Wedding Marches (and Dances)

You’ve no doubt seen “Jill and Kevin’s Big Day”–the current YouTube hit–in which a wedding party dances down the aisle of Christ Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN, to Chris Brown’s, “Forever.” If by some chance you haven’t, take a look.

Now, I don’t really want to rain on their parade (or dance), but I must confess I didn’t react positively. My first thought was that this would be better for the reception than for the wedding.

But then I got to thinking. What did my wife and I have as the entrance music for our wedding? Why, like millions of other couples for the past many decades, we used Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus,” from his opera, “Lohengrin.” She was in a long white dress, and marched in on her father’s arm, following bridesmades in matching dresses and flower girls tossing petals. Wagner couldn’t have known that his chorus would be played for the next hundred years at weddings across the globe, on organ, piano, and kazoo. The dominance of this tune didn’t come without opposition from churchmen of all stripes, many of whom decried the use of a secular tune written by a raving antisemite. You can read the original lyrics and get a taste of the controversy at Wikipedia, and can listen to the full chorus on YouTube (of course).

Let’s come at this from a different angle. What is the purpose of the wedding ceremony? It is to provide a public form for the exchange of vows, in which a man and a woman declare their intention to be husband and wife. In a religious context, it will also include prayers and blessings over the couple, and an exhortation by a minister on the nature of marriage. Everything else is secondary.

So what do you think? Does the music of either Chris Brown or Richard Wagner highlight the main purpose of the ceremony? Does this dance? Does the traditional procession?

When I was Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, I wrote a pamphlet for the Family Life Office, Getting Married in the Catholic Church, that discusses some of these issues in the Catholic context. There’s a lot in there that’s not going to be applicable to non-Catholic weddings, but one thing I think I’d want to retain is the belief that a Christian wedding ceremony is a celebration of the church (not just of the couple), and that as a service of the church principles of Christian worship should guide everything.

The most memorable wedding (besides my own) that I attended was that of my brother, Jim, and his wife, Jessica. Their entrance song (sung by all) was “He Is Exalted” ; their recessional was “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” I’d suggest something Christian couples follow a similar path–choose music glorifying God; make sure the service includes the congregation as participants, not mere spectators. Let this be a time when we may pray for God’s blessing on you–not a time for mere entertainment and amusement. There’s time for that at the reception.

Let everything in the service highlight the awesomeness of this moment, when two people stand before God and us, pledging their lifelong faithfulness–and let it call us to prayer, and to dedicate ourselves to support them.

5 thoughts on “Wedding Marches (and Dances)

  1. It definitely isn’t my thing, but I thought their act was pretty amusing. I don’t think there is a place for it within a religious context at all – and definitely no place for it in a church. But assuming they are fairly a-religious, I would say, “Have at it.”

    In general, I would say that more and more Christian (and particularly Adventist) weddings I have been to, the music selected has been of a more “secular” nature. I am partly to blame for this as well – seeing as my wife marched down the aisle to the theme song from “Anne of Avonlea” and for one of the special musics my cousin sang “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban (which is border-line religious). There is probably many people who have the thought that a song that talks about the love between a man and a woman is inherently “Christian” though.

    I don’t know. Just some thoughts.

  2. Given the way things work out for the newly-wed couple in Lohengrin, it seems rather odd that the piece gained such popularity in the first place. Not the most auspicious music!

  3. Since my wedding was right before Christmas, we included Greensleeves as one of the songs played by the piano before the procession started. I think we had a Bach piece for my wife’s entrance. Other than that, we had all the commons in Latin, sang Love Divine, All Loves Excelling for the offertory, and had Tantum Ergo and Panis Angelicus for Holy Communion.

  4. Lisa and I marched in together (weddings are, after all, about togetherness, which is why we had no ushers separating spouses on their way to a seat) to something classical (the name of which neither of us can remember offhand–might have been Pachebel). We followed that up with a soloist singing “Seasons of Love” and a congregational hymn, “O Holy Dove” (my favorite since hearing it around age 8 in the then-new Adventist hymnal). A wedding is a good one when it reflects personality and passion, rather than simply tradition.

    We were only the second wedding in that church, and when we visited it a few weeks ago, we discovered a faux-stained glass (electrically lit from behind) illustration of a rather dazed-looking Jesus up on the stage. Had that been there on our wedding day, we’d have probably opted for an outdoor ceremony.

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