I like to consider myself first a jazz pianist. But I am also a working pianist, which means I play background music for parties, get employed as an accompanist for singers, will play occasional classical music when requested, perform in a ballroom dance duo, am a gospel choir pianist, and have worked as a professional church musician on piano, organ, and keyboard since the age of 15. I also do a good amount of gigs playing weddings and funerals, which have presented some of the most fascinating experiences for me as a musician!
When experienced wedding musicians show up to play these events, they are prepared to expect last minute and sometimes very panicky changes – even if they attended the rehearsal the night before and thought it was confirmed with the bride and/or wedding coordinator and it was all written down in the contract and the program. The wedding party probably will process down the aisle at a completely different pace, the ring bearer and flower girl may be become shy and refuse to move or could suddenly bolt, relatives could get stuck in traffic and you need to come up with 45 minutes of extra prelude music before the ceremony begins – you just never know!
WEDDING TIPS FOR PIANISTS
The very basic two tunes
For very small weddings, the pianist needs to know two main tunes to play, and they are:
1. The Processional (This is where the bride comes down the aisle). She will either love or hate the traditional “Bridal Chorus” by Wagner, also known as “Here Comes the Bride”. If she doesn’t want it, be prepared to have a couple other suggestions up your sleeve.
2. The Recessional (This is for the bride and groom exiting). The usual is the traditional “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn. Again, have a couple suggestions ready if this won’t do.
Music for the Attendants or Wedding Party
Ask if there will be any bridesmaids, maid of honor, ring bearers or flower girls to process before the bride comes down. Be sure to ask how many (usually they process in the order above, with the children being last before the bride).
TIP: On the day of the wedding, people may get so excited they stand up and you may be in a position at the keyboard where you can’t see a thing. You will probably know if the ring bearer or flower girl get to the altar by hearing giggles and watching the crowd’s heads turn from back of the aisle up to the front and center.
A very popular tune for this part is Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. This is a simple series of the same 4 measures repeated with variations – a great tune for the wedding pianist to memorize and improvise over for the timing of the bridesmaids etc… Believe me, you don’t want to be reading the 6 page sheet music and stop short or have the party wait an eternity while you finish it! (I saw a groomsman faint and hit the marble steps once while the organist droned on one hot August wedding).
Here are the chords: | D A | Bm F#m | G D | G A | repeat as needed, end on D.
The last wedding I did I must have played and built on this 25 times! When I showed up at the church, the coordinator asked, “In addition to playing this for the 9 bridesmaids, ring bearer, and 2 flower girls, the bride asked me today if you would please also play The Canon in D for 2 sets of cousins, the seating of the grandparents, and also the bride and groom’s parents?” I started very slowly and gradually built this until the kids went down the aisle, then ended high and light for them.
Tips on how to improvise The Canon in D may be found in both my books, Amazing Phrasing – Keyboard (Hal Leonard – comes with a 44 track audio) and The Complete Church Pianist: A Piano/Keyboard Method with Tips for Inspired Improvisation and Worship (41 track audio album sold separately on Amazon & CD Baby). Download the basic chart here under Downloads.
My next blog will contain important wedding ceremony music extras, plus my “most outrageous requests” story from the father of the bride asking for my services 8 days before the Mission wedding!