It might sound funny, but the music at a wedding functions much like the lingerie under a wedding gown: Without it, there’s little structure or support. It’s a necessary component that, when it fits perfectly, is taken for granted. When it doesn’t, the result is downright uncomfortable. The appropriate music helps to perpetuate the ideal ambiance for a new couple to celebrate with friends and family, while the wrong music can detract from the elegance and significance of the occasion. The bride and groom should exercise diligence when selecting a music provider, whether it’s a disc jockey, band/orchestra, or a full-scale production company, and they should pay special attention to the company’s philosophy on keeping the party fluid. The role of a music provider is to always maintain the event’s forward momentum, to never allow a dull moment, and to build a relationship with your guests so they can really let loose on the dance floor.
Weddings require “social music,” which is very different from the brash, nonstop music found at a club. Social music creates an atmosphere that invites dancing and conversation. The music’s volume, the band’s appearance, a flexible attitude and sensitivity to other elements of the day – toasts, dinner, the first dance – all have an effect on the event’s success. The ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception each require a different musical component. With each stage of a wedding, the music should increase in energy and tempo to heighten guests’ desire to have fun.
This begins with the ceremony. Traditionally, prelude, processional, and recessional music have a formal tone, but there is always room for self-expression. Whether using a vocal or instrumental soloist, a string quartet, or woodwind ensemble, the music should reflect the bride and groom and also the seriousness of the commitment taking place. A single acoustic guitar may be all that is required to set the right mood, perform the couple’s favorite songs, and create emotional impact.
At the cocktail reception, upbeat and even offbeat background music transitions the event to the next level, when guests are abuzz with conversation. It’s a time generally used to reconnect with family and friends and is best served by music that is lively, but able to take a backseat to the social setting. A jazz ensemble is a safe bet, but the cocktail hour is a time when a couple can be creative with music. A calypso or steel drum band complements a beachfront wedding, while Mariachi, or a Gypsy Kings-esque group lend a unique kind of ethnic flair to any event. For a thoroughly classic setting, consider a ’40s-inspired group that plays supper club standards with a singer who channels Billie Holiday.
The make-or-break aspect of the wedding’s musical success, however, usually comes at the reception. The first 15 minutes, as attendees migrate from the cocktail reception to the main dining area, are crucial in setting the tone for the rest of the evening. If the band looks elegant and is playing high-energy music at the right volume with a loyal take on the original recordings, then guests will answer the urge to gravitate toward the action rather than stand along the sidelines. A really good music provider understands the art of romancing the partygoers by engaging them at an appealing pace.
One of the biggest mistakes is allowing the first dance to go on too long with just the bride and groom in the spotlight. Unless the couple has choreographed a special performance to the entirety of the song, 30 seconds is all that’s needed to give the newlyweds time alone before inviting friends and family to join them on the dance floor. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together. From that point on, it’s the band or DJ’s responsibility to keep the atmosphere rolling while seamlessly incorporating toasts, the father-daughter dance, the meal, bouquet and garter toss (when applicable), cake cutting, and other rituals into the flow. The best selection of music is diverse enough to appeal to an audience that spans several generations and includes different backgrounds. Providing additional entertainment, such as themed dance numbers produced by the music provider, is another way to energize the celebration. Some couples are scared off by the idea of “entertainment,” but an elegantly styled production musically and visually entices guests to be a part of the excitement.
Music lends shape and form to an event where the bride and groom are the centerpieces of the celebration. A professional, experienced music provider will work closely with a couple’s vision to plan an event that keeps the focus on them and fosters a continuous environment of unforgettable enjoyment.
Opening photograph by Justine Ungaro