A Wedding Music Compass 2.0: Expectations of Wedding Musicians

wedding compass

As promised in the last post, I’ll give you some tips on wedding musicians today: what you can expect, how you should conduct yourself, what to ask. Stuff like that.

As always, this advice is lensed through my experiences as a church musician generally happy with playing weddings. My stake is playing weddings as a religious musician more concerned about the ritual of a wedding and the spiritual message communicated, and much less as a performer aiming for a splashy sound. That’s not to say I don’t care about how I play, or that I don’t strive for personal excellence in music. It’s number two to God, that’s all.

As an engaged couple, you may find your church requires you to use their music director. This is not a totally bad thing. The music director, after all, has the keys, knows the instruments, and can give you good advice on singers, instrumentalists, and repertoire. You might be expected to pay a “bench fee” if you use somebody else, guaranteeing the church person the business she or he was promised in her or his contract.

Assuming you have some options for wedding musicians (and I include singers, accompanists, and other instruments), here’s what’s appropriate and what’s not:

You can shop around. It is considered good manners (and financially prudent) to ask up front what a musician charges. You will be entering into an oral agreement when you get to the point of “We would like to have you play at our wedding.” It is considered bad form to book the first available musician, then keep hunting for a better price, cutting loose the first musician to save a few bucks.

You can and should ask the musician what style of music they prefer. You can meet with a person face-to-face–interview them, in effect, before making a final decision.

Almost all wedding musicians are free agents. They may or may not be associated with the church. Rarely are they paid by the church to do a wedding. You will be their employer, so while you should take the lead and live up to your responsibilities, as good consultants/employees/contractors, they will give you good advice. It will be to your advantage to consider their input.

The organist or pianist is usually the “director” of your wedding music. You can expect to have a meeting with this person to select music. How will that go? Maybe you know nothing about music and come to the meeting with no suggestions. I ask couples these questions: Do you see this wedding as an expression of your faith life and your style? If so, what qualities are most important? Dignity, informality, high-class, reflective, fun, jazzy, serious, traditional, off-the-beaten-path, big and bold and brassy, or intimate and thoughtful. An experienced musician will know pieces of music that fit these qualities. 

You can also bring no input at all to the consultation. The musician will simply bring out a big book of wedding music (it might be in his or her head) and start playing the most popular music and work on from there.

You don’t need to know anything about church music to give a piece a thumbs up or down. You may not need to hear it all the way through. Just say, “No thanks, we’d like to hear something else, please.” It helps if you can add a comment like “something faster” or “something more reflective” or something along those lines. Most musicians are patient enough to keep the music flowing.

You might want to know a musician can get great versatility on a pipe organ, so you might like the song, but not the sound. You could impress the organist and ask for a registration that will make it sound totally different.

How long should this consultation last? What should be decided by the end of it? Wait for the next post. This is enough for today.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to A Wedding Music Compass 2.0: Expectations of Wedding Musicians

  1. Pingback: A Wedding Music Compass 2.1: Meeting Wedding Musicians « Catholic Sensibility

  2. These days, playing at weddings should be considered as a religious musician more concerned about the ritual of a wedding & the spiritual message communicated, and much less as a performer aiming for a splashy sound.

  3. Great information. I’m researching laser printers for my small office.

  4. amberdawn says:

    This is good to know! It makes me feel more confident because I know a few pieces I like, but not all. I haven’t contacted any musicians yet, so knowing that they’ll be able to come up with similar pieces puts me at ease.

  5. As a Jewish musician I can appreciate what you are saying.

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