The processional officially begins once the bride’s mother is seated. It ends once the bride meets her groom at the end of the aisle, at which point the ceremony officially begins. However, some brides and grooms have begun considering the time when parents, grandparents, and other VIPs as part of the processional and choosing a special song for this period, which is usually called the “pre-processional.”
How many songs you will need for your processional depends on a couple of different factors, primarily the size of the bridal party and the length of the aisle. If you have a large bridal party and/or a long aisle, you will need to make sure that the music you choose will play long enough to allow everyone to get to the alter.
You will need at least one song, although most brides and grooms choose more than one by playing one song for the bride’s entrance and one or more songs for the bridal party’s entrance. We’ve listed the traditional order of the pre-processional and processional below.
Some weddings will use different songs for the pre processional, the processional (4-7), the entrance of the ring bearer and/or flower girl and the bride’s entrance while others combine these. You can change the music as often or as seldom as you want, but remember that the more you change the music the less the wedding will flow. It is best to change the music only when necessary either to signal a change in events (such as the bride’s entrance) or because of the length of the song.
If you find that you need to lengthen the processional, there are several ways to do so. You can choose to have the ushers walk down the aisle separately from the bridesmaids (in which case they will walk down the aisle first). You can also have the ring bearer walk down the aisle by himself and then have the flower girl walk down the aisle.
Selecting the right music will be a matter of choice. We have compiled some of the most popular wedding processional songs and have listed them below. For your convenience, we have compiled the songs in a playlist, making it easy for you to listen to a sample or purchase a song. A detailed listing and brief commentary about each song is provided below the playlist.
Also referred to as the Wedding March, this piece was written by Richard Wagner in 1850 for the romantic opera Lohengrin and is probably the most popular piece for the bride’s entrance (especially in the movies). Ironically, in the opera the piece comes after the wedding and not before. This piece has been banned by the Catholic church as well as many Jewish synagogues and Lutheran churches for a variety of reasons. One is because Wagner has a reputation as an anti-Semite; another is because of strong pagan elements in Wagner’s opera. Jewish opposition also comes from the fact that the Nazi’s were very fond of using his music and Wagner was an idol of Adolph Hitler. I would like to point out that Wagner was long dead before either the Nazis or Hitler existed and although Wagner did write several essays condemning the Jewish influence on German music, he was also known for having several Jewish friends and supporters.
While this piece by Felix Mendelssohn seems to be at the top of everyone’s list for the processional, it is what I have always heard as part of the recessional. Still, I am not an expert regarding weddings (which is why it is listed here). Mendelssohn wrote it for A Midsummer Nights Dream, a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare. Although it is typically called “The Wedding March, it’s official name is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, incidental music, Op. 61 Wedding March.
Every guest has heard this lovely but traditional song by Vivaldi. It is a splendid group of four violin concertos. Antonio Vivaldi wrote them in 1725 as part of a set of twelve. They represent the four seasons and vary greatly in style to fit the seasons. This is an excellent traditional choice for prelude songs. It is an instrumental music piece that needs no words. It is divided into four pieces: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Of the four, “Winter” and “Spring” tend to be favorites for the processional.
Two popular versions of the traditional song “Ave Maria” exist. One was composed by Charles Gounod in 1859 and is based on the harmony and texture of J.S. Bach’s Prelude No.1 in C Major. It is a setting of the standard Latin Ave Maria text. Another version, written by Franz Schubert in 1825, was originally titled “Ellens ditter Gesang” (D. 839) but is more commonly referred to today as Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Schubert’s version was eventually adapted to fit the Roman Catholic prayer Ave Maria as well. Both versions are very beautiful and are standards during weddings and at Christmas.
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is the title of a transcription by the English pianist Myra Hess of the chorale that ends each part of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147. The piece is also a favorite for funerals, but more commonly used during weddings as either a piece for a choir or as an instrumental. This song is good for either the prelude or the bridal party’s processional.