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The easiest way to guarantee I will cry buckets of tears at your wedding ceremony? Include “Be Thou My Vision.” We sang it during our ceremony, and to this day, anytime I hear it, I’m immediately transported right back to June 23, 2012. There’s something incredibly powerful about music and its ability to bring emotion to life’s most special moments – your wedding ceremony most certainly among them.

A darling reader bride recently asked us to share some of our favorite outdoor ceremony music suggestions, so I’ve happily compiled a few selections, from processional to recessional. (These would all work well whether you’re getting married indoors or out!) My main tip for outdoor ceremonies, though? Be proactive about the sound system, if you’re not hiring live musicians. If you want your guests to be able to sing along or enjoy the music, make sure everyone can hear it.

P.S. The linked headings below lead to a Spotify playlist, where you can listen to our suggestions! A perfect activity for a weeknight dinner :)

Favorite wedding ceremony classical processional songs:
• Wedding March – Mendelssohn
• Canon in D – Pachelbel
• Ave Maria – Bach or Schubert
• Water Music – Handel
• Ode to Joy – Beethoven

Favorite wedding ceremony hymns and songs:
• Abide With Me
• All Creatures of our God and King
• Be Thou My Vision
• Come Thou Fount
• In Christ Alone

Favorite non-religious ceremony songs:
• Wedding Processional – Rodgers and Hammerstein
• Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis
• Falling Slowly – from “Once”
• Make You Feel My Love – Adele
• A Thousand Years – Vitamin String Quartet

Favorite modern recessional songs:
• The Real Thing – The 5 Royales
• Book of Love – The Monotones
• Brighter Than the Sun – Colbie Caillat
• Everlasting Love – Carl Carlton
• Love, Love, Love – The Clovers

One final tip? When picking music, think about the overall feel of your big day – is it classic? romantic? laid-back? upbeat? Pick music that will tell your story and maybe even make you tear up when you hear it at a friend’s ceremony years later ;)

We have more ceremony music suggestions (along with heaps of helping ceremony planning recommendations) in our Joyful Wedding Planner. Snag one over in our shop!

Image round up: Jen Dillender, Tanja Lippert, Jen Fariello, Blue Ribbon Vendor Amy Arrington and Perry Vaile

kristin Written with love by Kristin
  1. avatar Savannah Fannon reply

    Any suggestions on playing music outdoors?

  2. avatar Patti reply

    I’m a church organist and singer and play at weddings all the time. For outside ceremonies, it will depend on what musicians you will have. I heard a string quartet playing Beatles tunes at a wedding and they played “Here Comes the Sun” as the bridesmaids came down the aisle. I’ve heard a recorded instrumental of “Someday My Prince Will Come” at an outdoor wedding. One of my daughters used recorded dulcimer music for her wedding that included the traditional “Here Comes the Bride” and for her recessional, she used “How Sweet it Is (to be Loved by You)” by James Taylor as her recessional. It was perfect.

  3. avatar EvDressau reply

    This is a great reference, I think I will listen to these music before my wedding, and then find out that I feel suitable for my wedding song.

  4. avatar Geoff reply

    Choosing music had to be one of the hardest things we had to do for our wedding, but once we had the ceremony entrance and first dance songs the rest seemed to fall into place.

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Welcome back to the Emily Plans a Wedding series! Thank you so much for your thoughts on my last ceremony post – I loved reading through all of the comments! As promised, I’m back with a few more details about our wedding ceremony.

I think music is hugely important at wedding ceremonies, so John and I have had fun discussing which selections we might use! We haven’t come to too many final decisions yet, but I’m happy to share where we are in the process. Let’s run down the list from beginning to end, shall we?

Both images by Picotte Weddings

We’ll kick off our late-afternoon ceremony with prelude music from a string trio. I’m so excited about this, as I adore the sound of strings! I would have loved to hire a quartet, but a trio fit more neatly into our budget. One quick tip: Lots of wedding resources recommend hiring musicians from a music school, but for us, this would have been a more expensive option than the route we ended up taking (hiring professional musicians from the Coast Guard band). It might work out for you, but make sure to do your research! I believe our trio will be made up of two violins and one cello.

