Wedding Music?

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

Emily of Emily Style wrote a post recently about picking wedding music, and suddenly there I was googling “wedding music” and pondering what they heck we were going to do about it. Thankfully, we have lots of time to think about it, because it seems like it’s not going to be tremendously straightforward. First off, our venue does not allow amplified music at our outdoor ceremony location, which means we need a live musician or two. In theory, I love this idea, in practice it might be tough to keep this within the budget. Secondly, have you looked at wedding music? Apparently, once you cut out music relating to Jesus (most everything), as well as Wagner (a known anti-Semite, and Hitler’s favorite composer) who wrote ‘Here Comes The Bride,’ you’ve significantly narrowed the pool.

Lots of people are using popular music for their wedding music these days, which can work really well. In our case, though, it doesn’t feel quite right. At the same time, using a typical classical piece would feel odd as well, since we are not huge classical music buffs (at least, compared to the rest of my family). So, here is a short collection of some rough ideas I’ve had:

  • The first song I heard that made me sit up and say “Oh! I would love to walk down the aisle to this!” was the lovely Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irgolva from the Once soundtrack. It’s evocative, simple, and haunting. The one problem? Somehow the lyrics (Take this sinking boat and point it home/ We’ve still got time/ Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice/ You’ve made it now) are a little downbeat for a wedding. I love bittersweet and evocative, but I’m not sure even I can pull this off. That said, I’m still pondering what this tune would be like played on a single violin.
  • On the classical music front, I’ve loved Pachelbel’s Cannon since I was a little girl. But of late it’s become *the* song for bride’s to process too. I want something that feels a little more personal, so that is off the list.
  • My favorite Opera is Bizet’s Carmen, and the aria “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (love is a rebellious bird) is particularly lovely, and the lyrics are poetic and dangerous. But, it’s been so overplayed culturally, that I’d feel like I was walking down the aisle to a coke commercial. Plus, while the tune is nice, it’s a aria, spectacular when sung, and we’re not hiring a opera singer. That is not in the budget.
  • Then there is the Klezmer violin option. In a funny reversal of fate, I cut my teeth on middle eastern music – hanging out with serious violinists in my teens – and as a result I feel a great affinity to Klezmer music since it has similar roots, while David doesn’t feel very strongly about it. I really like the idea of hiring a klezmer violinist to play our wedding ceremony. I’ve heard that there is a traditional klezmer bridal march that is “regal and dramatic, happy and sad at the same time, as all Jewish music is supposed to be.” This sounds right up my alley. Unfortunately I can’t find any evidence of it online. It’s sounds like I have some research to do!

As always, I love to hear how you are navigating this challenge. How are you working to finding personal and evocative music for your wedding? Anyone know of talented and affordable violinists in the Bay Area?

Photo by the talented Jessamyn Harris

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit #NASTY

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  • Emily

    Meg- Call my guy, Frank Diaz. He’s AMAZING and very affordable. For us, he’s playing Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, some Beatles, and even a little Poison, but of course he’s more than a little well versed in classical. We’ve hired a quartet, but he can put together just about any type of string ensemble you’re looking for. His number is 415.690.939- if you talk to him, tell him Emily W. was singing his praises. And as an aside, my two cents on the Glen Hansard pick- I saw him and Marketa last year and could not imagine a more beautiful song to walk down the aisle to. It’s gorgeous, authentic, and not a downer at all- if anything, it’s hopeful and open, just what a wedding should be. If you like it, go for it.

  • Check out the Conservatory School of Music. They often have students that do weddings and such for little money.

  • You said Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and I melted. I love that song. I think that it is not only a song about hope, but the romance that is felt in hope. There’s something proactively comforting about those lyrics… like, coming home.

    For our wedding, we actually tracked down a family friend who is in a local folk band that is known for its Appalachian sounding music. It’s earthy and fits in perfectly for our venue, plus they are willing to work with our own processional song, Set Me As A Seal by Matt Mahr. Admittedly concerning Jesus, but it means alot to the Fiance and me, and that’s what matters, right?

    Have you seen “Across the Universe” yet? Their rendition of the Beatle’s “Blackbird” by Evan Rachel Wood is absofreakinglutely breathtaking. Sarah MacLaughlin also does a nice cover. Another idea. :)

  • Like Kini said, check out good music schools in your area – those students are only a couple of years off technically professional and can crank out some pretty darn good tunes (especially the post-grads)- much cheaper than an “actual” pro.
    Have you thought about a harpist? only one muso, so cheaper than an ensemble but still a rich sound.
    A group of a cappela singers from a local university?
    song wise… I love a Nightingale Sang in Berkley sq. – manhatten transfer-style. Also, Chanson de Matin is beautiful. I’ll have a think about others in my lunch break…
    Am probably a bit biased as a brass muso, but have you thought about a brass quintet? they could do some handel or something, and its a pretty cool sound. One of my fav brass pieces (and prob my pick for my procession) is Pastorale by Goff Richards. Stunning. Also Country Scene by him.
    there’s another one on the tip of my tounge but I’ll have to get back to you on it!

