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Choosing Music
for a Wedding

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The wedding information starts here

This site principally provides information about music for weddings in churches. Much of that written here applies also to weddings held in hotels, stately homes, or other places - especially with regards to costs.

The main difference is that a wedding ceremony held in a secular building is not allowed to have music with a religious connection, so this affects the choice of pieces. For instance, such pieces as Wagner's Bridal March (Here Come's the Bride) and Mendelssohn's Wedding March, although both originally composed for use outside churches, are often not allowed, as they have become so associated with church weddings.

The music for weddings normally falls into two groups: organ or other instrumental music (see Organ Music etc on the menu), and that which is sung. (See Hymns and Vocal Music). As Cost and Fees vary tremendously, it is worth working these out well in advance. But as the organist/singers are providing a service, you should be able to expect a basic level of competence.

Organ &
Instrumental Music

The organ music (or other instrumental music of your choice) can be divided into four groups:

a) Before the Service

Organ or other music is played as the congregation assembles. Usually, this consists of a selection of lighter pieces setting the mood for the service. You may select special pieces to be played at this time but, as the congregation often waits outside to see the bride, there is a chance that no one will hear them. Here are some of the pieces frequently chosen:
  • Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - Bach
  • Air from Water Music - Handel
  • Air from Twelve Pieces - Wesley
  • Air (on a G String) - Bach
  • Sheep May Safely Graze - Bach
These are just frequently chosen pieces. Within any limits set by your priest or minister, you can have anything you chose here.

b) Entry of the Bride

Usually something loud and striking is played at this time. The choice is up to you. Pieces often chosen include:
  • Bridal Procession - Wagner
  • The Prince of Denmark's March - Clarke
  • Trumpet Tune - Purcell
  • Trumpet Tune - Stanley
  • Entry of the Queen of Sheba - Handel
  • Coro from Water Music - Handel
Other pieces may be chosen, including some of those from d) below.- but anything longer than a couple of minutes may need to be shortened.

c) Signing of the Registers

At most weddings the organist/musicians choose this, but your wishes should be taken into account. It is not uncommon for pieces from list a) to be played.

d) Exit of the Bride and Groom

Traditionally the Wedding March (Mendelssohn) is played at this time, but other pieces are often chosen:
  • Wedding March - Mendelssohn
  • Toccata - Widor
  • Hornpipe from Water Music - Handel
  • La Rejoissance from Fireworks Music - Handel
Some pieces from list b) would also be suitable.

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Hymns, Choral Music
and Vocal Music

The vocal music usually consists of two or three hymns, subject to the approval of the priest of minister of the church where you are being married. The range of possibilities is vast, and as new hymns and worship songs are always being written and composed, the choice is growing. You can choose almost anything you want, but amongst the most popular choices are:
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful
  • Give Me Joy in My Heart
  • I Vow to Thee, My Country
  • Jerusalem
  • Lead Us, Heavenly Father
  • Lord of All Hopefulnessl
  • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Tune: Blaenwern)
  • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Tune: Love Divine)
  • Now Thank We All Our God
  • Praise. My Soul, The King of Heaven
  • The Lord's My Shepherd
If the church has an efficient choir, and you have decided to make use of this, their is the possibility that an anthem or other piece of your choice could be sung. This would need discussion with your priest/minister and the organist/choirmaster. Additionally or alternatively, you could hire a vocal soloist or find a friend to perform pieces of your choice, or even hire in a complete choir to sing for you. Of course, these would also require some discussion and negotiation with your chosen church, and the section about Costs and Fees should be read.

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Cost and Fees

This is the most difficult area to give any generalised guidelines on, as each church, organist, choir, and singer is free to make their own demands. The Royal College of Organists, Royal School of Church Music, and Incorporated Society of Musicians work together in making suggestions about levels of payment. However, these are just suggestions (based upon common practice) and are often ignored.

The following rates have been paid via Organists Online over the year (June 2019 - May 2020). For the year 2020 - 2021 there are no statistics.

Lowest: £60

Highest: £250

Most Common: £100

You can see a more informative breakdown of fees HERE. Occasionally, some attempt is made to distinguish between "professional" and "amateur" organists. But these terms are not well defined and often ignored. This matter is further complicated as many church councils set the organist's fees without reference to the organist, or his or her professional status, and the organist is happy to accept this.

If you choose to have a choir present, a fee is likely to be charged for this. Many churches maintain choirs of amateur singers and, for a flat fee, these singers will turn out for your wedding. You may be lucky and get a superb body of voices who are capable of leading the singing and performing extra requests and pieces, and who look excellent on your video. Alternatively, you may end up with a few children and a couple of elderly adults. A visit to the church on a Sunday morning may give some indications about this.

If you really want a good sound, another option is to hire a group of professional singers who, although few in number, should fill the church with excellent singing. Also, some churches in London only maintain choirs of professional voices, and if you request the choir you will be paying professional fees. As with organists, this leads to a large range of possibilities with regards to costs.

You will often find that each singer will cost nearly as much, if not the same, as the organist. Reckon on something like £100+ per singer in the London area.

These rates, however, may be doubled if the ceremony is videoed. Not all choirs made up of professional singers are robed, so if you particularly want to see a large robed choir on you video some lateral thinking and negotiation may be necessary.

Another solution is to have a vocal soloist to sing pieces of your choice. A professional soloist should produce a good sound but, as this is solo work and not part of a choir, may well demand a fee higher than those suggested above - perhaps more than the organist. If you wish, you can ask a friend to sing for you.

