Making your wedding ceremony personal: congregational singing for civil ceremonies and civil partnerships
I have performed at a LOT of weddings. They’ve all been different and most of them have been special in their own way. (The fact that the couple has thought about music for the ceremony would, I suppose, guarantee that!) Some people however, might not have the confidence or the ideas to personalise the serious part of the day. Adding some easy and personal touches can make a big difference.
On my wedding day the actual ceremony was as important, if not more so than the party afterwards. I had a church wedding, for which the service was around an hour. It had readings, music during the signing of the register and a good few hymns, all carefully chosen by me and my husband. Without some of the more traditional aspects of the church wedding service, a civil ceremony or civil partnership ceremony can be over in the blink of an eye. But how do you include these in a secular ceremony?
I love it when friends or family members read out stories or poems specific to the bridal couple. A registrar will usually give their own thoughts or advice for a happy marriage, but it’s always noticeable (to me at least!) which readings and sentiments come from those closest to the newly-weds. These always add extra energy, tears, laughter and love to the room!
But onto music, which is obviously my topic of choice. Singing makes you happy. Singing as a group brings people together and can be really joyful. (It can be awkward too but I’ll come to that in a minute.) Group singing adds a sense of occasion and gets people involved in what’s going on. Just because the wedding ceremony is secular, it doesn’t mean that it can’t have congregational or group singing. The only obstacle is what to sing if hymns or religious song are a no-go?
I’ve come up with some ideas. Hopefully one of them might help you to add an extra personal touch to your day:
- Songs with special meaning to you as a couple or which represent your respective families: This might be “your song” or a popular song with lyrics that ring true for you both. It might be a song special to your families which will help them feel involved.
- A well-known folk song could do the trick. Popular ones are: She moved through the fair/ The riddle song (also known as I gave my love a cherry)/ Drink to me only with thine eyes/ Wild mountain thyme (also known Will ye go lassie, go?)/ I know where I’m goin’/ My love is like a red, red rose/ Red is the rose.
- Patriotic hymns might be allowed by your registrar. As long as the hymn makes no mention of God or Jesus these could be an option for you. Jerusalem is perhaps the best-loved patriotic hymn, closely followed by I vow to thee my country, but you may find others you like.
- Hymn tunes with alternative lyrics can also work: The melody Slane, a traditional Irish tune, is used for two Christian hymns Be thou my vision and Lord of all hopefulness. Londonderry Air has been used for the folk song Danny Boy but also the Christian hymn I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship. Why not write your own words to a well-known tune or ask a friend to help?
As I mentioned earlier, group singing can be awkward if the group in question is not used to singing. I’d strongly recommend using a backing track with guide vocal, or hiring a singer or choir to lead the song from the front. Given some support, you may find people really get into it! Hiring a singer for your wedding ceremony doesn’t just have to be for solos. Make the most of them being there and get them leading everyone in celebratory song!
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