Having performed at wedding ceremonies since she was a teen back in 1998, violinist/violist Laurel Thomsen is happy to demystify the traditional wedding ceremony terminology and help brides and grooms make their wedding ceremonies their 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 couples, please disregard that terminology.
A typical wedding ceremony includes many or all of these musical points:
- Musical Interludes
- Guests' dismissal
The Prelude is 15-30 minutes of music played before the ceremony as guests are arriving and taking their seats. Often, right before the processional is set to start, the groom and officiant take their places, and sometimes the groomsmen as well, though they may accompany the bridesmaids in the Processional instead.
Prelude pieces are typically slow to moderate tempo, and may be calming or introspective to help focus everyone's attention. 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.
The Processional 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 the grandparents. If the officiant and groom are part of the processional they would enter here as well.
The bridesmaids typically come next. If the groomsmen are walking in the processional they usually accompany the bridesmaids, either hand in hand, in groups of all of one (often groomsmen first) then all of the other, or alternating. If there are flower girls or ring bearers they would come in right after the bridesmaids/groomsmen.
The bride, traditionally accompanied by her father, makes the final entrance. Some brides in recent years enter alone. Some are accompanied by both parents, a father and step-father, or her mother when a father is not present. Since it’s your day, make it your processional.
There can be a separate piece of music performed for each group of people in the processional, or some/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.
While many ceremonies are short and don't include any music, some couples choose to have a short interlude before the vows, as a moment of prayer, remembrance, or reflection, or during special moments like a unity candle lighting, sand ceremony, or communion. While not typical, some couples choose to have soft music played throughout the ceremony.
Pieces chosen for interludes are typically calm and introspective.
The Recessional song completes 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 for the entire bridal party recessional.
Recessional pieces are typically upbeat, joyous, and fun.
At the ceremony's conclusion, guests are then free to exit the ceremony area. The officiant may give the formal dismissal, directing the guests to the next activity. Another song is typically played as they exit.
Pieces chosen for the dismissal of the guests are typically upbeat and fun.
The musicians may play 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.