Hopefully we’ve now been through everything needed to ensure that the locations for your Service and Reception are just what you want, but what about the actual wedding ceremony itself? You may think there is not much for you to organise here as surely it is just a case of ‘Repeat after me’ until you here those magical words – “I now pronounce you man and wife….”? Well for the legal bit of getting you married that is largely true, but there are still opportunities for you to put your own stamp on your ceremony, so that’s what we will look at this time, as well the usual few things for you to ‘have a think about’ to ensure that absolutely everything flows just the way you want it to.
Just a quick word on vows as I have mentioned them briefly above. If you are having a church / religious ceremony, the exchange of vows is fully scripted for you and your vicar (or other celebrant) will guide you through this part, however, it is worth asking about it just to make sure that you are fully comfortable with the declarations you will be making. Brides generally don’t have to worry about promising to ‘Obey’ these days as this now seems to have disappeared from regular use, but this is THE key part of your day and you are making these declarations in public (and ‘before God’ if it is a church service) so like any other contract you enter into, it is important that you understand what you are signing up for!
Eleanor and Antony exchange their vows at the village church in Lound, Suffolk
If you are having a Civil Ceremony, then you may have a bit more input into the vows so please make sure you discuss this with your Registrar to understand how much input is available to you. Some may permit slight variations to their standard ‘script’, others may allow you to more or less write your own vows, subject to certain key declarations being made.
Claire and Stephen exchange vows at their outdoor ceremony at Narborough Hall, Norfolk
If you are having a church service, you will be asked, or possibly told, to attend a rehearsal for the service, usually the night before. Whilst you may well have 101 things you want to be checking the night before, I would strongly recommend that you have the rehearsal. (And let’s not forget that by the time we are finished here there will be NOTHING for you to worry about the night before as it will all be planned to perfection!) This really is what your wedding day is all about and it is more than likely that your head will be all over the place when you are standing at the entrance to the church or at the altar waiting for it all to happen, so being comfortable that you understand exactly what is about to happen should ensure that you are ready to enjoy the moment rather than worrying about it. The rehearsal is not just for you either; it is an important step in ensuring that everyone else taking part in the service (bridesmaids, best man, bride’s dad) understands what is going to happen, where they need to be and when. This is also your chance to have a good look at where all the key people are going to be seated on the day so take that opportunity and make sure that everyone is going to be accommodated as expected and that your Ushers have clear instructions for seating to be kept clear for parents, bridesmaids, and if there are any particular areas you want reserved for grand-parents, people doing readings etc.
If you are having a Civil Ceremony, you won’t have the luxury of a formal rehearsal, so it is important that you discuss the flow of the service with your Registrar to understand the format. As far as seating arrangements are concerned, you can have this discussion with the Wedding Co-ordinator at your chosen venue and they will help you plan this aspect of things.
Make an Entrance
So, all your guests have arrived, and the announcement is made for everyone to stand for the arrival of the bride. Everyone is waiting to see you – and that dress – so how are you going to make your entrance one to remember?
Katherine looking radiant waiting for her big moment. Dad taking a quiet moment!
Dad checks out the aisle while Georgia looks excited now that the moment has arrived.
Many brides have dreamt of walking down the aisle to ‘Hear Comes the Bride’ since they were a little girl and it certainly fits the bill as ‘Traditional’ but don’t be frightened to look further afield if you want people to remember your walk down the aisle. There are many other pieces of classical music which are equally suitable for a ‘Bridal Processional’ – some slow and regal, others more dramatic. I have attached links to some suggestions for you below.
Suggestions for Bridal Processional Music (Classical)
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
Handel’s Largo from Xerxes
Charpentier’s Prelude to Te Deum
Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March
Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Purcell’s Trumpet Tune
Quick note on this – In my humble, and possibly old-fashioned opinion, one of the nicest things about a church wedding is the arrival of the bride with the church organ accompanying her down the aisle. The reality of things however is that some church organs are better than others. I have often been moved to tears with the drama of a great entrance (more on that in a minute), but equally, I have also found myself trying hard not to cover my ears as an old and creaky organ massacres a beautiful piece of music. Sometimes of course, it is the organist who inflicts the massacre – cruel, but true. If you are having your music played by the organist, make sure you discuss your music choices with him/her and get them to play the pieces for you to make sure you are ok that they, and the organ itself, can handle it. Most organists love being involved in this aspect of the wedding and are happy to suggest pieces for you – usually ones they can play of course! A classic example here is the choice of Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ as processional music. This is a very dramatic piece and when played well certainly hits the spots in terms of a ‘grand entrance’ but it is a very complex piece and it takes an experienced organist to play it well, so always make sure you hear your organist play your music choices before finalising them.
It doesn’t have to be a classical piece of course: many Brides choose more modern music to walk into – just make sure your vicar is ok with it first, and just as important, that your organist is comfortable too. Many will not have played modern pieces on the organ and may not be comfortable doing so (or the piece just may not sound good on the organ). If you are using modern pieces in your service it may be more practical to organise this yourself via a playlist on a phone or other mobile device but again, if this is what you would like you will need to get permission from the vicar and make sure that there are suitable power-points and speakers available or that you are supplying everything yourself.
