Monday, February 13, 2012

Confessions of a Wedding Singer: A Street Guide To Planning Your Wedding Music

Back when I actually was a wedding singer, I dreamed of writing a piece like this and submitting it to one of the national bridal magazines. Writing it up for my COM-345, Media Writing for Communications class had to suffice.

       Before embarking on my operatic career, I spent more than ten years as a cantor and soprano soloist for a large Roman Catholic parish in Washington, D.C. During that time, I sang many wedding liturgies, both at my principal gig and at churches throughout the Greater Washington area. In addition to Catholic ceremonies, I sang for Protestant, Jewish, Filipino, Wiccan, non-denominational, and secular services. I sang for Presidents and Senators, and I sang for regular folks in their family rooms. I witnessed virtually everything that can go wrong – or right – with a wedding, and I lived to tell about it. Now, I pass this store of knowledge on to you, in hopes that it will help you in planning your perfect day.

       My inspiration for this story came from pieces in the Boston Globe involving saving money on the big day, (Cash, 2010) and in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on adding personal touches to one’s wedding (Anonymous, 2010) Both offered a list of unique, workable tips; that is my goal with this article.

       Planning a wedding service begins with the selection of the venue and religious tradition in which it will take place. These choices determine how much music you will need for your wedding, as well as the types of music you may choose and whether you may use recorded music. Most churches still refuse to allow purely secular music during the worship part of a marriage ceremony, though they may permit secular pieces during the prelude and postlude. If you are getting married in a church, synagogue, or other venue with an established music director, consult with him or her regarding your choices.

       If your organist provides you with a list of musical options, I strongly recommend that you choose from among them rather than attempting to offer unusual selections. You may end up handing your musicians something they simply cannot play or do not wish to learn – or they may charge extra for learning the new music. I have seen some brides bring in outside organists or soloists for their wedding ceremonies; be aware that if you are getting married in a church which has an existing music staff, you may be required to pay the resident organist’s fee whether or not he plays.

       If the venue and musicians with whom you are working leave you to your own devices regarding music, there are several sites which I find especially helpful. One site, , offers a comprehensive list of songs, service pieces and other music, encompassing both the Christian and Jewish faith traditions. Its musical selections include a extensive list of contemporary Christian songs both for the ceremony and for the reception. (, n.d.) For a list of more traditional pieces, try (Davies, n.d.) Both of these websites provide worthy selections that will make your day extra-beautiful.  

       If your ceremony will take place outdoors or in a venue which is without organ or piano, consider a string quartet, a traditional harpist, a Celtic harpist or an ensemble. Harpists provide beautiful accompaniment to weddings in resonant indoor spaces, like university libraries, town halls, historical sites, and other beautiful secular venues. offers an excellent article on engaging Celtic musicians for a wedding accompanied by traditional Celtic airs and such hymns as “Amazing Grace” and “Morning Has Broken.” (Duhl-Emswiler, n.d.)  

       Here’s the fast and dirty on fees: According to the American Guild of Organists (AGO), a bride and groom can expect to pay $100-350 to hire an organist for the ceremony only, with costs going up if he or she must also play for a rehearsal. If the organist plans the wedding and engages outside artists, the costs rise even more. Soloists – singers, trumpeters, violinists, and so on – generally have a similar fee structure, though they may charge slightly less than the organist. String quartets tend to run about $500-600 per service. The AGO is an excellent resource for finding a qualified organist and other musicians; for further information, explore (AGO, 2010)

       Several bits of advice to those planning their dream wedding:

       - Be on time! I have seen brides who have shown up 30 minutes late for their ceremonies get half of their music cut by the organist, who had to finish in time to set up for a mass at the church immediately following the wedding. I have seen opening hymns cut to one verse; I have seen trumpeters who had to leave to make their next engagement before the procession had even begun.   

       - If you use a coordinator, be sure she has a musical ear and has listened to every musical selection. I have seen brides held at the back of the church, glowing expectantly, clutching their fathers’ arms, as the big, all-stops out bridal procession music finished and the congregation sat down. Don’t let this happen to you!

       - Keep kitsch to a minimum. I know many brides love the processional from “The Sound of Music.” If your name isn’t Maria, however, please cut the “How Do You Solve a Problem Like…” portion of the piece. Also, leaving the church to the Hallelujah Chorus or to the Star Wars Main Title may say things about your relationship that you don’t want your friends to know.

       - Pay careful attention to the lyrics of the songs you select. I have seen brides choose Celtic songs declaring eternal love for Bonnie Johnny - but the groom’s name was Ted! I have seen brides insist on Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”, not realizing that the title means “O, my beloved Daddy” and that it is followed by a declaration that if Daddy refuses to allow the singer to buy a certain ring, she’ll throw herself into the Arno River and drown.

       Finally, know that of my many weddings, not one failed to live up to the bride’s dream of a magical, truly special day all her own. Every wedding is beautiful - so relax and savor every minute of it. Congratulations!  


AGO (2010) Salary Guide. American Guild of Organists, January 5, 2010. Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

Anonymous (2010). “Vow to add personal touches.”Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Jun 3, 2010. pg. G.20 Retrieved from on June 14, 2010.

Cash, R. (2010). “Save bucks on the big day” The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. Atlanta, Ga.: Jan 14, 2010. pg. D.1 Retrieved from on June 14, 2010.

Duhl-Emswier, B. (n.d.) “Choosing Unusual Music For Your Wedding,” Retrieved from on June 28, 2010. (n.d.) “Music,” Christian Wedding & Planning Guide. Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

Davies, K. (n.d.) “Planning Your Wedding Music,” Retrieved from on June 28, 2010.

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