Music for your wedding : things worth considering

Congratulations! Once you decide to get married, there are lots of things you want to do but I’m only going to talk about planning the music at your wedding service, specifically the bits with words.  Your going in and coming out music you need to discuss with your organist, and if you want the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Widor’s Toccata, just ask; organists love a challenge!  Only one point: it’s actually quite difficult to walk sedately to a 3/4 rhythm, so however much you love it, keep the Blue Danube for the reception, or you may find yourself waltzing out.

Planning for the personal

I’ve only had one wedding, but I’ve sung at a lot of them, and watched the planning of several others (big family), so I now feel that if I did get married again, I have a clearer idea of how to make the wedding service as personal as possible (although, reassuringly, I wouldn’t change anything about mine).  Some of the service is fixed, but there are plenty of places where you have to choose between alternatives.  What mood do you want to create?  What story do you want to tell?  These are in fact liturgical questions, and the words and music you choose are very important.

The psalm for your wedding : the official options by country

We have special requests for wedding psalms all through the year, but they tend to peak in the summer, so this year the Webmaster and I decided to think ahead, and we’ve put together a full set of the psalms listed in the UK and Ireland (one set) and the US and Philippines (another set)  Lectionaries for Weddings. I haven’t been able to track down the OZ or Canada equivalents on line, so I would be really grateful if anyone else could send me the list, as experience shows it may well not be the same.  It is actually quite funny to compare the different national missals in my possession.  The US one has a set of three possible wedding services at the back (and doesn’t include the words of the Hail Mary at any point).   The UK one has lots of Penitential Rites, and Evening Prayer out of the Divine Office.  The OZ one just has room for a selection of prayers because it’s in slightly bigger print (for which I am grateful).   The Canada one is based on the US version but unhelpfully takes out the wedding section, and has an Overview of the Catechism.  As they say, go figure.

Several to choose from

There is a choice of wedding psalms and alleluia verses, at least seven different psalms, and even more to choose from because there are often alternative Responses for the same psalm (none of this is me, by the way, this is all straight out of the Lectionary.)  The main thing I would say is make this an active choice.  Choose a psalm where the words mean something to you, ideally to both of you, personally.  If you have a favourite psalm and it’s not listed, have a word with your priest and ask if you may substitute it.  If I haven’t already set it (or you don’t like the tune), e-mail me.  Shortest turn-round time ever was a couple of days, but I’m pleased to say I got it done, and delighted to say that they liked it, but more notice is a help!

And the chance to go off-piste if you want to

The psalm selection isn’t always the ones I would choose, but there are some good happy psalms to choose from (though inclusive language is in short supply).  There are several which are basically just hooray for God psalms, and there are some which are hooray for the just man.  There is only one which speaks specifically about the family, and that from the man’s viewpoint (127/128); overall, there is definitely an emphasis on only the male half of this pairing, and this might encourage you to consider other options.   (All the psalm settings are listed on the website www.musicformass.co.uk , so you can listen to the tunes.)  Invite all the angels as witnesses to your wedding with Psalm 137/138.   Consider Psalm 19/20, which asks God to protect you (both), to give you your heart’s desire and fulfil every one of your plans;  or Psalm 36/37, which says ‘if you find your delight in the Lord, he will grant you your heart’s desire’ with the Response ‘May the Lord always hold us by the hand’.  I set both these as graduation psalms for two of my daughters, and the words have the excitement of a new beginning as well as the reassurance of God’s love.   And if you really want Psalm 22/23 (The Lord is my shepherd), ask for it; it does not have to be kept for funerals!

Be careful of the message

Above all – and this goes for your choice of hymns too – check the words.  If you are choosing an anthem or something for the signing of the register, check the words.  Even if it’s in a foreign language, check the words.  There will be some smartiebreeks there who understands them.  I remember being in the choir at a wedding where the bride’s best friend sang ‘Lascia ch’io pianga‘ from Handel’s Rinaldo.  It is a beautiful tune.  But the words say ‘Let me weep for my cruel fate, and sigh for my liberty’, not a good choice for a wedding.  If it was a mistake, it was embarrassing; if it was deliberate, it was in very poor taste.  Check the words.

Choosing the wedding hymns

Here I would just say, try to mix it up a little, as this increases the chance of your congregation knowing at least one of them.  Maybe adapt the old rhyme.  Something old (trad Catholic) – eg Soul of my Saviour;  something new (but not too new) – something like City of God ;  something borrowed (one of the great Anglican or Methodist hymns – enormous choice here but eg Now thank we all our God);  something blues-y- eg  Gentle as silence.   Leave out any category you hate, but don’t let them all be out of the same box (unless it’s the borrowed box, because that has so many different sorts of options in it).