  • thats it!!
    just remembered the song!!
    if you’ve not heard of him already, its by Derek Bourgeois – a really prolific English composer who writes lots for orchestras and brass bands and all sorts. He wrote his wife a wedding march, but wrote it in a really irregular metre so that she wouldn’t be able to walk down the aisle in time to it!! its a beautiful, touching, intimate, funny piece of music that I just LOVE. Although originally called Wedding March, its now published as “Serenade”. The theme is so sweet and gentle, its just gorgeous.

  • I third the SF Conservatory idea! They have a really well-known “music for hire” office that I’ve had lots of friends play for. I also have several musician friends in the area I’d be happy to refer you to – if you can’t email me through the comment notification, just comment on my blog and we’ll get in touch.

    Also, the opera singer idea is TOTALLY not out of your budget – you can get a student for that, too! L’amour est un oiseau rebelle is one of my favorite arias as well.

    Canon in D is indeed beautiful, but I promise your musicians will adore you if you don’t make them play it. Most musicians who’ve ever been on the wedding-gig circuit can play it in our sleep and manage to fall asleep when we do play it! ;-)

  • (Long time reader, first time posting!)
    We’re allowed to have amplified music so we’re in the clear (we’re playing “Story Book Love,” also known as the theme song to the Princess Bride, instrumental as a processional and the sung version as we recess). For you I would suggest ANY of the music from the August Rush soundtrack or “The Promise” by Michael Nyman (I think…). It’s a beautiful piano piece that could go wonderfully with a violinist and flute player. GL!

  • ley

    I walked down the aisle to Storybook Love (from the Princess Bride) and the wedding party walked down to Over The Rainbow (the IZ version) We just had a solo violin, and it was beautiful. About a month before the wedding, I gave her a bunch of songs I liked and she worked with the ones she could to turn them from contemporary music or classical pieces for larger ensembles into songs fit for one violin.

    Music schools are probably your best bet. Our violinist was a student, although we found her through my mom’s church- another great resourch, though probably not one that would fit you guys. It took us a while to track someone down, but it was worth it- we had beautiful music and she only charged us about $20/hour! Good luck!

  • I have recently become obsessed with Sarah McLachlan singing “Ordinary Miracle” from the Charlotte’s Web soundtrack… simple, beautiful, nice message.

    Good luck!

  • Have you pored over your guest list making sure there are no violinists, guitarists, singers? Out of 150, there’s bound to be one! That’s always an option if none of the other options fit in your budget. Plus, it would be extremely meaningful and personal. Just a thought!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t mean to sound discouraging, but as a former violinist, I have to question how well a solo violin could be heard at an outside venue with no amplification. You might need to add another musician or two to get the sound to travel to the back of the audience. If the number of invites is small, though, and you only have a few rows of people, it might be ok.

    I also support the idea of hiring music students. Most people are actually very good by the time that they enter a music school, so you don’t even have to worry about getting someone that’s closer to graduation.

    Good luck in your search.

  • Meg – My brother and I sang Falling Slowly for our sister’s wedding in May. It was definitely not too downbeat, although I did cry through the entire last verse (I made our older brother make funny faces while we sang so that the crying wouldn’t get the best of me). I think it’s a wonderful choice, especially if it’s the first one that grabs your attention. I agree with Emily, it’s gorgeous and authentic.

  • We are doing more contemporary music… on a violin an guitar. I’ll be coming down the aisle to Bless the Broken Road played on the violin… anyone who knows the words – woohoo… anyone who doesn’t – its just a pretty violin.
    I LOVE the Storybook Love song and I think we might be incorporating that in some way.

  • Anonymous

    What about Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley? You can listen to Vitamin String Quartet’s version on itunes to hear what an instrumental interpretation would sound like. While you’re there, try searching for the term “indie wedding”– iTunes has some pretty good picks.

