I KNOW it is spring - not because of the blossom, but because I
have a long list of wedding couples to see about the music for
their forthcoming nuptials.
Having been at this business for more than 30 years, it has
become pretty standard form - until the past few years. Where once
brides could be persuaded to consider a trumpet voluntary, instead
of the Wagner, for the entrance, and Widor, instead of Mendelssohn,
for the exit, they are now asking for the most inappropriate music
imaginable. Last year, I was twice asked for theme tunes from
Hollywood movies as entrance music.
No problem with that: you can do a pretty good arrangement of
Star Wars on the organ (I have done so). Both these
choices were, however, on piano, and both were lugubrious in the
extreme - hardly processional music.
For the exit, we had to sing "All you need is love" on three
separate occasions last summer. At least two of these brides
rejected all suggestions for organ (or, indeed, choral) pieces as
"too churchy". I wish I had actually said what went through my
mind: "Um, have you looked around you?"
NOW, I have no desire to appear condescending, or to say that I
have better musical discernment than anyone else. It is to be
rejoiced over that we all have different tastes, and I would always
accommodate a bride's request as far as I am able.
There is, however, an underlying problem for the Church. It is
good that the rules on eligibility for weddings have been relaxed,
and more are again choosing to marry in church, but people have
become so used to weddings taking place in other types of
buildings, and have seen so many films featuring weddings that they
are now regarded as the norm. The general public no longer seems to
have any concept that a church wedding is not just a legal act, but
is also an act of worship.
The piano wedding started with the bridesmaids entering one by
one before the bride. This immediately creates the impression that
the event is some sort of performance. But this is how they did it
in Sex in the City, and this is how they want it.
A priest friend of mine told me recently about receiving a phone
call from his bishop, in response to a complaint from a bride,
after he had insisted that the bridesmaids followed her in. Knowing
him, I am sure he would have handled the issue diplomatically, but
the bride's reaction underlines the seeming lack of understanding
about church weddings.
Then there are the readings. We have the obligatory one lesson
from scripture (usually got over with as quickly as possible),
followed by "poetry" that seems to owe more to Toy Story
than Love Story ("You've got a friend" is a
What is more, there are often so many of them. One wedding last
year had four readings. The impression of a performance is given
further credence by applause after each attempt. And am I the only
one who thinks that a reading should be rehearsed properly in the
I MAY be sounding like a grumpy old man, but there is a real issue
here. I have yet to experience anything spiritual - or, dare I say
it, sacramental - about these weddings. While I am sure that the
brides and grooms all love each other and are committed to each
other, the ceremonies that we, the Church, are colluding with are
nothing more than pale imitations of cinema performances.
It is, of course, difficult to tread the path between advice and
simply saying no. I have found a way of encouraging a more
appropriate choice of music by arranging to meet the wedding
couples after a Sunday-morning service.
Inevitably, the couple will attend the service. I am blessed in
having a very good choir, and they nearly always opt to have the
choir sing at their wedding. Having heard them sing a mass and
motet, they often choose music that is similar.
Even where there is no choir, the experience of an act of
worship makes it easier to impress on the couple that, although a
wedding is a celebration, it is also an act of worship, and some
music is appropriate for that, and some not. They can always have
whatever else they want at the reception.
Then there is training the congregation on the day itself. As
long as one recognises that the majority will have no experience of
public worship, apart from weddings, baptisms, and funerals, it no
longer seems condescending to explain a little about the service
and how to behave during it.
A minister standing at the front beforehand can easily request
no photography or recording during the service. Then, with gentle
humour, he or she can rehearse the "We will" response, and add:
"Oh, and to maintain an atmosphere of prayer, please applaud just
once, when the couple have been married. I will, of course, invite
you to do so."
IT IS good that people want to marry in church, but if we let them
arrange things so that it is merely like a civil ceremony, then
what are we contributing? We need to give some sense of why it
matters to get married in church.
We need to show that weddings can be conducted with beauty and
quiet dignity; that a church wedding is not only a moment of
excitement, but also one of prayer and peace at the start of a new
The clergy and organists should be able to say what is and is
not appropriate, without worrying about letters to the bishop. If
the ceremony is just like TV or the cinema, why bother coming
Colin Baldy is a performer and teacher. He is currently
Director of Music at St Mary's, Maldon, in Essex.