The MANual: Wedding Music

The Wedding Rituals That (Supposedly) Need Music

The traditional wedding is full of rituals that, according to the age-old wisdom, require a  soundtrack: a first entrance song, a cake-cutting song, a song for the bouquet toss, a song for the first and last dances. That’s a lot of songs you supposedly have to pick.

We understand the purpose of all this. Weddings would be confusing if they had no music. Songs gives your guests valuable clues about what’s going on and what they can expect to happen. Beyond being something to dance to and enjoy, music provides a timeline for people to follow.

But do you really have to pick a song for every wedding ritual? We asked Mike Bedkowski (wedding DJ and co-owner of Posh DJs) to run down the traditional wedding ceremony and reception songs and offer advice on when they should be played. Most importantly, he said which ones bride and grooms can skip, guilt-free.

THE CEREMONY

Seating Music

Play something light and pretty to let people know that they’re in the right place at the right time. Classical music is good, but if you’re looking for a twist, Bedkowski suggested playing orchestral versions of popular songs. “People hear violins, violas and cellos,” Bedkowski said. “But then you’re sitting down, you’re reading the program and you’re like, ‘wait a minute. Is this ‘Free Bird’ on a violin? That’s pretty cool.’”

Processional Music

The processional music plays as the wedding party, the groom, and the bride walk down the aisle. The most famous piece of processional music is “Here Comes the Bride,” which is actually called “The Bridal Chorus” and is from an opera by Wagner (who you probably know from “Ride of the Valkyries,” the soundtrack to the best scene in Apocalypse Now.) But there’s nothing that says you have to use it. Take a cue from Parks and Recreation and play something wistful and sweet like “April Comes She Will” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Recessional Music

The recessional music is like the end credits score for the ceremony. It lets everybody know that the show’s over and it’s time to leave their seats. Here, think something high energy and upbeat to segue from the ceremony to the reception. Your guests spent the ceremony calmly watching things happen. The recessional music is their cue that it’s time to get up and take a more active role in the festivities.

THE RECEPTION

The Prelude

This is the music that plays as people file in to the hall, find their table numbers and scope out the alcohol situation. It’s meant to be background music, so it’s generally pleasant and unassuming. It could be orchestral or maybe light jazz or swing. Keep it mellow: this is the moment for people to unwind. Let the music lull them for a while. You’re going to blow up their spot shortly.

Wedding Party Intro Song

When the wedding party enters the hall, the music should herald them like visiting royalty. This is where you can kick the energy up. Go big. Play something upbeat and evocative. Bedkowski said the theme from Kill Bill is a popular choice for getting blood flowing (hopefully your bride will leave her katana at home). If your wedding party likes to dance, let them shake it a little, as long as they don’t hog too much attention.

Parents’ Entrance Music

The parents of the bride and groom get their own entrance song. You may have to work this one out with them, as they’re probably footing the bill for the wedding. But don’t make this a battle of wills that drags out for months. In the end, just accept that your mother-in-law wants to walk into the reception to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and move on with your life.

The Bride and Groom’s Entrance Music

If you’re like most American males, you’ve dreamed of having your own personal entrance music, a song that expresses your true epic force, like a professional wrestler as he makes his way into the ring. Your wedding reception entrance song is a rare chance for that WWE dream to come true. You and your wife can pick the perfect song to score one of the most important moments in your life.

“This is your grand entrance,” Bedkowski said. “Just pick something crazy upbeat, something that pertains to you. If you like heavy metal, for instance, walk in to Metallica or something like that.”

Couple’s First Dance

Now everybody’s seated and all eyes are on to the wedding party. It’s time for those months of swing dancing classes to pay off. Or maybe it’s time to pray you don’t rip your bride’s wedding dress with your two left feet. Either way, it’s traditional to keep the tempo slow and the mood romantic, as it gives your wedding photographer the opportunity to capture the last moment of the night before you’re half in the bag and drenched in sweat.

Dinner Music

In a way, this is a continuation of the Prelude music. People will be eating, talking, and drinking, so you want something nice, but not too distracting. Jazz or vocal music is always good, as long as it fills the sonic space when the conversation lags.  

Dances With Parents

No matter what music you choose for the mother-son and father-daughter dances,  Bedkowski recommends getting them done early in the night, no matter how much of a rush your caterer is in to serve the salad.  The mixed greens can wait but your family’s ability to remain reasonably photogenic will not.

“If you’ve been dancing for first two hours and the bride’s father has a band of sweat around his neck, his tie’s loose, his boutonnière’s destroyed, then the pictures aren’t going to any good,” Bedkowski said.   

Cake Cutting Song

If you google “cake cutting song,” you get a murderer’s row of obvious wordplay about cake, from “Sugar, Sugar” to “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You.” It’s hard not to roll your eyes or lick your lips while reading the suggestions. But here’s the truth: cake is one of humankind’s crowning achievements and it stands up fine on its own, without a song.

If you want to skip a cake cutting song, you’re in good company. Bedkowski said foregoing them is a rising and welcome wedding trend. Just sneak off with the photographer and immediate family, cut the cake, get the picture and get back to the party. Give the people what they want: cake and time to dance.

“When people are going that hard and then you stop and you say it’s time to to cut the wedding cake, everyone just kind of hits a brick wall,” Bedkowski said. “That really just stops the train. And then everyone sits down and it’s like all the alcohol catches up to them.”

The Bouquet and Garter Toss

By a wide margin, the bouquet toss is the least essential wedding song. The bouquet toss has all of the problems of the cake cutting song but none of the cake. It’s an outmoded tradition that kills party momentum. The only people lamenting the death of this tradition are sadists who love watching unmarried women humiliate themselves as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” plays over a PA system.

“I’d say like 95 percent of our brides nowadays, they don’t do the garter activity,” Bedkowski said. “They’ll just cut the cake and move on with the party.”

The Last Dance

All good things come to an end, and your wedding reception is no exception. The last dance is in a way the culmination of the whole evening, a raucous, all-out celebration of the couple, the wedding, the whole thing. Pick something that everybody knows and loves. This is an “everyone on the dance floor singing the chorus to Sweet Caroline” moment. It’s also a great way to let your guests know it’s time to clear out of the venue so you don’t get charged extra.

 

—Adam Bulger

Bottom Line

Get to know all the different moments where, traditionally, you’re supposed to have music during your ceremony and reception. Then decide which ones you’re going to honor and which you’re going to skip.

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