Music for Weddings

It’s that time of year when we hope the sun will shine bright on the perfect wedding day, and choristers and organists help make the day extra special for the happy couple. To make the experience enjoyable for everyone and to make sure nothing’s missed out, the RSCM provides resources and guidance at under Information and Resources. For the bride and groom: Planning Music for A Church Wedding, and a Checklist; for church music leaders: Copyright and Fees, and Advice for Organists and Choir Directors. Finally, the Sunday by Sunday team has compiled an extensive list of suitable music, including hymns and songs, choral anthems and vocal music, music from Taizé, organ music collections and individual pieces. To this valuable resource, I would add Love bears all things and Live on in my love from the Psallite collections of psalms with antiphon refrains available from 01842 819830. Psalm 84 is effective at weddings, in a traditional setting such as Vaughan Williams O how amiable or How lovely is that dwelling place set to a Scottish folk tune in the RSCM collection Songs, Psalms and Spirituals.

Singing hymns at weddings, especially if the guests are not regular church-goers, can be embarrassing if the vicar is left singing on his own in front of an uncomfortable crowd, but providing there is a choir, singing group or cantor to give a vocal lead, hymn texts which explain Christian teaching on marriage and understanding of the perpetual love of God can work well sung to familiar tunes. The Marriage section of the new hymnal Sing Praise includes a number of such hymns and the Iona Community has published similar items, reprinted in popular hymnals, including That human life might richer be to the melody of the Sussex Carol; God in the planning and purpose of life which may be sung to SLANE; God beyond glory, gracious and holy to BUNESSAN. New compositions from the pen of John L. Bell are Love one another found in the One is the body collection from and I will sing a song of love which is included in the RSCM Voice for Life Songbook.

To this repertoire, Brian Wren has added When love is found and hope comes home, which suits delightfully the folk tune O WALY, WALY. In his excellent exposition on congregational song, Praying Twice, Wren discusses the metaphors explored in this hymn, commenting that the third verse’s reference ‘as loved ones change’ was intended to refer to ‘the two people in question, as they develop, have different experiences, and sometimes, perhaps, grow apart’ (p.172). Increasingly we welcome to church people who are celebrating marriage for a second or third time, and such sentiments allow for the honest expression of their lived experience of love. Texts such as For the beauty of the earth similarly allow for liturgical reference to and blessing of the couple’s children where the bride and groom are already parents. Fred Kaan wrote a Put peace into each others’ hands, and revised the text to be sung in interfaith worship, which would suit a wedding where one partner is not Christian. The hymn is in Sing Praise and the piece appears as an anthem in the new RSCM collection, Songs, Psalms and Spirituals. There you will also find a lovely new setting by Malcolm Archer of Lord of all hopefulness which I’ve used in workshops to great effect. This resource provides some choral settings of hymns, offering a varied and imaginative accompaniment and harmonies to popular choices made by wedding couples including Make me a channel of your peace and Be still for the presence of the Lord.

In my experience, the best music for a wedding expresses something of the love of that particular couple, one for the other, and both for God. This doesn’t mean I’m an advocate of including the couple’s favourite secular pop song in a religious wedding. Now there are a wide range of fantastic wedding venues, that couples choose to get married in church indicates a certain level of connection to Christianity, although that might not be expressed in a regular commitment to practising the faith. Weddings are points of contact with the un-churched and less regular attenders, so we must do our best to be welcoming in the hope that our witness through music and our hospitality creating a calm and beautiful atmosphere will go some way to encouraging the happy couple and their guests to return to church in future. Further advice to help church music leaders involved in planning and preparing music for weddings is available from and in Barry Williams’ excellent book Everything Else an Organist Should Know.