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Timing and Videos

It is important that both you and your organist have some understanding and agreement about how long the ceremony is likely to last. Many organists are happy to allot 90 minutes (some only 60 minutes) to your service, and they may well then take other bookings which depend upon them leaving promptly. If the start of the wedding service is delayed by over an hour, and the organist then leaves after the first hymn, some dissatisfaction may be felt. It could be VERY useful to have discussed such things early in negotiations - and possibly make arrangements for overtime payments. If you arrive very late and the organist has to leave, the fee should still be paid. He or she will have been at your disposal from the agreed time.

If the church has an appointed organist who plays for most services, it is usual for him or her to play for weddings. If granted permission, you should be able to bring your own organist, but then BOTH organists may expect a fee. This may not seem fair, but many organist/church contracts include such arrangements.

Many wedding ceremonies are videoed, and this can lead to further expense as (pursuant to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) the organist's fee should be increased (often doubled). Once again, this is not universally applied - but the possibility needs to be taken into account during planning. More information is available HERE.

Some churches may obtain for you, or ask you to get, a Performing Rights Society licence that allows you to video the music of your ceremony. The cost depends on what you ask for. However,such a licence ONLY COVERS payment for recording copyright music (such as modern hymns, or anything you may play on a CD during the ceremony). This licence DOES NOT COVER any fee due to the organist or other musicians. This has to be settled separately.

In an extreme case, an organist could refuse to play if un-agreed videos are being made. To save dispute and disappointment, it's always best to make sure that you and your organist or other musicians have an agreement on these matters before the ceremony begins.

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What to Expect

If you have paid to have an organist/choir/singer present at your wedding you are paying for a service or services (in the commercial sense) and should be able to expect an adequate level of return for your payment. Within reason (and subject to ministerial approval and availability) your choice of music should be observed. I write "within reason" as many factors can apply. For instance, your chosen hymn may be so new that the organist would have to buy (at some expense) a special hymn book to find it, and then it may not be covered by any of the licences which permit it to be reproduced in a service sheet. Similarly, your chosen organ music may be so difficult, yet of so little use in other connections, that it really is not worth the organist's time and effort in learning it. Or perhaps the instrument to hand does not allow for the adequate performance of the pieces of your choice.

It is not unreasonable to expect the performers to be able to play/sing the music of your wedding - but bear in mind the fees you are paying in relationship to what you require. For instance, generally speaking, there is a shortage of organists - and some churches have helpful amateurs. These "reluctant" organists may serve the congregation well, but are not necessarily the most proficient musicians. They cannot be expected to give the same level of performance and competence as an experienced, well qualified professional. (If you are lucky they can.) If your wedding is being held at a church where the organist's fee is low this could indicate that a willing amateur will be playing for you. It is better for both sides if this is taken into consideration when music is being chosen. On the other hand, if you are paying a professional musician a large fee, it is not unreasonable to assume that his or her playing will sound accomplished and that some effort will have been made to find the music you want.

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Other Points

The following comments are for clarification and expansion. They indicate personal opinions and/or give general indications of matters that could/should be considered. Where mention is made of legal matters, these comments do not constitute legal advice - but do draw your attention important points. It is for you to decide how to respond to these.

Copyright and Performance Rights

All music and words, as soon as they are composed or written, are subject to the laws of copyright. This means that, until 70 years after the death of the composer/author, they cannot be performed or reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder. Thereafter they enter the Public Domain - and you can do what you like with them. However, even if the actual music and words are in the public domain, the printed edition may be subject to Graphic Copyright, which means that the actual printed page cannot be photocopied for 25 years from the date of publication.

Happily, however, music and words may be performed in the context of a religious ceremony without reference to the copyright holder - assuming that you don't produce a specially printed service book. Some churches have a license to reproduce the words of some hymns, so if you are producing a service book the church's license may cover this - but to be strictly legal you should check.

You may choose to have some or all of the music of your wedding played from records, an iPad or CDs. Assuming that the equipment used is of good quality, this will ensure that the music you hear is of a high standard - and it will sound just how you want it to. Without permission, this does constitute a breach of copyright, even during a church service. (It's related to paying for making videos of the organist's playing). The law covering this is the same which demands that the BBC pays for broadcasting recordings. You could check this out with the Performing Rights Society. (But see above about video recording organists, singers and musicians.)

One or two final comments. Some people, who may have attended a church a few times and placed 50p or so in the collection are truly shocked when presented with a fee demand based on the ISM/RCO/RSCM recommendations. If, however, you think how much it costs to call out a plumber or a gas engineer, it falls into perspective. You may be engaging a full-time professional musician who will spend several hours preparing for, travelling to, and then playing for or singing at your wedding. This person is in a position to offer you this service as people in the past have paid realistic fees for his or her time - and the fee you pay will enable him or her to continue to be available. If fees become too low professional musicians have to look for other work - and that means that their time will be limited for musical activities.

And finally, despite all the warning, pleas, and legal descriptions above, you will find that most priests, ministers, organists, musicians and singers want your day to be a great day - and they will assist you as much as possible. If in doubt about anything- just ask.

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Any Questions or
Hire an Organist

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this site with Philip Norman, or have any queries about music for weddings, just ring him on 01873 590 055  or 07939 064 247, or e-mail him via If you would like to hire an organist please follow this LINK.

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