Although its influence is subtle, the music you choose will color the atmosphere of your event and set a pace for the day, whether you're looking to build anticipation as the guests file in, lend a note of beauty during your ceremony, or set toes tapping at the party afterwards.
There are no rules about what music you must include during the event. The flip side of this kind of freedom is the responsibility that comes with it, and choosing the right music can be intimidating. Make the task easier by breaking your wedding day down into its component parts. Think about what kind of mood you'd like to set as the hours proceed and how you want your guests to feel at the different points of the celebration.
Guests Arrival and Seating
The seats are filling and the sanctuary is buzzing as guests crane their necks to get a good look at who's here and what they're wearing. Attention is on finding a seat and greeting each other; this is not the time to showcase your favorite song or performer.
Instead, look to set a mood. How do you want the room to feel? If you want a feeling of quiet harmony, chamber music or gentle jazz will set the tone nicely. Borrow some CDs from the library to help you zero in on what composer feels right to you.
The measured pace up the aisle, the moment when parents relinquish their children to a new family: The processional is generally a solemn moment. Solemn does not have to mean somber, but you will want to choose music that makes sense. You'll probably want to stick with the traditional here—but traditional doesn't have to mean boring.
"We definitely wanted something that had some religious significance, and we definitely wanted to avoid the standard wedding march," reports Regan Solmo, 30, of Brooklyn. You can also be inventive. "We walked down the aisle to the strains of a tape I'd made of (my husband) Jim and me singing 'Chapel of Love' in harmony, accompanied by a Fisher Price xylophone," reports Liz Margoshes, 50, of New York City.
All attention is focused on the bride and groom as the two of you stand before the world and plight your troth. A piece of music that is especially meaningful to you might be able to convey some of the emotion you're experiencing. If you have a friend who plays an instrument or sings, you could invite him or her to be part of the ceremony by providing a song.
Many things can work here: a folk song, a classical guitar piece, a German lied, or a flute solo could capture the essence of how you feel. Remember, however, that music is not mandatory during the ceremony, and may be proscribed by certain religious ceremonies. Other than religious restrictions, however, "it depends on the couple and the circumstances of the ceremony, and the ceremony itself," says Laura Bauer of Elegant Events Ltd. in Boca Raton, FL, and the Hamptons. "We had a ceremony on the beach last year where we used steel drums and they picked Caribbean music, and it worked!"
You're married! Mark this joyous moment with a joyful noise. The recessional should be lively, whether it's a classical march or a swinging jazz tune. This can also be a time to use music that you love, but that wouldn't quite work during the ceremony. Bauer tells of one Roman Catholic wedding where the bride surprised the groom by hiring two bagpipe players to escort the newlyweds out of the church.
The Cocktail Hour
The wedding party is being photographed in every possible combination as the guests chat, sip drinks, and nibble on hors d'oeuvres. The party is warming up, but the meal has yet to be served.
The mood here should be festive but anticipatory; the crowd isn't ready to really let loose quite yet. Swing or jazz can work wonderfully here. The music is infectious, but not aggressive. "We're going with jazz standards," says Amy Eliason, 29, a Connecticut bride-to-be. "Most of the songs are about love or romance or marriage, and they're upbeat. And since my fiancé's a chef, we're trying to find songs with a food theme, like 'That's Amore.'"
During the Meal
The guests have found their seats and are ready to dig in. Don't confuse them by playing dance music while you want them to be eating. Turning the volume down a little and sticking to instrumentals only can help get people to their tables.
Mealtime music can be tricky, however, as some couples like to have dancing in between courses, while others like to get the meal out of the way before hitting the dance floor. Be sure to communicate clearly with your band or DJ about how the evening will be paced, and then assign someone you trust to pay attention to the music. You'll be too busy being the bride.
Finally, it's time to let loose and party. The type of music you pick will define the evening, which is why people spend so much money on wedding bands. You have a lot of choices, but you'll want to go with something that people can get down to—keeping in mind that pounding rock or hip-hop might be a turn-off to the older crowd. Rhythm and blues (think Motown classics), big band, or even swing tunes are often popular choices across generational lines.
A caveat: You absolutely, positively must listen to the bands before you hire them, and instruct them about exactly what you want. If you don't want to look up and see all of your guests doing the Macarena, let the band know in advance. They'll do whatever you ask—that's their job, after all—but your requests must be clear and firm.