Suggestions for Bridal Processional music (Modern)
Christinna Perri – A thousand years
John Legend – All Of Me
Ellie Goulding – How Long Will I Love You
Tom Odell – Grow Old With Me
So, music is now organised, but what format will the bridal procession take?
Question: Bridesmaids; are they going down the aisle before you or after you?
There are no hard and fast rules here but as with the Ushers, make sure your bridesmaids are clear on what is happening, in what order they are entering, and what to do when they arrive at the altar etc. One of the first ‘must get’ images for your photographer to capture is the bride and her father walking down the aisle together and bridesmaids can impact the success here. If bridesmaids go down first, they can block a clear shot of the bride and her father for the principle photographer located at the front waiting for you so if this is your chosen order, try and leave a short gap after your last bridesmaid starts her processional before you start yours. Similarly, if your photographer is banished to the back of the church (or if you have two photographers one will be at the back) bridesmaids following the bride down the aisle can block a rear view shot so again, planning a short gap to allow you to start your processional before bridesmaids start theirs means you can still get that shot. The ‘faces’ shot from the front is the really special one of course but if your dress has a train or you have opted for a full-length veil then the ‘rear view’ shot down the aisle is often the only one that really shows the drama of your dress in an un-posed situation so try to avoid losing that due to bridesmaids following too closely. It only takes a few seconds delay to make sure the photographer gets that shot for you.
Chloe’s dress looks stunning with its full length veil. Bridesmaids a few steps behind as requested!
Amanda’s dress in full splendour during the long walk up the aisle at Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk
Please also have a think about how your music and ceremony location fit together. Informal or modern music generally tends to work well in Civil Ceremony situations but can sometimes feel out of place in the village church. You may be surprised however than even modern pieces can sound very different when played on a church organ. By the same token, a dramatic classical piece may sound odd in a civil ceremony in a modern setting, but it’s your ceremony so make sure your choice of music suits the mood you want to create.
An indulgent moment
I have to tell you about one of the best experiences I have had as a wedding photographer and what for me was the ultimate ‘Make an Entrance’ moment. I am a huge fan of classical music and always like to have a look through the Order of Service when photographing it to see which pieces of music the couple have chosen. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to assist in covering a wedding in the amazing grandeur of Norwich Cathedral. Being a Norwich based photographer this in itself was a dream come true moment. Whilst photographing the bridal preparations, the bride’s mum was telling us about the challenges they had trying to secure the services of the Cathedral Choir to perform at the service (this was just getting better and better!). As a side note, this discussion came about as we were discussing photography of the service as this was one of those occasions mentioned in the last post where there was a VERY strict no-photography policy during the service. We were given permission to take some shots from a distance, but it was such a pity that this couple were married in the most spectacular setting and had limited photographs of the event. But I digress…..
So, we have a wedding in Norwich Cathedral and the choir were going to be singing too. Sounding good so far. Not surprisingly there was great excitement as we arrived at the cathedral. The groom and his family were American, and they were just blown away by the setting – the building is older than their modern country! Due to the photography restrictions placed on us, my instructions were to wait by the choir stalls to photograph the bride as she arrived and waited there before starting her walk down the aisle. I could then follow her into the stalls to photograph the start of her processional but was not permitted to go any further than that. When the time came to photograph the Order of Service I near passed out with excitement when I saw her choice of music. Her Bridal Processional was Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ – music that has been played at every British coronation since George II’s in 1727 and one of my all-time favourite pieces. This was now going to be amazing!
A quick check to make sure the train is in order
So, the time comes, the Bride arrives at the cathedral and takes her place next to the entrance to the Choir. The music starts from the organ right above my head; the piece starts very soft and gentle but really builds up a dramatic atmosphere of anticipation. The music builds and builds and as it reaches its crescendo; the gates to the choir stall are thrown open; the choir burst into the choral element of the piece; and the bride starts her Procession down the cathedral aisle. As I follow a few steps behind her I watch her continue down the long aisle while stood in the middle of Norwich Cathedral Choir Stalls with the choir in full swing of Zadok and the immense sound of the cathedral organ right above my head.
Excitement building as the entrance to the choir stalls is opened for our bride
The dramatic Processional March is underway!
Trust me – THAT is how you make an entrance!! It still gives me goose-bumps every time I think of it. It is the closest I’ll ever get to a royal wedding!
This You Tube clip will give you some idea of what it was like.
Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Mary Elizabeth Donaldson (2004)
So, now that you’ve planned your entrance, have a think about the other music you want to feature in your day. If you’re having a church service then this will usually involve 2 or 3 hymns. This can be a tricky one especially if most of your guests are not regular church goers. Please bear this in mind as it can create a very embarrassing atmosphere with the church organ blaring and only the vicar singing! If in doubt, play safe and choose something that everyone knows from school such as ’Morning has Broken’ or ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ – everyone knows them! Also, don’t be afraid to investigate something slightly less traditional. This will largely depend on how traditional or modern your vicar is but one of the most unexpected, but fun moments I’ve encountered recently was when a couple chose “When I’m 64” by The Beatles as their closing ‘hymn’ – the words were very apt for a wedding so why not!
