Wedding Guide: What to Know About Your Organist or Musician and Vocalist

A friend of mine has been a liturgical organist for 20+ years. This guide is intended to help you when planning the music for your wedding and avoid any bumps or disappointments.

Any anecdotal examples given below are situations my friend has actually encountered.

How much thought have you given to the music for your wedding?

Sure, you may have told your DJ or band exactly what you want at the reception.

What about the reason you’re HAVING the reception.

Have you met with your organist or musician yet?

Are you using a relative or friend?

Here are some tips from Wedding by Details to help you plan the music for one of the most important days of your life:

Just because “Uncle John” plays the piano doesn’t mean he can play a pipe or electronic organ. “Uncle John” may be a wonderful pianist, but that does NOT translate to playing an organ. Additionally, just because “Uncle John” sounds good on the Wurlitzer at home doesn’t mean he will sound good on a church organ.

If “Uncle John” thinks “Great” and “Swell” refer to his kid’s performance at the last Little League game and a “stop” is what you do before you go, I strongly suggest you pass. If he is certain that a “rank” is a designation of authority and a “manual” means you must shift gears yourself, thank him gratefully and decline.

To elaborate on my Wurlitzer comment, there are -with very few exceptions- many more pedals on a church organ. If one can not operate these properly, the full sound will be not be realized. For comparison, the sound I’m describing would equate to a band with a poor or non-existent bass player.

Many churches require that you use their organist. If you want “Aunt Mary” to play at your wedding, it’s possible you may be charged a “bench fee”.

This is an amount equal to what you would have paid the resident organist. Wedding, funerals and other “extra” services are part of our income. Please be prepared for this and don’t complain if it comes up.

Additionally, We don’t mind “Aunt Mary” sitting at our organ bench, as long as she doesn’t move all our music around and there’s no liquids present. Repairing an organ console shouldn’t be a part of your wedding day worries.

If you have no idea what music to play at your wedding, your church organist is your friend. We have played countless weddings and can help you choose appropriate pieces for your service at your church (if we are not the resident organist).

The music you want at your wedding may not be allowed. Many churches have guidelines or set-in-stone rules for what music is allowed in that church. Some are governed by higher authorities.

Some are flexible and some are not. Do NOT choose music for your wedding that is more appropriate for your reception.

“Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen is probably not an option for the bride to dance to the altar at the start of the service, nor is “Slippery When Wet” by Bon Jovi a viable option for your “recessional” (when you leave the altar at the end of the service). Note that I used the word “probably”, as I have been asked to (and played) some pretty outlandish things at weddings, when permitted at that particular locale.

Karaoke does not a singer make. Your best friend, “Christine”, may sound absolutely wonderful doing that rendition of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” in a karaoke bar at midnight.

Are you SURE she has the appropriate timbre and vocal range for such pieces as “Ave Maria” and the “Our Father”? If you’re totally committed to having “Christine” sing and she can’t hit the high notes, we will have to transpose the music (to a different “key”). Some musicians can do this and some can not. Some organs have this capability built-in, but many do not. Remember this when matching a vocalist to your musician.

In that regard, if using “Uncle John” as a musician and “Christine” as a vocalist, make sure their personality is able to go along with the fact that they are NOT, I repeat NOT, the “star”!

All those people aren’t coming for the music, they’re coming for the couple. If “Uncle John” tends to go “off-the-program” and improvise, take a pass. If “Christine” has a voice that immediately commands attention, take a pass. Suggest “Uncle John” or “Christine” sit in with the band at the reception for a song or two, but NEVER before checking with the band! Some bands permit this, but many do not.

How much does a liturgical musician cost? I can not even broach this subject. Fees vary widely from church to church, city to city and even state to state. However, you may be asked to pay extra if we must meet with your vocalist more than once or for an extended period of time.

A practice with a well-trained vocalist is really more of a “run-through” with the musician. This is simply to address any specific issues and is not a “practice”, per se. A “run-through” lasting more than an hour would be highly unusual when dealing with professionals. Practicing is done at music lessons and at home.

If we have to actually teach the vocalist, that involves a lot more time. This directly corresponds to having “Christine” sing at your wedding.

I’d like to add: Please pay your musician(s) and vocalist (if applicable) prior to the start of the service. Frequently, we must leave after your wedding to play another service.

After the wedding, everyone directly involved with the wedding is dealing with wedding photos. Having to hunt down our fee is awkward at best and intrusive at worst.

The music for your ceremony has the capability to greatly enhance the mood and “uniqueness” of your wedding. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it should also not be a focus of concern.

If you follow these general guidelines, planning the music for your wedding day should be a breeze!

(Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash)

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About the Author: Harriet Moffitt

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