And cue music
Including your favourite pieces is the easiest way to personalise the ceremony, as well as setting the style and mood, adding dignity to your vows and creating a memorable day for everyone involved.
If you're hoping for some hearty singing, take into account how many guests are coming and their likely familiarity with what you've chosen.
For more intimate occasions, instrumental music and a group or choir leading the sung pieces may be more appropriate. If all or part of your ceremony is taking place outside, make sure you choose rousing pieces that will carry or that there is good amplification.
There may well be some suitable pieces that have particular significance for you as a couple, but if you're stuck for ideas, try some of the following:
Music at religious ceremonies
A religious ceremony may contain both hymns and secular music, although it is best to check with the minister officiating first.
Generally you will need:
joyful but unobtrusive music as guests arrive
something stately as the bride enters, long enough to last the length of the bride's procession up the aisle
an instrumental or a sung piece (possibly by a solo artist or group as a change from the organ) during the signing of the register
something triumphant and uplifting for the bride and groom leaving the church.
In addition there may also be:
a hymn after the entrance of the bride
a hymn after the marriage ceremony
a hymn after the prayers and final blessing
a sung psalm after the marriage.
Music in register office ceremonies
A register office ceremony may not contain religious music or readings, nor any music that might detract from the solemnity of the occasion.
Register office ceremonies are generally shorter than religious ceremonies, leaving fewer opportunities for music. You may want some recorded music playing while people arrive/depart or the register is signed, but check your choice of music with the registrar well in advance.
Music at licensed civil venues
Marriages at state-licensed premises offer greater flexibility for music. You might want to have music at similar points to those in a church service, but you can also insert music at other parts of the ceremony if you wish - subject, as always, to the approval of the registrar.
Copyright exists in creative works such as hymns for 70 years after the death of the writer. During that period, it is illegal to reproduce the works in any form without the permission of the copyright holder (or their appointed agent). Therefore, should you wish to reproduce the text of a hymn in your order of service, you will need the permission of the copyright holder for which a charge of between £10 and £25 is usually made.
Please note, you do not need the copyright holder's permission if you are only singing the hymns, since a wedding is a private function. It is only if you wish to print the hymn words (for example on an order of service) that permission is required.
Suggestions for when your guests arrive:
Water Music - Handel
Canon in D - Pachelbel
Prelude, Air and Gavotte - Wesley
Nimrod from Enigma Variations - Elgar
Sheep May Safely Graze - Bach
Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring - Bach
Tunes for a stately, processional, entrance:
Here Comes the Bride, Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin - Wagner
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba - Handel
Trumpet Tune and Air - Purcell Entree Pontificale - Bossi
Pomp and Circumstance March - Elgar Carillon Murril
Trumpet Tune - Stanley
Trumpet Voluntary - Clarke
I Was Glad - Parry
Music during the signing of the register:
Ave Maria - Schubert
Ave Maria - Gounod
Air on a G string - Bach
The Lord bless you and keep you - Rutter
Panis Angelicus - Franck
Adagio in G minor - Albinoni
Choral Prelude - Bach
Nocturne from String Quartet - Borodin
Largo from Symphony No 9 - Dvorak
For celebratory and triumphant exits:
Music for the Royal Fireworks - Handel
Wedding March from a Midsummer Night's Dream - Mendelssohn
Toccata (Symphony no 5) or March Pontificale - Widor
Prelude and Fugue in A - Bach
Trumpet Voluntary - Clarke
Triumphal March Opus 53 no 3 - Greig
Grand March from Aida - Verdi
The Ride of the Valkyrie - Wagner
Ode to Joy - Beethoven
Hymns for her and him
When choosing your hymns, bear in mind the instrumental accompaniment available - some hymns that work perfectly well on an organ are a real struggle for a guitar (and vice versa)! Note too that several traditional hymns have more than one tune, so check well in advance that the organist/musicians know which version you want.
Popular hymn choices include:
The King of Love my Shepherd is
Love Divine all Loves Excelling
Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
Morning has Broken
Lord of the Dance
Lead us, Heavenly father, Lead Us
Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise
O Praise Ye The Lord
Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation
Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
O Perfect Love, All Human Thoughts Transcending
If your wedding involves people from different faiths or congregations, it's a good idea to stick to hymns based around the Old Testament. Most of the major religions consider it a holy text, so you'll be helping to establish common ground.
Practical music checklist
bear in mind the size and style of your venue and the facilities available
are the church organist and/or choir available for hire on the date needed? Are they competent and familiar with the pieces you have chosen? Do they (and you) need a rehearsal?
check the fees. Ideally, it's best to pay at the wedding rehearsal, although the best man may pay the musicians on the day
check either with the minister or the registrar that your choice of music is acceptable given the venue and nature of the occasion. If appropriate, you might ask him/her to introduce your choices of music on the day, to make your ceremony more meaningful to your guests
make sure that there is a decent sound system if you play a recorded tape or CD. Otherwise, hire a good system yourself - and don't forget to test it before the big day! If you have a musician or group of musicians playing for some parts of the ceremony, ensure that they have sufficient space, and access to electrical plugs if required
consider the time needed for each musical item. You don't want to run out of processional music, but then again you may not want to sing all seven verses of a chosen song or hymn, nor stand around after signing the register waiting for the aria to finish! Musical items can add a lot of time, so make sure that the ceremony isn't overbalanced and that you don't overrun. But above all, don't forget to enjoy the music on your big day. It's likely to be one of the things that you remember most!