride, traditionally accompanied by her father, makes the final entrance. In recent years, some brides choose to enter alone. Some are accompanied by both parents, a father and a step-father, or her mother. Anything is possible.

There can be a separate piece of music performed for each group of people in the Processional, or all groups arriving with the same song played throughout. It is typical and provides a grand entrance when a distinct song is played for the bridal entrance. An elegant yet easy Processional choice is to have one piece played while everyone before the bride enters, and then a new song for the bride. It is not a problem to switch pieces for each group in the Processional however, as long as each group waits long enough to hear the music change before they enter.

Processional pieces are typically slow to moderate pace.

A few Classical suggestions:
  • A movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, such as "Autumn" or "Winter"
  • Bach’s Air on the G String, Arioso, or Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring
  • Debussy's "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair" or "Clair de Lune"
  • Delibes' "Flower Duet" from Lakme
  • MacDowell’s "To A Wild Rose”
  • Pachelbel's Canon in D
  • Saint-Saëns "Le Cygne”

A few Pop suggestions:
  • A Thousand Years - Christina Perri
  • Can’t Help Falling in Love - Elvis
  • Feather Theme - from "Forrest Gump"
  • Here Comes the Sun - the Beatles
  • La Vie En Rose - covered by Edith Piaf, Louis Armstrong, Lady Gaga, etc.
  • Memory - from Cats
  • Moon River - from "Breakfast At Tiffany’s"
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  • The Ludlows theme from "Legends of the Fall"
  • Wildflowers - Tom Petty

Musical Interludes
While many ceremonies are short and don't include any music, some couples choose to have a short interlude as a moment of prayer, remembrance, or reflection before the vows, or during a special moment like a unity candle lighting, sand ceremony, or communion. While not typical, some couples do choose to have soft music played throughout the entire ceremony, or during just the vows.

Pieces chosen for interludes are typically calm and introspective.

A few Classical suggestions:
  • Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel"
  • Debussy's "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair" or "Clair de Lune"
  • Ave Maria - either the Bach Gounod or Schubert
A few Pop suggestions:
  • Here, There and Everywhere - The Beatles
  • Moon River - from "Breakfast At Tiffany’s"
  • You Raise Me Up - covered by Josh Groban
  • Unchained Melody - from "Ghost"

The Recessional marks the completion of the ceremony with the bridal party walking back down the aisle in reverse order beginning with the bride and groom. Typically, one piece is played as the entire bridal party exits.

Recessional pieces are typically upbeat, joyous, and fun.

A few Classical Suggestions:
  • Bach - so many Gavottes, Bourrees, Courantes, and Marches to choose from!
  • Handel’s Water Music Suite, particularly the Bourree or one of the Hornpipes
  • Handel’s "La Rejouissance" or "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba"
  • Rimsky- Korsakov "Scheherazade Theme”
  • Vivaldi's Four Seasons - particularly one of the movements from “Spring" or “Autumn"

A few Pop/Rock Suggestions:
  • All You Need is Love - The Beatles
  • Better Together - Jack Johnson
  • Can't Take My Eyes Off You - Frankie Valli (beginning either with the verse or chorus melodies depending on desired flavor)
  • Daydream - Lovin’ Spoonful
  • Happy Together - The Turtles (beginning either with the verse or chorus melodies depending on desired flavor)
  • Hey Tonight - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
  • How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You - James Taylor, Marvin Gaye etc.
  • Married Life - Michael Giacchino, from "Up"
  • One Love - Bob Marley
  • Signed, Sealed, and Delivered - Stevie Wonder
  • This Will Be An Everlasting Love - Natalie Cole
  • Triforce Theme - From "Zelda"
  • When I’m 64 - The Beatles
  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice - The Beach Boys

Guests' Dismissal
At the ceremony's conclusion, guests free to exit the ceremony area. The officiant may give the formal dismissal, directing the guests to the next activity. A final song is typically played as they exit.

Pieces chosen for the dismissal of the guests are typically upbeat and fun. Please see the Recessional list above or view Laurel's current event repertoire lists by clicking here.

Postlude and Beyond
The musicians may play a Postlude (typically 15-30 minutes) if people are milling about the ceremony site, taking photos etc., but clients may also choose to have the music end with the guests’ dismissal as people move on to another location. The musicians may also relocate with the guests to a cocktail hour, luncheon, dinner, or reception location.

Pieces chosen for the Postlude are typically upbeat, joyous, and fun. For those wanting Classical music, pieces from the Classical, Romantic, and even Modern eras can be a nice change of pace from the more formal sounding Baroque. Or if the music selections up to this point were largely Classical, the Postlude can be a nice time to switch to more contemporary and Jazz selections. For those interested in Pop, Rock, and Jazz, see the Recessional choices above or view my current event repertoire lists by clicking here.

Please reach out if you have questions about choosing wedding music.

If you prefer that Laurel and her colleagues choose a nice selection, she will need:

  • A detailed list of the groups walking in the processional
  • A list of the points during the ceremony when you may want music
For more information about Laurel's event services, please visit the Event and Wedding Performance page.

Laurel Thomsen

Violin, Viola, Vocals
Performance, Instruction, Recording

Based in Santa Cruz, California

Site by Laurel Thomsen
Photography by Michelle Magdalena

Skype: laurelthomsen

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