Wedding music – the ‘banned list’ and other myths

Posted: May 16, 2017 in wedding music
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I’ve been performing at wedding ceremonies as both a violinist and choir director for rather longer than I want to admit. And I’m struck by how much the wedding landscape in Ireland has changed in that time. When I first became a full-time musician, the options for a ceremony were limited to churches and registry offices. There are now so many great alternatives to choose from that you can essentially design your own ceremony and some, such as the Humanist or Spiritualist option, give free rein to choose whatever music you’d like for your celebration, from Schubert to AC/DC. However, if yours is either a civil ceremony or a church one, there are some rules to be followed regarding the kind of music that may be included. I find that a lot of couples are quite anxious about discussing their choice of music with their celebrant, particularly if it’s a Catholic ceremony. Here’s some pointers you might find useful in navigating this potentially tricky area:

1). We’re here to help. Your musicians can always give advice on appropriate music for inclusion in your ceremony…and you may feel more comfortable asking us before you approach your celebrant. It’s part of your musicians’ job to give guidance on the appropriate music for your ceremony, so don’t be afraid to ask. Especially if you’ve booked The Gospel Project, because we’re very nice ūüôā

2). Don’t worry about the scare stories.¬†Yes, some people have negative experiences with their celebrant, but honestly this is the exception rather than the rule. For example, there is a fairly¬†widespread belief that the Catholic church has a ‘banned list’ of songs that are not allowed at weddings. If you think about it, this would have to mean that there’s somebody in the Vatican whose job it is to add to this list every time a band such as Metallica record a song! So the good news is that there is no such list. There is, however, a rule prohibiting the inclusion of¬†non-liturgical music as part of a Catholic ceremony.¬†So why do you regularly hear love songs performed at church weddings? Because in practice this is entirely at the discretion of the individual priest. Some priests are very relaxed about permitting secular songs at a wedding – especially at the signing of the register and the exit, when the mass is technically over – while to some others it is very important to have only liturgical music during the ceremony. That’s why it’s essential to discuss your choice of music with them in advance of your ceremony (see below). And don’t assume that the priest will be relaxed about this rule because it’s somebody you know, or because he’s young.

3). Do communicate with your celebrant.¬†It’s better for everyone if you keep your priest/celebrant informed about your choice of music. Sometimes couples opt for a ‘the less we tell him, the better’ strategy, and unfortunately this never ends well. Do consider that your musicians will arrive to set up on the day an hour and a half before the ceremony is due to start, and that the celebrant will check the music with us at that point; if this is the first they’re hearing about your inclusion of a Led Zeppelin song at Communion, there’s a good chance we’ll be making some last-minute substitutions on your behalf! Conversely, with civil ceremonies in the Republic of Ireland, only¬†secular¬†music is¬†permitted; so if yours is a civil ceremony we can’t perform¬†Ave Maria,¬†for example. This rule takes a lot of people by surprise, and indeed many assume it will be disregarded – ‘ah, don’t mind that’ is a very common reaction when I let couples know about it! – but, unlike the rules prohibiting secular music in church, this rule is consistently observed by civil registrars in my experience.

4). Do consider what the song is about before you include it in your ceremony. Lots of us have a favourite song without ever having given much thought to what it’s about. Nothing wrong with that. But if the music at your ceremony is important to you, it’s worth taking the time to go through the lyrics of any song you’d like included and have a think about the message it sends. Consider that, unlike your first dance later that day, the songs at your ceremony will be played in a completely quiet room, with quite a lot of attention focused on the lyrics. I’ve occasionally been presented with some surprising song requests, and of course if it’s something you as a couple really want, regardless of the subject matter, we’ll go ahead and learn it for you- it’s your wedding. But it would be unprofessional of me not to at least point out when a requested song ¬†is actually a murder ballad! Now you might decide you don’t mind that at all, but your guests may raise their eyebrows a bit. Like every thing else you have to decide as a couple as you create your celebration, it’s absolutely your choice, but it’s better that it be an informed choice. Happy wedding planning.


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