Regular and thoughtful reader srah wanted some ideas for picking the processional and recessional for her upcoming wedding. Well, srah, I’ve got a few thoughts not on what specifically you should choose, but on how to choose something that will make you and your intended all kinds of happy.
When the classic original version of Father of the Bride was made in 1950 (see, I worked in the illustration in the end), there was no question what music would play as Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor processed up the aisle for her wedding. Wagner’s wedding march for going up the aisle, Mendelssohn on the way back down again.
Both of those tunes still get heavy play at weddings, and why not? They’re traditional, they fulfill people’s expectations, and a lot of people love them.
But not everyone wants to do the expected. Not everyone loves those tunes. Some of us remember how that marriage that started with Wagner’s march ended. For those who aren’t rabid opera fans, here’s a hint: it sure ain’t a happy story.
Besides, there’s a whole world of music that can be used for these important walks. Why limit yourself to two tunes that may or may not mean anything to you at all? And how do you choose between all the possibilities?
That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today.
Before you sit down and listen to every song in the world, which, frankly, you don’t have time to do, anyway, you need to think about a couple things.
What mood do you wish to create with your music? Are you looking for regal dignity or something more casual? The general tendency is to use something more stately and slow for the entrance and something more festive for the exit. Some popular choices for the processional in recent years have been: the Star Wars theme, Al Last by Etta James, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D. On the other hand, one of the prettiest processionals I’ve witnessed in many a year was done to a classical guitar version of And I Love Her by The Beatles. I walked up the aisle to a traditional bagpipe tune called Highland Wedding. All of these create that feeling of something important about to happen. But if that’s not the feel you want, then there’s no need to stick strictly to the script. You might want to use something like Going to the Chapel or Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs. It’s okay to make it sound eager rather than momentous.
I would, however, make sure to re-watch Muriel’s Wedding before choosing something by ABBA. I’m just saying.
On the way back down the aisle, I’ve heard a lot of great tunes. Whether you choose a classic like Mendelssohn, a more currently popular tune like Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Stevie Wonder, or something quirkier, the general feeling is that the feel should be celebratory, and I tend to think this is a good idea. You’re building the mood of your reception with the recessional, as well as ending the ceremony. If you want your guests to party, you need to put them in a party mood. This is where it begins, even if the reception is in another place or even if it starts later on.
If you’re marrying in a place of worship, do be sure to ask if there are any restrictions on the music you can use. Some churches are down with you playing nearly anything. Others will only allow liturgical/religious music. Most fall somewhere in between. They’ll allow secular music, but might want approval or may have a list of approved tunes. Check on the question before you make any firm decisions.
Listen to lyrics. There are a lot of people who never notice lyrics, but they do matter. I will never forget (in a bad way) the wedding where the groom and his attendants entered the church to Send In the Clowns from A Little Night Music. Not only is title a sad commentary to make on what you think of the groom and his friends, the song is sung by a woman who is bewildered by the end of her love affair. There was an episode of Whose Wedding is This, Anyway? where the bride insisted on the groom walking down the aisle to Lynard Skynard’s Free Bird… a song about a man who is leaving his lady because he will not be tied down.
Pay a little attention to the message you’re sending the world with your choices. Think about whether the lyrics will be offensive to your guests or make them giggle inappropriately.
Most of all, choose something that means something to you as a couple. A few months ago, I attended a wedding where all the ceremony music was taken from Dr. Who and Torchwood. Why? Because the couple getting married were huge Whovians. They also made the truly awesome move of playing songs connected with all their favorite cartoons (Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Flintstones, Underdog, and a dozen other classics) during the cocktail hour. Don’t worry about whether the tunes you choose are popular or not. Don’t concern yourself with the question of whether anyone else will understand. Those who know you best will get it. Anyone who doesn’t, well, they’ll simply be confused for a couple minutes in the middle of a happy event. They’ll live.
Besides, in the words of the old, old song:
It’s alright now
I’ve learned my lesson well
You see you can’t please everyone
So you’ve got to please yourself