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?
Most services will include one or two readings, and if you are having a civil ceremony, these will effectively replace the hymns which are not suitable here. You pretty much have free reign on your choice of readings subject to the ‘no religious content’ caveat for civil ceremonies mentioned in Post 2 of this series, but again, please discuss your choices with your vicar as they will often build their sermon around your choice of reading.
Register signing: this can be an awkward time for your guests as they are not sure what they should be doing or how much chat is acceptable so keeping them entertained with some music is always a good idea. Your church organist will usually suggest suitable pieces or if you have a talented musician or singer among your guests this can be a great opportunity for them to play a part in your service. If you have a church choir as part of your service they will usually perform at this point.
Norwich Cathedral choir at the wedding of Sophie and John ( my ‘indulgent moment’ wedding from earlier)
Exit: Or, ‘Recessional’ to give it its formal name. You’ve made your dramatic entrance, got everyone joining in with popular hymns, and kept them entertained with music or singing during your register signing – now’s it’s time for the Grand Finale: walking back down the aisle together is your first public appearance as a married couple so do it in style. If you have a church organist, this can be their moment to shine as Recessional music tends to be much more dramatic than Processional. Again, find something that suits your venue (and your organist’s talents if appropriate) as well as you as a couple. Some ideas for classical pieces are shown below but modern pieces can work really well here as they can bring a more relaxed and light-hearted feeling to this very exciting part of the service.
My bride at Norwich Cathedral who blew everyone away with Zadok as her processional, continued the drama throughout the service and chose Handel again for an extremely impressive exit to the Halleluiah Chorus!!
Ideas for Recessional Music
Handel’s Alla Hornpipe
Walton’s Crown Imperial
Mozart’s “Organ Fantasie in F” K. 594 (Allegro)
And don’t forget that the more dramatic suggestions for Processional pieces can also work as Recessionals too.
Or if you’re up for something a bit more quirky, I heard this at one wedding and thought it was brilliant – Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Chloe now exists the church with her new husband Jack
Amanda and Varuna smile at friends as they exit Wymondham Abbey as husband and wife
In most cases, the final part of the ‘service’ element of the day is the confetti throwing. Things can often get a bit crazy here as everyone is now very excited and your guests are longing to speak with you for the first time. If you want to just go with the flow here that’s absolutely fine, but if you want to include the confetti throwing in your photographs (and why wouldn’t you), then you need to have a plan otherwise guests will just start throwing it whenever they see you. This can be another role for the army of Ushers to help shape. Your photographer will guide you as to the best place for this to happen, but the Ushers can be really useful in helping to get everyone in place ready for the shot. And here is a plea from a photographer: when the time comes, PLEASE walk slowly, and although it can be difficult when confetti is coming at you from every angle, but try to keep your heads up too, and smile! This shot works best when there is confetti flying everywhere and you can see big smiles and happy faces from the newlyweds – seeing the tops of your heads as you ‘run the gauntlet’ doesn’t quite have the same impact!
Myan and Ian realising that confetti and a strong breeze is a dangerous combination!
Mark can’t contain his excitement as he shows off his new bride, Helena
I mentioned that your photographer will guide you on the best position for the confetti shot (and they will) but this is also something that MUST be discussed and agreed with the church vicar/officer or your event co-ordinator as most places are quite strict on where confetti can and cannot be thrown. And just to add to the confusion here, many venues now also have strict rules on what type of confetti can be thrown (no, I’m not kidding). The ‘traditional’ tissue petal type is becoming frowned upon in this bio-diverse world we now live in and it is becoming quite common for venues to insist on dried-flower confetti only so PLEASE check this out and make sure your guests are aware of this. Most couples tend to provide confetti these days but many of your lady guests will bring a stash of their own in their handbag, so beware.
And finally, it’s time to leave the church / ceremony venue and head to the reception. In most cases this is no big deal but depending on your chosen method of transport, you may want to include a shot of your departure from the church or your arrival at the reception venue in your photographs – this can work well if your reception venue has a grand driveway for instance. Please make sure you discuss this with your photographer as again, things can get pretty hectic around this time and your photographer may be stuck in a crowd of guests as you are preparing to leave, or if you want your arrival at the reception covered then your photographer will need to set off ahead of you to be ready for your arrival.
Anna and Sam leave the church in a classic van belonging to the family firm
Eleanor and Antony arrive at Somerleyton Hall in their horse-drawn carriage
For all of the excitment of a wedding day, the ceremony itself is the part of the day when you actually ‘get married’, so make sure you plan the style of marriage that you as a couple really want. Oh yes, and don’t forget to enjoy it!
(All photographs featured in this post were taken by, and processed by, Cameron Macdonald on behalf of John Harris Photography and are reproduced by kind permission of John Harris)