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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