A contemporary North American wedding ceremony, most often held in a church, uses music to announce and accompany a specific order of events, starting with the ritual seating of mothers and grandmothers by the ushers, followed by the entrance of the groomsmen and clergy, then the bridesmaids and lastly the bride and possibly the bridegroom self.
All these events are accompanied by their own individual pieces, selected beforehand in conjunction with the musician(s) hired to perform. In lieu of live players, recorded music can be substituted to fulfill these functions.
Typically beginning with 20–30 minutes of prelude music, this generally includes reflective pieces such as Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Use of string quartets and harps have in modern times increased in popularity, sometimes replacing the customary organ. After the prelude, there is generally special music for the seating of the mothers and grandmothers. A popular selection is the “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel. Then the bridal party (bridesmaids) proceeds down the aisle, followed by the bride — often escorted by her father. They arrive at the church altar where the groom, groomsmen and priest are assembled. This bridal march is accompanied by a processional tune.
For over 100 years the most popular processional has been Wagner’s ”Bridal Chorus” from Lohengrin (1850), often called “Here Comes The Bride”. This has been historically played by an organist. Since the televised wedding of Lady Diana to Prince Charles, there has been an upsurge in popularity of Jeremiah Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark’s March” for use as processional music, a piece that was formerly (and incorrectly) attributed to Henry Purcell as “Trumpet Voluntary”.During the service there may be a few hymns, especially in liturgical settings. Optional solos and a short piece for the lighting of the Unity Candle may also occur. At the end of the service, the bride and groom march down the aisle to a lively recessional tune, the most popular tune being Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826). Another popular choice is Widor’s Toccata from Symphony for Organ No. 5 (1880).
The ceremony concludes with an instrumental postlude as the guests depart. In the US, the most common musical instruments used for ceremony music is either a piano/organ or a string quartet, but a harpist, woodwind quintet, or classical guitar is sometimes used.After a photography session, a catered meal and dance ensue, known as a reception. Receptions either offer couple dancing with a live band, or hire a DJ to play popular recorded songs, often chosen by the couple.