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Top five instruments for your wedding ceremony

A musician's-eye-view of an outdoor weddingMackinac Island Gal - Creative Commons

February 12, 2015

Music during the wedding ceremony is important. Depending on what you want — and what your budget allows — the music can range anywhere from intimate to epic. Likewise, there are an infinite number of instrumental combinations that can make your big day special.

Here's a quick list of frequently used instruments that will make your time at the altar memorable for everyone.

  1. Organ (or piano). Never underestimate the impact of a good organist. From the prelude to the exit of the wedding party, a good organist can make your ceremony a beautiful and exhilarating experience. Organists typically provide music (at least in part) from stem to stern, and fortunately, almost any other kind of instrument sounds good with them. If it's a church wedding, most parishes will have an organist or other musician on staff who will work with you to guide your choices, and in most cases, they'll also have a Rolodex of instrumentalists on hand if you'd like something more than organ or piano solo.

  1. Brass. Whether it's a soloist or a quintet, brass players dress up any part of a service in which they play. From pre-service music, to descants on hymns, or dramatic swells as you're leaving the church, nothing comes close to creating the same experience. Brass players sound good on their own and they sound great with organ.

  1. Strings. Similar to brass in that there are several options between one and five players, stringed instruments can provide elegance to each part of the service. However, they are not as loud as brass and work best in settings that are peaceful.

  1. Harp. This a fantastic instrument for creating wonderfully intimate experiences. Even in large spaces, a harp brings a calming effect that can't be matched. It's great for quieter portions of the service, including the procession, and can also be used to dramatic effect during songs and hymns. Because harp is relatively quiet, it can be difficult to balance with other instruments in large spaces. That said, it sounds good with most other instruments as well as simply on its own.

  1. Flute. The flute creates a lovely, tender environment that can be as fresh as a day in spring. Like the harp, it tends to be quieter than other instruments, but its higher pitch tends to carry and it can work well with an organ, piano, harp, guitar or strings.

Bonus: Bagpipes. Primarily used during Scottish weddings, bagpipes (or any instrument associated with an ethnicity) can create a sense of authenticity that wouldn't exist otherwise. Warning: bagpipes are meant for outdoor use. Having them played in a room that is any smaller than a 50,000-seat stadium is not a good idea. Not easily paired with instruments other than drums.

Brad Althoff is the Managing Producer for National Classical Programs at APM, a portfolio of programs that includes Performance Today, SymphonyCast, Pipedreams, the Composers Datebook and the holiday portfolio of programs. He is also an accomplished organist with degrees in Performance from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and Westminster Choir College (Princeton, N.J.). Highlights from his career include producing the live American broadcast of Last Night of the BBC Proms, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra live from Vienna, Austria, the gala opening of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and winning Gabriel Awards (All is Calm, Performance Today) and NY Festival Awards (All is Calm). Despite the preponderance of classical music in his life, Brad listens to a great deal of world music and is a fan of the late Cesaria Evora. A slave to fashion, the gym and his art, what free time he has is divided equally between painting, lifting and the tailor.