Any professional will tell you that there are several consistencies in the arrangements soon-to-be-married couples select for their wedding music. For every traditional quartet repertoire—like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons—many couples these days prefer a string version of popular songs from artists like Elvis, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Ariana Grande. For more adventurous couples, the winter time and the holiday season can make for a magical wedding. For players, this means that a more creative approach to your wedding repertoire can make the ceremony and reception stand on its own against any holiday. In this article, we’ll take you through five songs that will no doubt be featured in several weddings this year, and five unconventional songs you might want to try playing.
Canon in D, Johann Pachelbel
Perhaps the most famous and well-known song used in a wedding setting, period. First composed by Johan Pachelbel in the 18th century (though the exact dates of the song’s origins are uncertain), the song became an international hit when it was re-recorded and released in the 1970s. Canon in D remains an enigmatic classic, as its origin story is steeped in mystery—some music scholars have suggested it was composed as a piece for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding, as Pachelbel was his teacher. Whatever the case may be, the composition remains a popular quartet song to play for the bride’s walk down the aisle.
Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen
With a lonesome and beautiful melody, Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is popular for solo violinists, cellists, and guitarists, as well as singers. Romantic and intimate without fully embracing a religious overtone, it has been widely used as a secular love song for weddings. Originally hidden between more popular songs on Cohen’s 1984 album Various Positions (since his record label thought it too controversial to release as a single), it skyrocketed into popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s after a cover by singer-guitarist Jeff Buckley and notable appearances in a variety of films and television shows. A versatile song, it can be played while guests arrive, as a first dance song, or for a walk down the aisle. Listen to Taylor Davis's version below.
Air on the G String, Johann Sebastian Bach
Another classic from the Baroque period that later exploded into popularity during the early 20th century, due to its association with formal events and parties. This isn’t the only Bach song used to celebrate love, though it has a universal quality to it that makes it appropriate for use outside of a traditional church setting. “Air” is a lovely, understated theme that can set the perfect mood for a summer afternoon wedding while guests chat merrily waiting for the processional to begin. It is well-suited for violin and quartet players. Ann Akiko Meyers performs a fantastic version below.
Le Vie in Rose, Édith Piaf
A 1947 original that has since been covered by artists like Grace Jones, Bette Midler, and Lady Gaga, this French love song is now a staple for orchestral performance at weddings and anniversaries. With a title that translates to “Life in Happy Hues,” it’s impossible not to feel the swells of emotion as Piaf sings them, even if you don’t speak French. This song, crucial to bringing back love and happiness for those who had struggled through World War II, has found its way into piano, violin, and orchestral arrangements. It also makes for a beautiful first dance between the newly wedded couple, as well as a perfect song for spreading joy during a slow dance between couples who have been married the longest. Watch Lady Gaga absolutely crush it in her version of the song below.
A Thousand Years, Christina Perri
With the advent of blockbuster teen drama Twilight, demand was high for a sweeping romantic ballad that would define immortal love. This song incorporates a lush piano and string accompaniment to whispered singing that crescendo into a confident soprano with a steadfast promise of love. Over a decade, Christina Perri’s song has become a wedding must-have not just because of its beauty but also because of its versatility—a solo violinist, singer, harpist, or pianist can provide the perfect backdrop for a bride walking down the aisle or for a first dance between the newlyweds.
Concerning Hobbits, Howard Shore
Breaking with tradition while still adhering to a classic structure is exactly what Howard Shore’s music accomplishes in this suite. Combining upbeat Celtic-style fiddling and playful cello with traditional folk music, this piece is nostalgic for those of us who grew up watching Fellowship of the Ring and were swept away by its romantic sense of adventure. This suite is perfect for keeping the mood light during a summer wedding while guests wait for the processional, or for keeping spirits high during cocktails. It is a joyful, popular choice for a couple who want to cultivate a classy event while also showing off their nerdy side. Check out this lively performance once again by Taylor Davis, below.
Princess Leia’s Theme, John Williams
There is hardly a bride who doesn’t want to feel like a princess on her big day, and there are even more pop culture-loving brides who will want to feel like Princess Leia, specifically. John Williams’s theme for this iconic leading lady is an understated orchestral piece that would be perfect for a string quartet and a flute player. Anyone would be happy to hear this piece as part of a processional or even for a walk down the aisle. Patti Rudisill's version of Leia's theme on the violin is delicate yet conveys the same strength of our beloved princess.
Storybook Love, Mark Knopfler & Willy DeVille
Go for the original Happily Ever After with this sweet, romantic arrangement from the classic film The Princess Bride. This is a versatile piece that any couple could imagine playing for the bride’s grand entrance or as a first dance together. A great option for a string quartet with the potential a gentle vocal accompaniment that will no doubt bring everyone to the happiest of tears. Imagine this melody playing while snow falls gently outside, with everyone huddled indoors, celebrating the love of two people they admire. Check out this classic for yourself!
Merry-Go-Round of Life, Joe Hishaishi
How many of us have become enchanted by Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful, fully realized animated worlds? Luckily, the score for his films from Studio Ghibli are just as wondrous, playful, and romantic. Many of us have a film that resonated the most for us, and Joe Hishaishi’s theme from Howl’s Moving Castle is beloved by many an anime fan for its harmonious violin and piano composition. Dedicated to showing the blossoming romance between the title character and the shy heroine Sophie, this suite is perfect for fans of animation who want to incorporate the magic of those films into their nuptials.
Zelda’s Lullaby, Koji Kondo
Many modern couples have some recollection of the music from the video game classic, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It is not out of the ordinary for couples who share a love of gaming to request a song from the Zelda series, but the titular princess and her theme song remain the most popular inspiration for a wedding. This lullaby is a gentle, swaying melody that would be magical for a walk down the aisle, either in the form of a violin solo or even a quartet. No matter what, it is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings and just might make the groomsmen cry, too. Patti Rudisill is back to take us through the violin version of the song.
So, let’s leave it to you: would you suggest any of these to play at your next wedding gig? What songs would you like to play that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below!