For parts of the ceremony the strings will be joined by a piano to lend a little more weight and variety. I’m super excited that my former piano teacher will be our pianist for the day! Rachel was also my high school choral teacher, and I think it will be fun to have one more familiar face greeting us on the big day. We’ll add piano to the strings for the processional, starting with the seating of our families. I think we’ll use Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for the seating of our families – it’s so beautiful, and for me, those swells mean nothing other than that a wedding is going to take place!!

We’re considering “Morning Has Broken” for my ladies’ entrance – I really love the pace of the Cat Stevens’ version:

For the recessional, I think we’re going to go with “Ode to Joy” – it’s one of my absolute favorite hymns, and both my parents and my older sister and her husband used it for their recessionals.

Here’s the one I’m stuck on – my processional. I want something with good movement and that really makes me feel something, and so far, none of the more traditional options are doing it for me. We have the go-ahead from our pastor to use a secular selection, since the processional isn’t counted as part of the worship service (at least according to him; some pastors might feel differently!). The only problem is that John doesn’t really like my two top contenders! He says he’s happy to use whichever song I like best, but I want something that we both love – after all, it’s both of our moment!

We’ll also have music during the service, and we are so grateful that one of my best friends has agreed to sing for us! Depending on how the rest of our ceremony shapes up, we might have her sing during communion, or possibly as a stand-alone solo. Our top contenders for her are “Set Me as a Seal” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” If you haven’t heard the Sufjan Stevens version of “Come Thou Font,” you’re missing out!

Again, depending on how long our ceremony shapes up to run, we’d love to squeeze in a hymn that everyone sings, as well. Pretty much John’s favorite thing to do is sing hymns in church, so it would only be appropriate!

The last music-related question we’re pondering is whether to have a low undercurrent of music from the string trio while we recite our vows. I’m not sure about you, but the right instrumental music layered under words gets me nearly every time – I guess that’s the power of a soundtrack, you know? For example, whenever my church confirms young adults, they always play “Borning Cry” as the pastor moves down the line and the parents lay their hands on their children for the blessing. Oh my word, I cry every time, and I don’t even know any of these kids!!

So pros? It would likely heighten an already emotional moment. Cons? It would likely heighen an already emotional moment :) Also, one of my biggest pet peeves in all of weddings is ceremonies where you can’t hear the vows, so if we went this route, John and I would probably want to be mic’d (or have a handheld mic) so that the congregation could hear our vows over the music. Anyway, just something we’re considering, but I’d love additional thoughts from y’all if this is something anyone has tried!

Beautiful ring bearer bowls from Paloma’s Nest. We won’t have a ring bearer, but our friend Caroline (she and I grew up in the same town!) has kindly gifted us one of her creations! Now to decide what we’d like to put on it… (Photo on left by Jana Morgan and photo on right by A Bryan Photo)

Lastly, I’d love to tell you about our readings! We’ve already chosen our readers – a dear friend with whom we attended both high school AND college, one of the first friends we made as a couple, and one of John’s aunts – but have yet to assign them pieces. We’ll likely use one from the Bible, and we have several under consideration. Here are a few:

Philippians 2:1-5, RSV:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my job by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 3:12-17, RSV,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Austin Warnock via Southern Weddings

Romans 12:9-18, RSV:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Proverbs 3:1-12, ESV:
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom we delights.”

Stephen DeVries via Southern Weddings

There’s also a favorite excerpt of ours from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity that will likely make the cut. I think this excerpt is interesting in that when I first read it several years ago, I really didn’t like it. Now, seven and a half years into a relationship, I think there is almost nothing more beautiful than this sentiment. Here it is:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairytale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense-love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

Lastly, since I was an English major with a concentration in poetry, I’d also like to include a more literary reading, but I haven’t come across the perfect one yet. Suggestions are welcome, and I’ll keep on the hunt in the meantime!

Whew! Thank you so much for reading along! Tell me: What readings are you having at your ceremony, if any? I LOVE hearing what readings others are using or have used, so please don’t be shy, and comment away!

