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Happily Ever After... But First, the Music!

Wedding rings
Sandy Millar
Wedding rings

The phone calls, DMs on Twitter, and even good old USPS letters come to me starting around March. Brides-to-be ask for music suggestions for their upcoming nuptials. No matter how modern the bride, no matter how contemporary the reception music, (doughnuts instead of traditional wedding cake!), it seems classical is still the music of choice for the ceremony itself.

A 2021 survey of 15,000 engaged couples by a major wedding planning website found that the most common months for weddings in America are May through October, echoing a long-time trend. While “June bride” isn’t automatically so anymore, the season is in full swing, so I’m sharing some of the most popular traditional musical ideas for the weddings-to-be.


Let’s just go there – Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D is the piece I have nicknamed “the friend of brides.” So what that it has been used so much it has become “cliché?” With this piece the bride walks up the aisle in gentle elegance. This is her moment, and the stately, yet soft, Canon, allows no distractions from the bride. Here’s the Kanon Orchestre de Chambre, Jean-François Paillard conducts.

The “Wedding March” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, is also referred to as the Bridal Chorus. It has been featured in so many wedding scenes in movies (and even cartoons) where it is better known as “Here Comes the Bride.” Here’s the Australian Stringspace String Quartet.

Processional or Recessional

Some brides would like their music to say “Ta-dahh!” as they make their grand entrance. For this approach, many brides have chosen Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from his A Midsummer Night’s Dream as their processional, but I also have heard it played as the couple recesses hand-in-hand down the aisle. Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic.

Another piece used for either processional or recessional is Jeremiah Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark” March, not written for a wedding, originally, but rather for a royal entrance. This piece was played at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Here’s a version played by the Michael Laird Brass Ensemble with organist Peter Hurford.

You might remember this regal and celebratory piece as the theme music to the PBS program Masterpiece. It is the Rondeau from Jean-Joseph Mouret’s Suite de Symphonies. Crispian Steele-Perkins conducts the English Chamber Orchestra.

And what about music for during the ceremony? A lot depends on the rules of your particular venue or church, but you can almost never go wrong with quiet, contemplative, music. Here are a few suggestions.

The “Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera, Thaïs, is the definition of “a moment of reflection.” Itzhak Perlman plays here with the Abbey Road Ensemble, Lawrence Foster conducting.

Another piece that wins the "quiet elegance" category is the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Here is Yo-Yo Ma.

And one more, perhaps the least known, but it will steal your heart. From Camille Saint-Saëns’s opera, Samson and Delilah, here’s Stjepan Hauser playing “Softly Awakes My Heart.”

All of the above pieces can be played by organists, flutist, pianists, cellists, trumpeters, and other instrumentalists as your preferences and venue allow. A beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime day deserves all the elegance and pageantry and ambience that timeless music can provide. If you’re part of the happy couple, congratulations! (And send me a photo of your special day!)

CODA: OK… because it makes me melt every time I hear it at a wedding… “One Hand, One Heart,” from the Leonard Bernstein score to West Side Story…

Laura Carlo is the Morning Program Host for CRB.