The selection of music at a wedding sets the tone for the entire ceremony. But there are no right or wrong choices, allowing for freedom to make the ceremony personal.

Whether the bride is barefoot in floating gauze for an outdoor, woodland-sprite wedding or wearing tailored silk in a formal church setting, music choice does not have to be a difficult decision.

In fact, the nature of the wedding can easily dictate the style of music, or styles can be mixed and matched for a somewhat ethereal effect.

Formal Weddings

These often take place in a church building, with groomsmen and bridal attendants, and with a young ring-bearer and flower girl, perhaps spreading rose petals, leading the parade down the aisle. Often, music traditionally associated with Western-world weddings is chosen.

After all of the guests have been seated by ushers, then the mothers of the bride and groom are seated, and music by Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent most of his life writing for church services, could be appropriately played by a live organist. As the wedding party enters, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is an excellent choice to set the formal tone.

Then, when the bride walks the aisle, whether or not she is escorted, the traditional “Bridal March” by Richard Wagner from his opera “Lohengrin,” also known in English-speaking countries as “Here Comes the Bride,” is usually played.

However, some churches, notably the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics, as well as Jewish ceremonies, shy away from this piece of music due to Wagner’s anti-semitism, the pagan elements in his operas, and the idea that the music is secular rather than religious and that it promotes sentimentality rather than religious thought.

After the ceremony, the recessional is traditionally Felix Mendelsson’s “Wedding March.”

In formal weddings, the reception is usually located in a different location than the wedding, and the wedding party often forms a reception line to greet guests. There may or may not be soft music playing in the background as guests mingle and chat.

Non-Traditional Weddings

These days, people often choose more free-form weddings, with the music being accordingly fitted to their feelings, rather than dictated by tradition. The wedding may take place in the same room as the reception, with guests seated at tables. Here, the seating procedure is much less formal, with no ushers.

The bride would then wend her way from the door to the altar, often a spot designated by an arch, perhaps in front of windows with a lovely view.

Music in this type of wedding is strictly based on the bride and groom’s preferences. For example, the bluesy, sentimental strains of Billie Holliday singing “At last, my love has come along…” might accompany the bride down the aisle.

Truly, this is a chance for the bride and groom to express their personalities through their music choices. The reception afterward could have dance music, perhaps even a disk jockey, to add to the festive atmosphere and encourage guests to kick off their shoes and boogie down.

This type of atmosphere created by the untraditional, less formal music certainly leads to a release of at least some of the tension often associated with a wedding, making the ceremony more pleasant for both the wedding party and the guests.

Crossover Ceremonies

Then there are those weddings that fall somewhere in between. Perhaps the wedding is outdoors in a garden setting, and the reception is indoors, where guests are seated at tables for dinner.

A small string ensemble could be playing classical selections as guests arrive, adding a traditional air to the outdoor setting.

This type of wedding is popular if either or both the bride and groom have been married before. The bride’s entrance, especially if a second wedding, might be less of a processional; there might be no attendants, and even no formal processional music played when the bride enters.

Often candles play a part in modern Western wedding ceremonies, with the bride and groom each holding a lit candle, then lighting one together to symbolize their uniting. Music would not be played during this ceremony.

Afterward, at the reception, traditional slow dance music might be played, allowing the bride and groom to have the traditional first dance around the floor, before the guests join in.

In the Western world, the selection of wedding music is somewhat dictated by the style of wedding, but brides and grooms have more choices today than ever before.

The good news is that there is no right or wrong, no must-dos or must-haves. The music choices can fit the preferences of those who are being united, thus personalizing the service for the bride and groom and creating a unique experience with memories that will last for a lifetime.