Classical music is appropriate for a traditional church wedding

Classical music is traditional for a church wedding, particularly in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other mainstream denominations. A large body of explicitly Christian music, especially organ music, has been composed specifically for the church wedding ceremony. Yet some of the music most frequently played was written not for weddings but for state occasions and other secular events. Examples of effective classical wedding music without a wedding title include stately marches by Henry Purcell and Jeremiah Clarke, intricate fugues by Bach, and fast-paced virtuoso pieces like the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Organ Symphony. Conversely, certain classical music selections composed with a wedding theme are inappropriate for a church wedding. Two of the most famous, the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's music for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and the Bridal Chorus from Wagner's opera 'Lohengrin,' are controversial choices for a Christian or Jewish wedding due to their theatrical origins, pagan connotations, and in Wagner's case, a lingering association with anti-Semitism. When in doubt about music for a Jewish wedding, consult the cantor first. For a church wedding, let the church organist be your guide.

Photo courtesy Kiet Do

Classical Music Also Works When the Church Doesn't Have an Organ, or Its Organ Needs a Boost

Organ music for a church wedding often benefits from the addition of a trumpet and other instruments when they're available. Because most congregations sing Christian music as part of Sunday worship, having everyone join in a hymn during a church wedding is also uplifting. For spacious churches with organs, the sound of a majestic choral anthem accompanied by the organ is unforgettable. For churches without an organ, classical music for a church wedding can be performed instead on a piano, synthesizer, or guitar, whether played solo, combined with other instruments, or accompanying a singer. Not all churches have choirs and organs, and styles of Christian music vary widely, but any couple choosing a church wedding deserves a joyful, dignified experience. So select church wedding music with dignity, not entertainment, in mind. Couples getting married and wedding planners preparing for a church wedding should become familiar with Christian music tradition, the customs and acoustics of the church where the wedding will be held, and organ or other music that will sound glorious and function efficiently in the setting they have chosen for their ceremony.

Photo courtesy Kiet Do

Course Video Tutorial: 'A Master Organist Teaches Christian Weddings and Music' (23:54)

Mark Bruce is a vocal coach at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a master organist, and the music director of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, a small parish known for its tradition of liturgical and musical excellence in worship and at weddings. He is a frequent guest organist at San Francisco's historic Grace Cathedral, where he plays for large weddings, and performs often as keyboard artist for choirs, orchestras, and chamber music groups throughout the Bay Area. His extraordinary musical knowledge, diverse wedding experience, and ecumenical perspective make him the perfect guide for couples and wedding planners preparing for a church wedding of any faith, style, or size. In this course video tutorial, Mark teaches Members the musical and liturgical elements of a traditional church wedding. To illustrate these principles, he conducts a series of live demonstrations of organ music by Purcell, Widor, and other composers, while explaining the situation and setting in which each piece would be most appropriate.

Mark Bruce, Master Organist

Learn 12 essential elements of Christian church weddings and classical wedding music:

  • Traditions and styles of Christian music
  • Liturgical and non-liturgical Christian weddings
  • How churches contract for weddings and who pays the organist
  • When to contact the organist and how to select the music
  • How to hire additional musicians to perform for the ceremony
  • Why music isn't needed at most wedding rehearsals
  • How to time prelude music before the wedding begins
  • Why the same processional piece should be played for the bridesmaids and the bride
  • Popular prelude, processional, and recessional selections
  • When during the service singing an Ave Maria is appropriate
  • Recessional pieces that work well in churches with good acoustics
  • Why the organist and wedding photographer should confer with wedding event planners

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