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Larry Visser on Wedding Music

Here is guidance on what to consider when choosing wedding music for the prelude, procession, ceremony, recession and postlude.

What resources or checklists do you suggest for choosing music for a worshipful wedding?

Because I work in a large church, I play for a number of weddings each year. Several years ago, I made a CD recording of 26 organ pieces for wedding ceremonies. I ask couples to check out and listen to a copy of the CD, and make choices for the bridal attendant processional, the bridal processional and the recessional, along with any favorites they would like played during the prelude and postlude. If there is a vocalist, I often do not choose the piece unless I am asked. I do, however, reserve the right to approve or disapprove of selected pieces.

What are the pros and cons of including congregational singing in a wedding?

First, the pros. Singing invites guests to be active participants in the ceremony, rather than simply observers. The hymn text can strengthen the liturgy of the ceremony or support the theme of a given element within the ceremony, whether vows or what’s called the sermon, message or homily. If the couple has a favorite hymn, or a hymn that is especially significant to their family members (such as a hymn sung at a family member’s baptism or funeral), this can add a personal touch to the wedding ceremony.

However, if the guest list is small, hymn singing can be a challenge. If many guests are not church attenders or familiar with worship, hymnody or hymn singing, the singing can fall flat. It’s also important to give hymnals or hymn copies to the wedding party so they can participate.

How does the wedding venue or size of the wedding party or guest number affect what kind of music will work well?

My church is a large, traditional style sanctuary with several pews, a split choir loft and a large pipe organ, so most weddings use the organ as the main instrument. For churches without an organ, obviously an alternate instrument or instruments need to be used, such as a piano, string quartet, or other orchestral or band instruments. In most cases, the wedding party size doesn’t affect the kind of music chosen, because a good organist should be able to play an excerpt from a larger piece, such as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” even if the wedding party is small and the processional takes only a couple minutes.

What memorable musical moments have you noticed in weddings?

The most meaningful wedding musical moments are carefully planned by musically inclined brides and grooms. Those who appreciate good music are more likely to plan meaningful wedding music. I appreciate couples who choose to forego the “norm” or “standard wedding pieces” in order to select pieces that are especially meaningful to them personally. I once played for a wedding in which the bride chose her favorite hymn, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” The congregation sang it as she processed down the aisle. Another couple requested an arrangement of their favorite hymn to be played as the recessional.

Who has the final say on wedding music?

As minister of music, I have the final say on whether the music is appropriate for a wedding ceremony held in our church. I don’t believe that instrumental music at a church wedding needs to be all sacred or hymn based. Vocal pieces, however, should be sacred texts.

See music composed or arranged by Larry Visser. Reformed Worship compiled lists of classic wedding music and hymns in its 1990 and 2000 wedding theme issues. CCLI includes contemporary songs in its list of popular wedding music.