I'm sure you're familiar with the traditional wedding processional and recessional music. The traditional processional is the Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin, commonly called the Wedding March. The traditional recessional is the Wedding March from Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. If you're having your wedding ceremony in a Christian house of worship, then you may be surprised to learn that the use of either of these pieces of music is prohibited. Why? Because Lohengrin and A Midsummer Night's Dream both feature plot elements that are anything but sacred:
Lohengrin features murder, sorcery, deceit, and more -- great stuff for an opera! The Metropolitan Opera's synopsis of Lohengrin is a quick read that'll get you up to speed on the plot. Fun stuff, but more soap opera than sacred. So more and more, Christian churches are prohibiting the use of music from the opera in their sanctuaries. (Photo from Stefan Herheim's 2009 production of Lohengrin for Staatsoper Berlin, below left.)
You're probably already familiar with the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but if you're not, then check out the synopsis on the Shakespeare Resource Center's website. Here again we have magic, fairies, deceit -- all things that the Christian church pretty much frowns on. So this music doesn't find a place in most Christian sanctuaries either. (Photo from Ballet Tuscon's 2010 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, above right.)
Happily for you, there's a lot of music out there to choose from, and you can use this as an opportunity to find pieces for your processional and recessional that are more expressive of who you are. Your wedding procession is such a special moment anyway. You don't want the same music everybody else uses; you want something you truly love.
Here are me and my dad starting our walk down the aisle at my wedding (photo by Alison Notgrass of Focal Point Photographics in Round Rock, Texas). Our church also restricted the music we could use, and the Wagner and Mendelssohn selections weren't allowed. We chose the Dona Nobis Pacem from J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor as our processional, and the famous Gloria in excelsis Deo from Vivaldi's Gloria as our recessional, and we were blessed to have our talented church choir perform both. Mr. Husband and I put some serious effort into finding just the right music, and it was so worth it: To this day, when I look at this photo, I still remember the joy I felt hearing that incredible music as I walked down the aisle that afternoon. The recessional was just as wonderful -- in fact, Mr. Husband and I actually stopped walking while we were still inside the sanctuary so we wouldn't have to miss the end of it! I want you to have that kind of experience at your wedding, too.
Some Christian churches are more lenient than others about what music they'll permit in their sanctuaries: Some churches will only allow sacred music -- music that was expressly composed for church use. Some other churches will allow any music, as long as it's not overtly anti-Christian. As an example, a church that only allows sacred music probably would not permit the use of Handel's Water Music (it was written for a concert, not for use in the church), while churches that are okay with music as long as it isn't explicitly non-Christian in some way would probably be fine with it.
Not sure where to start looking for music for your ceremony? If you're marrying in a church, then odds are the church has a music minister or organist on staff, and that person is a wonderful resource for you! Set up an appointment to meet with him or her to discuss some options. They'll be able to introduce you to some amazing music that'll make for a spectacular entrance and exit, without any raised eyebrows.
Have you run across the ban on the traditional wedding marches in your wedding planning? What music are you using instead? Tell us about it!