Choosing the wedding readings

I know I said I was only going to talk about the music, but I can’t not include picking your readings here.  There’s a good reason why most people stick with the Bible readings : they are relevant and not embarrassing.  Choose something you like by all means, even not biblical if your priest is happy, but check the words.  A younger brother is an excellent sounding board on this.  If he snorts with laughter, yawns or goes bright pink, think of choosing something else.  You have the rest of your life together to read The Owl and the Pussycat or Pigling Bland.

Don’t forget to choose the Alleluia verse

There are a few options available in the Lectionaries as the Alleluia verse, so don’t forget to make a choice here also.  Funnily enough, these are different from ordinary Sunday Alleluias, so they are mostly new settings of the verse words.  I have kept them all nice and simple.  There are various standard Alleluia top and tails, and I used the Jacob Alleluia for one of the US options because he’s a good model for persistence even if he behaves badly later on.  Remember there may well be people at the wedding who don’t know their way around, but they will want to join in if you make it easy for them.

It’s always wonderful and heartwarming to see how much goodwill there is at a wedding service, all focussed on the two people at front and centre.  They will listen to your readings.  They will sing the music you have chosen.  It’s your wedding.  Make it special.  The choices are all yours.

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Music for Easter (Saturday Vigil and Easter Sunday)

The Easter Vigil is the greatest event of the Church’s year, the celebration of the most dramatic and exciting moment in human history. So it should be celebratory, dramatic, exciting.  And it is long. Not all parishes do all seven OT readings with their accompanying psalms, but I don’t know which you will choose, so we have settings for all of them.  But even if you only do a few, with a full Mass (including the Gloria, of course) to follow, and starting at night, this is a musical marathon. I have tried, then, to give you lots of variety to keep people interested, but also not to make the music too strenuous to sing. Above all, though, I have been striving after joy, because it seems to me that it is the hallmark of the Easter readings.

Not just Psalms

We’ve got some of the best words in the Bible available to sing here, and not just Psalms but also Canticles, bits out of Exodus and Isaiah, and there are even alternatives to choose from for individual readings.  Choose early, because then you can concentrate on what you are actually singing.  I have done compacts wherever possible, to limit the sheer bulk of your folders for the Vigil, but some of the texts are too irregular to compact and I had to give up or try separating out the instruments.

Vigil Readings : salvation history in a nutshell

We start with the Creation (Pss 103/104 or 32/33) and canter through the whole of salvation history so fast that it’s not surprising we get a bit out of breath.  I love the creation psalms, there are lots of them, where we tell God all about the wonderful things he made (which he knows already, but it’s like telling your children how beautiful and clever they are, or your husband that you love him.  Just because you both know something already doesn’t stop you repeating it).  These psalms give me a chance to play with the music, to make the water ripple and the birds sing, to go up for the mountains and go down for the depths of the sea.  It may be unsubtle, but it feels right.

Then there’s Abraham and Isaac, and the ghastly choice Abraham faces, to sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loves, as God says to him, piling up the facts which make it so ghastly… but then God stops him,  Abraham unties Isaac and they go home rejoicing.   We are left remembering how God had to sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, and he had to go through with it, all because of us.  So the psalm following this reading is a more reflective one (15/16), with words of comfort in the middle verse.

Then the crossing of the Red Sea, so exciting, and the wonderful canticle after it (Exodus 15), all trumpets and triumph.  I really mustn’t go on about all the readings and psalms, or the Webmaster will make acid comments about writing a book rather than a blog, but my other favourites are the Isaiah canticle, where you can hear the water being heaved up out of the well, and the yearning deer after the Seventh Reading, where the CAN convention of using both psalm numbers means we have the longest psalm label on record (41,42/42,43).  This is a brand new CAN psalm, and I was aiming for yearning, but the rhythm of the response words was too strong, so we definitely have a leaping deer here, but still yearning as it bounds.

During Mass

After all this excitement, we have Psalm 117 with a simple Alleluia response.  This psalm comes up a lot over the Easter season, in various permutations, but this is the first time, so I’ve gone for a sober joy here, the great news is still sinking in.  It’s simple, so everyone can join in, but strongly rhythmic, and it’s a three-fold Alleluia as it replaces the usual Alleluia before the Gospel.  No more Lent Gospel Acclamations till next year!

Easter Sunday, Mass during the day

This is the same psalm as in the night, but with a different Response, although you can of course substitute the triple Alleluia version.  I do feel the mood is different now, daylight and daffodils instead of darkness and bonfires, and I would take it a bit faster now that everyone has had a sleep and is fresh again.  I have a very soft spot for this psalm response, as our youngest son was born during Eastertide, and his father had to go off to church that morning leaving me and the very new baby in the hospital, and sing it as cantor.  New life, new hope; indeed ‘this day was made by the Lord; we rejoice and are glad.’  Happy Easter (alleluia alleluia).