  • We are also doing an outside ceremony, although we will have amplification, which is imperative since we’re getting married on a pier and the chairs will be about 15-20 ft. back. I am a singer myself and I love love love musical theatre and standards (so this might not help you much but I’m sharing anyway), and my best friend has her degree in musical theatre so she’ll be singing several of my favorite songs. I’m walking in to her singing “At Last”, and she’ll sing at least one or two other fabulous and perhaps funny love songs during the ceremony.

    My FI loves Widespread Panic and two of our friends are playing guitar before the ceremony, so FI is going to pick a few of his favorite Panic songs for them to play acoustically. It will be like a little inside joke for his friends who also like the band. I am trying to make sure that his personality and favorite things are represented throughout the wedding, not just mine. That sounds condescending but he’s pretty laid back and letting me do whatever I want with the wedding, but it’s just not mine, it’s OURS, so I’m very consciously trying to include him.

  • I adore “Once,” I agree that if that song grabs you, perhaps it’s the right one. Another option could be musicians doing an instrumental of “Falling Slowly” – that way you keep the beautiful music but are not repeating the words you’re having doubts about.

  • yes! my brother is a talented and affordable violinist who lives in SF! he plays with a sweet folky band in the bay area called ‘the wayside state'(myspace). he and one of his bandmates who plays guitar and sings are providing the music for our cerermony. we are walking out to the beatles ‘i wanna hold your hand’ and they are also doing ‘at last’ (a bit cheesy i know) and a bitchin accoustic version of ‘take on me’ by a ha. they are so fun to work with. if you want his email hit me up.

  • Vanessa

    I personally am not a fan of the traditional wedding music. I find it bland and very impersonal. Luckily one of my close friends is a great musician so I’ve asked him to write some simple acoustic music that I can walk down the aisle to. Not only was he personally honored by my request, it’ll be that much more meaningful to everyone involved in the day.

  • Meg, I really wish you good luck with your music search but I’m writing this comment for a completely different purpose. I just wanted to tell you that I’ve tagged you as one of my 5 favorite bloggers as part of the Kiss Ass Blogger Award:

    You now get to pass along your own awards. You can visit this site, register your blog and obtain instructions:

  • We are getting married in the catholic church, so they have a cd of “ok” music to play for the ceremony… I put it in the car to see what my options were… i felt like i was in a forest with fairies or friar tuck or some weird combination of the two… Hmm…

  • kerstin

    I’m processing to “Simple Gifts,” an 1848 Shaker song by Elder Joseph Brackett, played by my uncle on classical guitar — it’s a lovely upbeat melody. The wedding party will walk down the aisle to Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – which could instead be called “the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 composed by Johann Sebastian Bach” depending on which arrangement you use – also a nice upbeat piece on a classical guitar or piano…

  • Neither of us are much into classical music, so we will be incorporating some of our favorite bands into the ceremony and reception. I will likely be walking down the aisle to a Pixies song, and I know most people would think it weird, but I don’t care.
    In my wedding nightmares I’m walking down the aisle to “Here Comes The Bride.” It’s just not what I ever wanted.

  • I love film soundtrack music, so I knew I had to go with a score from somewhere. Like you, I always loved the Pachelbel canon, but that was before it got waaay too overused. So I decided on the opening theme from “Father of the Bride” (the 90’s one). I love that music so much (go Alan Silvestri!). I also considered the Princess Bride theme, but this just felt more bridal to me!

    Not sure what the bridal party will walk in to yet…

  • There are a lot of great ideas on here!!
    We’re getting married inside in a somewhat small room, so we hired a classical guitarist. But I’m considering having him play more “modern” music before the ceremony. For my bridesmaids, I’m thinking I’d like to use Dido’s “Thank You” – I love that song, even if it is a little cheesy. Unfortunately, my fiancee wants me to walk down the aisle to the ol’ Wedding March. This is one of the things he’s pretty adamant about – maybe I’ll tell him about Hitler and the whole anti-Semite thing…. we’re Christian, but we don’t like those people either! I didn’t know that about him.

    Oh, and by the way, what is a klezmer guitar?? Sorry if I sound like an idiot, I’m just curious.

  • Emily

    Was reading everyone else’s comments and realized that in my late-night typing haste I neglected to leave full contact info for Frank Diaz- doh! His email is and is number is 415.690.9539. Sorry about that!

  • We are having a bagpiper walk the wedding party and I down and then marching the groom and I out. It will be wonderful.

  • Leigh Ann

    I don’t play any instruments, but I’ll sing for free!

  • Leigh Ann

    P.S. I’d just like to point out that while Jeff Buckley made the most well-known recording of “Hallelujah,” it was actually written and sung originally by the transcendent Leonard Cohen.