In case you missed a post…
The main characters | Where we’re getting married | I go dress shopping | We choose a photographer | I ponder bridesmaid style | Mini food! | The music | We’re renting a tent! | We discuss bouquets + boutonnieres | We send out our save the dates | I gather hair and makeup inspiration | We talk cake and sweets | I introduce you to our videographer | We create a registry | We buy a tuxedo | We style a reception | I choose accessories | We take engagement photos! | We plan our ceremony

Stephen DeVries is a fabulous member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
  1. avatar Liz reply

    A song suggestion for your processional – Marry Me by Train, the instrumental version. That’s what my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to and it was absolutely beautiful.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Liz! I LOVE the instrumental version of that song! So beautiful. If I wasn’t concerned it was perhaps a bit cheesy/overdone, I was/am seriously considering it for our first dance. Perhaps!

    • avatar Liz reply

      Emily: Yes, I hear you. We were married almost 2 years ago so it was the beginning of the “Marry Me” song trend in weddings… Whereas I think this might be the end. But I will say, not many people recognized it as the Train song since it was played on the harp. Also, a literary reading suggestion: there is a poem that begins “Understand, I’ll slip quietly / Away from the noisy crowd…” from “First Poems” by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s beautiful – look it up! & Here’s to being an English major!

  2. avatar Ashley reply

    We are also looking at possible readings for our ceremony. I know I want one biblical reading and one literary reading (I’m a total bookworm. My fiance wouldnt be surprised if I brought a book to our wedding lol). One of our favorite excerpts is from Plato’s Symposium, but it’s kinda long:

    “Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.

    To understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original human nature was not like it is now, but different. Human beings each had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. There were three sexes then: one comprised of two men called the children of the Sun, one made of two women called the children of the Earth, and a third made of a man and a woman, called the children of the Moon. Due to the power and might of these original humans, the Gods began to fear that their reign might be threatened. They sought for a way to end the humans’ insolence without destroying them.

    It was at this point that Zeus divided the humans in half. After the division the two parts of each desiring their other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. So ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of humankind.

    Each of us when separated, having one side only, is but the indenture of a person, and we are always looking for our other half. Those whose original nature lies with the children of the Sun are men who are drawn to other men, those from the children of the Earth are women who love other women, and those from the children of the Moon are men and women drawn to one another. And when one of us meets our other half, we are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other’s sight even for a moment. We pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one, to spend our lives as one person instead of two, and so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two; this is the very expression of our ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.”

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Ashley! I’ve never come across that reading, but it’s really lovely!

    • avatar cathy steiner reply

      Nice ashley…that reading is long but meaningful and pretty…just cut out some of the usual stuff you could do without to make room for it during the ceremony. I’m having a guitarist play & sing “More than Words” by extreme. We’re not religious so hymns won’t play a big role for us, although my aunt is saying a short blessing in spanish, and my sister in law will read a poem by an ancestor of mine, helen steiner rice…looking forward to it :) good luck everyone on your choices :)

  3. avatar Laura reply

    I love your music selections! For our congregational singing, we’re going to have Come Thou Fount too (one of my all-time faves) and during communion, Be Thou My Vision. For mine and the wedding party’s processional, we’re walkind down to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. You know at the end, when the music swells so majestically? That’s when the door’s open and I’ll start walking down. I get chills even thinking about it! I’ve been trying to think if I wanted to have any kind of reading but couldn’t really find anything I liked (and that hadn’t been done a million times before) but I love that Mere Christianity quote! Even if we don’t have it read during the ceremony, I’ll have to incorporate it somewhere!

  4. avatar Laura reply

    I’ve also always loved this quote by St. Augustine “Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

  5. avatar Kristen reply

    Wow! Love all of these reading ideas, both in your post and in the comments.

    I walked down to the instrumental version (we had organ and strings) to “Let All Things Now Living,” the secular version of which is called “The Ash Grove,” my great-grandmother’s favorite tune. It was so very special to me and my family. I suggest something that means something to you.

