Written by Kelsey O’Shaughnessy-Podgorski | Photography by Rachael Schirano Photography
There’s a certain kind of sizzle to the atmosphere when a musician takes the stage. Whether it’s an ‘80s cover band, a jazz musician or an epic wedding band that covers all the hits, the crowd knows something big is happening the minute the mic turns on.
Imagine the ebb and flow of sweet notes as guests find their seats. The sound swells as the ceremony begins. Perfect harmonies resolve the musical tension the moment you enter, your gown flowing behind you as the doors swing open. Live music brings something special to the ceremony. A soft acoustic guitar, a solo piano, a beautiful string quartet — music can bring a sense of elegance and timelessness. It can help make a memorable moment unforgettable.
You should plan for about 30 minutes of prelude music to play in the background before the first person walks down the aisle. Then the processional is played when your wedding party and certain family members, like parents and grandparents, walk down the aisle. This music not only helps build anticipation and excitement for your entrance, but also sets the tone for the entire ceremony.
When you, or you and your spouse, walk down the aisle, the music can change, or stay the same. If there is one song for the processional that speaks to you for both, then feel free to stick with it, but consider pinpointing a spot within the music (such as a big crescendo or key change) that adds an “oomph” to your entrance. Finally, the recessional song, which begins when you and your new spouse walk back down the aisle, tends to be more celebratory and upbeat than the processional. It can be traditional, like Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” or something more contemporary depending on your wedding style.
Musicians are well versed in reading the crowd to ensure they are playing at the proper volume. They can follow the timing of the ceremony to ensure they are playing the right thing at the right time. No need to worry that the officiant’s speech about marriage is going a little long. The musician will be ready when they finish. For those quiet moments, where you’re lighting unity candles or passing out roses to your moms, a musician fills the silence that otherwise might be awkward. Plus, if you’re not feeling “Canon in D,” the musicians likely have some wonderful alternatives that are equally elegant. Or if you have a unique song in mind, many musicians will learn it for your event if you provide the name and artist in advance.
THE COCKTAIL HOUR
The cocktail hour is a great time to add some live music. Mix it up with a larger or smaller version of the musicians you hired for the ceremony. This is the perfect moment to jazz it up and build energy for the reception. Light, upbeat music in the background will create a buzzing atmosphere. And the addition of a few cocktails will definitely have guests ready to dance. Consider spreading the musicians out based on the available space. If there are multiple rooms, maybe have a cellist in one room and a guitar player in another. Or, perhaps, a small group is playing outside and a pianist is covering the indoor area. Variety is the spice of life!
Nothing says luxury like soft piano music playing in the background during dinner. It sets a formal atmosphere of sophistication that stands out far above music piped in through the venue’s speakers. Hello, elegance. You know the old clinking of glasses? How do you know if that’s supposed to signify guests want you to kiss or time for speeches? A live band can indicate that speeches are coming through music and moments of silence. How charming is it to have music act as your master of ceremonies?
Don’t forget to start with thinking about your reception entrance. This heralds the true start of the celebration. The music that plays when you and your new spouse walk into the room and join your waiting guests sets the mood for the rest of the reception.
After dinner ends, the musicians can pick up their pace. Reading the room, they can choose the best songs to start with, ways to get people up and out of their chairs, and the right atmosphere to keep them on their feet all night long.
With so many types of musicians and groups, you can select the one that best suits your venue, theme and personal tastes. Consider dueling pianos for a lounge feeling. If you have a very elegant venue, a string orchestra will keep that black-tie vibe. Maybe you and your soon-to-be spouse love ‘80s bands. Find a group that can cover all your faves. Epic wigs are optional. It’s your night — go crazy!
The best thing about live music is that it’s never the same. Even if you hire a band to play your typical tunes straight off of a “Wedding Mix 2021” playlist, every song is going to be unique to your wedding. No one will ever hear the version of “Brown Eyed Girl” that you and your family sang along to on your big day. It’s a level of personalization that you’re not going to get elsewhere. Think of how memorable your first dance will be!
Live musicians know it all. After doing the wedding circuit for a few years, it’s rare to find a popular song that these amazing performers don’t know. That way, if guests have a fun request, the musicians can react on the fly and add it to the set list pronto. Great musicians will interact not only with the crowd, but with each other. A band with chemistry will charge the atmosphere like a live wire. There’s no way to not feel the electricity of a group playing in perfect harmony.
THE END OF THE NIGHT
You could play “Closing Time,” because — let’s be honest — Semisonic knows how to end a party. Or, you could have live performers play an extra- long singalong cut of “Hey Jude,” and let their rendition of the Beatles start off your marriage the right way. Your guests will be chanting, “One more song!” through two solid encores.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
It’s important to make sure the logistics of live music are feasible at your event. Remember that bands and orchestras take up space. Speak with your venue about how many performers it can comfortably accommodate. And make sure to speak to your preferred group to see if they will be comfortable with the space allotted. It’s a great idea to do a walkthrough of your venue with the musicians, just to ensure everything looks good. This also enables the musicians to check out the electricity and logistics of loading their equipment in and out.
If you are considering having musicians play outside, make sure to come up with a plan B. Playing through bad weather is bad for instruments and equipment. Make sure the band’s area is covered, possibly with a tent that includes sides to protect everything. Also, when it comes to outdoor music, make sure to check with your venue about noise limitations. The performers may need to stop at a certain point in the evening to comply with city or county rules.
Ask your musicians if they will be taking any breaks. If so, ask them how they’ll keep the party going. Will they provide a phone that connects to their speakers so guests still have something to groove to? Or is that something you’ll need to provide? Make sure you know ahead of time so you have no surprises on the big day. It’s also a great idea to see your band live before hiring them. You’ll get a sense of their style, skill and set time. And, in the end, you can select the musicians that will really make your wedding a night to remember.