  • gwen

    A different idea that is very affordable, and also hauntingly sweet, is to hire a boy soprano soloist from any of the bay area’s boy’s choruses. I was at a wedding where two boys from the SF Boys Chorus sang a duet (I think it was Pie Jesu) and it is was unforgettable! There are a few young choruses who regularly work with the SF opera. It can put an unusual twist a worn out classic, too.

    Child singers are so hopeful and innocent sounding. I love it.

  • Anonymous

    We’re hiring a guitarist from a local college near our location to play French and Spanish music (we met in Paris and lived in Spain a few years). None of our guests will probably make the connection, but it will be wonderfully nostalgic for me and the boy. :)

  • I’m leaning towards songs like Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Israel Kamakawiwo Ole’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Ray Charle’s You are My Sunshine – although that last one might have a bit too much ooomph in it for the ceremony.

    Stuff like that.

  • Over the past year, we slowly made a list of music we wanted to hear at the wedding, one at a time as we came across stuff. And then we sorted it all out and figured out what we wanted to hear when.

  • I love the Falling Slowly song…beautiful. I also see there was a reference to the Vitamin String Quartet…that is what really got us going. My partner wanted the traditional string quartet, but I wanted something a bit edgy-ier. So we are doing string quartet versions of “Tangerine,” Led Zepplin for my partner and her family, Canon for the bridesmaids, “Wild Horses” by Rolling Stones, for my processional (the string version is very reminiscent of “here comes the bride!). And for the recessional we are doing “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. They are also doing “Hallelujeh” Jeff Buckley/Leonard Cohen and “Say Yes” by Elliott Smith. All of these we found on the Vitamin String Quartet Indie Wedding or Rock’n’Roll wedding–very cool! Good luck with your music search! Lots of great suggestions here!

  • Meg

    Engaged Guy- Are we actually the same person? Are you just my alter ego? Because we’re doing the same thing.

  • mr. 122 is an amazing musician (singer, pianist, guitarist, and drummer). when we go back east for the holidays he is going to record acoustic guitar versions of some of our favorite love songs for our guests to be seated to. he is also going to write three songs for his parents, my mom, and our attendants to walk down the aisle to. then, three of my nieces are going to sing my processional song and our recessional song. still not sure what all of those will be yet, thought.

  • We have a six hour drive with three iPods tomorrow. Our task is to choose three songs: for our entry (no aisle, literally just us walking in to a room full of people who are facing us), one for while we’re signing the register, one for our exit (again, so aisle, so really more to mark the ceremony has finished) and our first dance.

    Easy, right? It might be if Baddie didn’t write off *everything* as ‘too cheesy.’ Ugh.

  • Well, I got married in a church, but I didn’t want traditional music (Here Comes the Bride was definitely not an option!). Thankfully I have a good friend that’s a music major (and is a very talented violinist) – I would suggest going that route… college students are always looking for some money (and will charge a lot less than a professional, but I’m sure will be very good). You can always ask for recommendations – I know my friend that played violin for me has played in many, many weddings (probably 35 or so – she just graduated though). I chose to walk down the aisle to “Promenade” (Pictures at an Exhibition – Mussorgsky) – it sounds beautiful with a violin. The bridesmaids walked down to “The Swan” (Saint Saens) and the seating of the parents/grandparents was “Salute d’Amore” (Elgar)… I loved the music – it was all slow and beautiful, but not what you’d typically hear at a wedding. I just had the piano and one violinist and it was perfect.

  • Long-time reader, first comment!

    I am somewhat disheartened to hear that Pachabel's Canon is overused – I was thinkign that might be the aisle song for me, as I love it – but oh well. Been planning on naming our first child Riley for eons, and it's gaining in popularity too. I am just prophetic & ahead of the curve, I guess.

    Hey, so my idea for you is "Orange Sky" by Alexi Murdoch. It's such a beautiful song, I think. A bit slow, but it might work in a ceremony.

    Good luck!

  • Third (or fourth?) the suggestion for working with students/grad students from the SF Conservatory of Music. They have a formal program for this called Music to Go, and they carefully vet who is allowed to participate. Here’s the website:

    Their rates for solo vocalists are the same as for instrumental musicians, so if you wanted to do the opera area, it should be completely reasonable.

    Also, adding on to someone else’s comment — in addition to the San Francisco Boys’ Chorus, there are the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus and the Pacific Boychoir.

  • Anonymous

    Riley (Aka Rachel).

    re: Wagner.