    The words to “Let All Things Now Living” is a wonderful hymn of thanksgiving, perhaps it could be an idea for your hymn (and it’s fun to sing, which is always a plus!). We had a hymn sung during our ceremony that my Mom picked out – “Go My Children With My Blessing.” We didn’t realize until we coordinated with the church musicians that the hymn as an optional wedding verse:

    “In this union I have joined you husband and wife.
    Now, my children, live together as heirs of life.
    Each the other’s gladness sharing,
    Each the other’s burdens bearing.
    Now, my children, live together as heirs of life.”

    To me the ceremony was my most favorite part to plan. Have fun putting it all together! I still get choked up thinking about all of the meaningful details of our ceremony.

  6. avatar Katie O’Keefe reply

    I love your song choices! We were blessed to have Chris Cleveland of Stars Go Dim sing and play piano at our ceremony. He sang and played “Come Just As You Are” for the bridesmaids and before I walked down the aisle. I had a lot of guests say how that gave them chills especially since we were wed at night in a little chapel…it made them feel like it was a real spiritual experience, which is what I wanted and what to me, a wedding ceremony is – spiritual. I also love your readings. We too used the C.S. Lewis quote with some Bible verses. You’ve made some beautiful choices, it’s fun to see this all come together!

  7. avatar Kori reply

    I am also struggling with what music to use in our ceremony especially the processional! I have also always love the Sufjan Stevens version of Come Thou Fount. I’m trying to decide where to use it! I’m glad to hear other brides wanting to include a hymn in their ceremony. I haven’t seen it much but I agree that the wedding ceremony is still a worship service. I think yours will turn out beautiful whatever you decide!

  8. avatar Anne reply

    I love that C. S. Lewis quote! Definitely one of my favorites. My husband and I used this passage from Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz in our ceremony (actually, we based our vows on it):

    I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer. I will love you, as sure as He has loved me. I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me. And I will do this to my death, and to death it may bring me.
    I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.
    God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Wow, Anne! That is incredible. Definitely going to look into this quote further!

  9. avatar Laura reply

    Hi Emily!

    This may not fit the bill of “literary reading” entirely, but it is one my favorites. I have to give credit to Sarah Tucker’s blog for bringing it to my attention:

    And I totally agree with Kori with Sufjan Stevens. He’s awesome. You may want to also look into Bifrost Arts- they have some beautiful stuff. I’m torn on the music during the vows- I feel like the words will be profound enough to tug at the heartstrings. My suggestion is to leave them be for the ceremony, and let the videographer pull in music for the video. :)

  10. avatar NatalieG reply

    Hey Emily :) I love all of your ideas!!! I am also using a violin and cello, it will just be a duet. Stephanie Immordino’s version is gorgeous!!! Stings and a piano!!!! :) You’ll love it!!!

  11. avatar katie reply

    Beautiful choices! Your memory of the confirmation services at your church reminds me of a special addition we made to our ceremony. Towards the beginning, after the declaration of intention, we had a parents’ prayer. The pastor invited our parents forward to lay hands on us
    A friend sang my parents’ wedding song (There Is Love) for our guests to hear while our parents prayed over us and blessed us as a new family. It was such a sweet time. The photographer captured me sneaking a peek at my husband during the prayer and dabbing at his tears wth my handkerchief. Love! As for a poetic reading, there’s always e.e. cummings “I carry your heart with me.” It’s been done but oh so lovely!

  12. avatar Cynthia reply

    May I suggest you listen to a song called Ashoken Farewell. We played it in orchestra in middle school so it is not too complicated to find nor to learn. It was written for strings though you can also hear versions of it strictly on piano. It would sound lovely with the musicians you have chosen. It might also be befitting considering you’re quite the southern belle getting married in CT: Ken Burns used it as the underscore for his Civil War documentary. The pace of it would be good for walking down the aisle or underscoring your vows.

  13. avatar Tiffany reply

    I LOVE this! I’m on a fairly short timeline and so the little precious details are more difficult to include because there isn’t as much time to mull them over. Your ideas are super helpful in that area because you can tell it was so thoughtful!! Thanks for sharing.

  14. avatar Jessica Revell reply

    Many days have passed and I doubt you’ll ever see this, but I wanted to thank you for introducing me to the reading from Romans. It’s absolutely lovely. We’ll probably be borrowing it this June.

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