For those coming late to this series, I refer you to my previous two posts in the series, here, on finding good wedding musicians, and here, on what you can expect from good wedding musicians.
When I meet with an engaged couple, I’m prepared to spend as much time as needed to get the musical choices done right. An engaged couple might be very picky about music–that’s fine. I’ve spent as much as time as four hours over two meetings and a few phone calls to get music planned to everyone’s satisfaction. Of course, a musician might (and probably should) charge for extra consultation time. It’s worth it. My personal sense is that up to two hours is reasonable, though my personal median is thirty minutes to an hour.
On the other hand, some couples have just told me to choose what music I think is most appropriate. That works for me, too.
I can’t tell you every church musician will be as accommodating as I. I can just tell you what to expect if you meet with me. I write down the basic information about your wedding: date, time, and place. I ask about the number in the wedding party, and how the parents are getting seated. I need to know if the wedding is at a Mass or if it will be celebrated with just the Liturgy of the Word.
My policy is to talk about the music for the Mass first. I will expect that the psalm, alleluia, and Eucharistic acclamations will be sung by people present inclined to join in them as they would at a Sunday Mass. In fact, I will tell you the model for the best wedding liturgy is a lively and vibrant Sunday liturgy. The best weddings build from that foundation.
I will discuss vocal selections for after the entrance of the couple–many priests and liturgists urge a congregational hymn there. I don’t disagree with the emphasis. It should be something most people in the pew might sing: a familiar church tune. I don’t find Communion time is a spot I’m prepared to go to bat for the congregation unless I know the wedding guests will largely like to sing.
I tend to avoid suggesting “fill music” for unity candle or the sign of peace. (Though the wedding I’m playing for today has both options–but no Mass.)
Any songs that miss the “cut” for Mass might get moved to the prelude time.
Sometimes I’ll play samples of processional music, and the top two choices get slotted for the entrance of the wedding party and its departure. Sometimes a third piece of music is suggested for the wedding party–separate from the music for the bride. My current pastor denies this request. But I don’t see a real problem with it. I do prefer the option of singing a congregational song after the opening procession–when the people can be expected to sing.
I suggest secular songs be moved to the reception, and I give a nuanced explanation that the rites at church, including the prelude music, form a spiritual and religious whole. Guests at a church wedding likely expect the sacred element to be enhanced. We would all be surprised with an altar call at a wedding reception. Likewise, the wedding ceremony, even without the celebration of the Eucharist, is intended to be a time of prayer and worship. The music should point to that reality.
I’m willing to listen to a justification for a particular piece of music I don’t think is appropriate. If the couple can’t convince me, the pastor will usually settle the matter. I do urge them to go to the priest prepared to give a theological/religious argument. If the song has romantic significance, make it the first dance at the wedding reception. If a spiritual case can be made, many pastors and music directors I know are willing to hear your argument.