    I’m going to be a bit controversial, and suggest that it’s possible to separate politics from talent. Wagner is one of my favourite composers (Tristan Und Isolde is undoubtedly my favourite opera), and despite his sentiments, I would still have no problem using his music. I suppose I’m saying, if you don’t like the piece, that’s fine. But, to try to discredit it just because he was an anti-Semite is silly. You have to look him in the context of his time. Regrettably, most Europeans throughout history have been anti-semitic. It’s a sad fact.

  • What about using just the melody of the first song? It’s gorgeous and sweet and would be perfect with a guitar.

  • Meg

    Hey Riley-
    Agreed. Wagner wrote some good stuff. As a opera buff I’m with you. However, his music was played over the loudspeakers at concentration camps (!) and it’s such a big deal that a Rabbi will not officiate a wedding if you use Wagner. Which… is understandable.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Meg,

    I completely understand why no one would want Wagner at a Jewish wedding! :-)

    My response was directed to Riley, who said she would let her FH know that Wagner was an anti-semite in attempt to sway him away from the Wedding March he was so set on.

  • Hi! I stumbled across your blog from a recommendation by Google Reader. I’m also in the process of planning a DIY/indie wedding. It’s 5 weeks away actually! I didn’t want to use traditional wedding music either. We’re having the wedding in a backyard, so we’re using a laptop and iTunes to run the show. I ran into the same problem you did with not wanting classical yet not wanting modern music either. What I did find and thought was cool were piano versions of some popular pop and rock songs. One we’re using is Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. It sounds pretty incredible on piano. I thought it was a good balance between classic/modern.

  • music can be really hard, I find in my wedding planning, that it is really the one thing we both feel strongly about – and not necessarily agree on!
    How about the Beatles, I Will? Check out Mario Dasilva does the Beatles, its my new obsession and is on the guitar. It just sounds so romantic and everytime I listen to it I think about walking down the aisle. We are getting married in a church that sort of frowns upon anything but the organist so it probably won’t work for us.
    Good luck!

  • Kira

    I’m considering “Hymn” by Bond, the electric strings quartet. It’s very romantic, dramatic, solemn and reverent, but also violently emotional. (Sounds like an oxy moronic statement there, I know). It reminds me of every perfect memory I have of romance, good novels, favorite memories, all my role models, everything wonderful and cheery in my life :) Otherwise, I’m lost haha

  • Ever since the 7th grade, I always imagined myself walking down the aisle to “Purple Rain”. To this day, I’d still love to do it but it got vetoed (shhh! still on the list!)However, I need to google that baby because after finding out what “Little Red Corvette” is all about, um, I may be slashing through that one with a big fat Sharpie.

    I have a similar problem to “Falling Softly”. The first song David and I ever danced to as a couple together was Norah Jones “Shoot the Moon”. And it goes something like this
    “You shoot the moon
    And miss completely
    And now you’re left to face the gloom
    The empty room that once smelled sweetly” And it gets better too.

    However Norah Jones’s “Come Away With Me” would be gorgeous – having a small band do it would be incredible. The lyrics give me goosebumps – as does that shimmering cymbal.

  • Elena

    I found this list of indie wedding suggestions which helped us decide

  • Hi… I am a professional violinist who plays in the Lumiere String Quartet in NYC, and I just want to comment on hiring students to play. This is a great idea for saving costs, but keep in mind that professional musicians who play weddings for a living will help you feel more relaxed, since they usually show up with very organized wedding music books or sets so there will be little time between each piece. They are also very familiar with the repertoire and will play it perfectly, whereas students are often not yet in the professional world, so they are spending most of their time on concertos and recital pieces.

    Regarding whether to hire live musicians or use recordings, I'm biased, of course, but I think it's always nice to have live musicians. Having said that… if you're on a shoestring budget, a carefully thought-out iTunes playlist can work wonderfully. If you think it out well in advance, and have a nice amplification system, it can replace live musicians, but if you can afford it at all, whether students or professionals, always opt for live! Music provides more ambience than you think, and photos or video of live musicians will provide nice memories for your scrap book.

    Finally, a shameless plug: if you're looking for a recording of classics to help you choose songs, I hope you'll check out our Lumiere String Quartet Wedding tracks on iTunes:

    Lumiere String Quartet – String Quartet Wedding Music;=143441

    Also, if you're in the NYC area, we play weddings –

    Victoria Paterson, Violinist

  • Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison

    Easy Silence by Dixie Chicks

  • ooh how could I forget?

    All I Want is You by Barry Louis Polisar from the Juno soundtrack

  • Chiming in 3 years later…

    …I’m surprised that no one mentioned Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from his incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is also a wedding classic and with the delightful Shakespearean tie-in.