It might seem strange to name four classic, admittedly beautiful, and popular pieces of music as "three wedding ceremony songs to avoid." But have you ever loved a pop song until it got so much radio play that you couldn't stand it anymore? That's what's wrong with these pieces of music. They're used as wedding ceremony songs so often that they've become overplayed and common. And what bride or groom wants to be common?
The Four Most Popular Wedding Ceremony Songs
- Pachelbel's Canon in D
This is the one song anyone who's been to a wedding can identify. We've all heard it far too many times, and though beautiful, it's the musical equivalent of watching paint dry -- boring. (What's worse, oftentimes couples using it misspell it as Pachabel's Canon or Pakabel's Canon.)
It's popular because it's gracefully simple, instrumental, and memorable. As a canon, it builds gradually, helping to raise anticipation for the bride's entrance. Many couples have heard Pachelbel's Canon play at another ceremony and remembered it. It's a song that's appropriate for both church and secular weddings, and thus is typically suggested by wedding planners. Problem is, it's played out, plain and simple.
- Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
This song might be so popular because it is so adaptable. Part of Bach's cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, it opens with a joyful yet reflective solo and can be either instrumental or sung, by either a woman or a man. It can also be played fast – as Bach intended it – or slowly as is most commonly done today. Well-known singers like Josh Groban, Renée Fleming, and the musical ensemble Celtic Woman have covered the song, and the Beach Boys song Lady Lynda is based on the tune, though not the words. So if your guests' first reaction isn't "I've heard this at SO many weddings," they'll at least think that it seems expected and unsurprising. They'll probably say, "Oh yes, I know this song." But they won't be complimenting you on your originality or thinking that the music fits your personalities.
- Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin aka "Here Comes the Bride" by Richard Wagner
Little girls hum this song to themselves when playing dress-up and imagining their wedding day. It's been used in countless TV and movie weddings, and even more real life ones. Its ubiquity has made it iconic – there's no doubt you're at a wedding when you hear this song. So many brides choose it for their own processional march down the aisle – so many that it's tired. But this song, in particular, has even better reasons to avoid it: Wagner was an anti-Semite, and his work was frequently used by Hitler and the Nazis. Furthermore, in the opera Lohengrin, this song is sung to celebrate a very short-lived doomed marriage. That's not what you want to be associated with your wedding.
- Felix Mendelssohn's Wedding March from Op .61 suite for A Midsummer Night's Dream
This is without a doubt the most popular wedding recessional used today. It was popularized when Queen Victoria's daughter used it in her 1858 wedding and has been used in hundreds of films for the dramatic moment when the happy couple leaves the altar as husband and wife. (Or husband and husband, or wife and wife.) That drama makes it familiar and makes it expected.
Now that you've been briefed on what wedding ceremony music to avoid, what classical ceremony music should you use instead?
Unique Picks for Ceremony Music
- If you love Pachelbel's Canon, consider the gorgeous Promenade from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." It has the same slow reverential joy that the Canon does. You could also use the popular but not overused Sheep May Safely Graze by Bach. Or, for a twist, check out guitar virtuoso Jerry arrangement, called Canon Rock. Your guests will hear the familiar opening strains of Pachelbel's Canon, then be surprised when the electric guitar comes in and quickly makes it much more rocking.
- Instead of Here Comes the Bride, choose from Rigaudon by Andre Campra, Trumpet Tune by Henry Purcell, or the popular Trumpet Voluntary in D by Jeremiah Clarke. It's what Princess Diana walked down the aisle to when she married Prince Charles. Another beautiful -- and less popular -- march is Rondeau by Jean-Joseph Mouret.
- Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is a lovely song, but you might want to also look at Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim aria for soprano from the oratorio "Samson". The joyful trumpets paired with a beautiful voice are perfect for a happy wedding.
- If you wish you could use The Wedding March, instead choose Handel's "Hornpipe" Allegro Maestoso from Water Music Suite 2, the Emperor's Fanfare, or Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4"
Rules Are Made to Be Broken
What if you simply love one of these "played out" pieces of music? Then go ahead and use it. These pieces are classic and popular for good reason – they're beautiful and memorable. In the end, your wedding should be about what makes you happy, and there are so many opportunities for making your wedding personal. It's okay to choose to have a traditional wedding – so long as it's "you."