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A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Altar

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Altar


by Jennifer Brandlon


The music at a marriage procession always reminds me of the music of soldiers entering on a battle.

Heinrich Heine, “Thoughts and Fancies”


For 12 years, I worked at a church organ company where many of my associates were musicians whose work included providing wedding music. In June, I asked several of them to share the most memorable marriage ceremonies they had witnessed from the bench.

Ken Brown, who plays at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore, MD, described what happened after one bride who loved musical theater asked him to accompany her singing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

“Fortunately, I knew the piece as well and brought up the portion of the text where the song goes ‘I’ve had so many men before, in so many different ways, He’s just one more….’ I suggested this was perhaps not the sentiment she wanted to convey to her husband on their wedding day, and upon quick reflection, she agreed.”

“I have had more weird experiences than funny,” said Tom Magee, who owns an organ store in Indianapolis. After installing an instrument in the historic Gothic Chapel in the local Crown Hill Cemetery, he received a number of odd musical requests from couples seeking to make their vows among the crypts. “One wedding was a ‘goth’ bride and groom. Her processional was a blend I put together of Bach’s Toccata in D minor and the theme from the Game of Thrones,” he said. “I also played a Halloween night wedding. Prelude music included the theme from the Addams Family.”

Rodney Barbour of Cincinnati, who’s played at over 600 nuptials, recalls a hot, sticky ceremony in a rural West Virginia church where, as the guests were fanning themselves by the open windows, the tenor soloist stood to sing “I Love You Truly, Truly Dear” – a sentimental choice that had been sung at the wedding of the bride’s parents.

“I was playing a teeny little spinet organ, gave the introduction to the song, the tenor started ‘I love you tru—’  and then starting choking, gasping, coughing and spitting.  I was pretty sure he was having a seizure until he spit out a FLY, which had targeted his mouth flying back into his throat.” No sooner was the bug out than the tenor immediately continued with “—ly dear” precisely where he had left off.

Rodney was also on the organ bench in Huntington, WV for a mid-1970s wedding in which the bride was processing down the left aisle of the church on her father’s arm. The plan was for the two to turn right and stop in front of the center communion table, with the father positioned between his daughter and her waiting groom. On the way, the father realized the choreography wouldn’t work unless he switched from his daughter’s left side to her right. He dropped back a step and tried to gracefully cross behind her, but instead stepped on her train. The bride continued her stately walk toward the altar, leaving behind her entire train, headpiece, veil – and wig.

“I was focused on increasing the volume of the music, but still heard the deep gasp which sucked in the walls of the church. I immediately knew this eerie sound wasn’t coming from the pipe organ,” Rodney reported. “A quick look in the mirror saw the bride in hysterics with her real hair in a net running towards the front exit, a horrified mother running after her daughter while screaming at the father, ‘What have you DONE?’ and a helpless father collapsing on the front pew in tears, all accompanied by the familiar sound of the organ playing Ta DUMP te DUMP!”

The minister made an urgent request for some filler music. Rodney obliged with Brahms’ “St. Anthony’s Chorale,” changing from one key to another for about five minutes until the hastily patched-up wedding party returned. It looked like things were back on track until the moment when the groom, about to say “I do,” began giggling uncontrollably at the sight of mascara-caked lines running down his future wife’s face. “She smacked him and ran out crying a second time.  Once again, the minister turned to me and said ‘Play something quick, I’ll fix this!’ I couldn’t think of a better song on the spot than ‘O Perfect Love.’”

Apparently it worked. They’ve been married for over 40 years.



Jennifer Brandlon is a journalist and musician from Portland, OR


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John Cheek

A local organist told of an engaged couple who were enthusiastic choral singers. The bride wanted to come down the aisle to the Chorus “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” from Messiah with all their choral friends in the congregation singing along. Fortunately reason prevailed. I suppose “For unto us a Child is born” would have been even worse!

Patricia Watson

Most weddings which I have played for have proceeded smoothly. However the minister of a Presbyterian church was held back from arriving on time for the ceremony because of a fire in his apartment building. He was prevented from getting to his car and I was told to keep playing–an hour later he arrived and everything went smoothly from that point.

Rachel Taber-Hamilton

The most memorable wedding at which I presided took place outside on an island beach in the north Pacific. The young bride and groom had met at a dog park. So, at the wedding, their dogs were their attendants and dressed in collars of flowers (human beings signed the documentation). The ring bearer was their large, pet African land tortoise. I had my doubts about “Victor’s” ability to bring up the rings on cue and in a timely fashion. However, at the couple’s instruction, when the time came for Victor to come forward, I dropped a head of lettuce at my feet. He literally trotted up to me! I untied the rings from the little pillow harnessed onto his back, and blessed them and the tortoise.

Curt Zimmerman

Rachel – only you could carry that off in appropriate Episcopalian fashion.

Ann Fontaine

My favorite was a wedding in Jackson WY at the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park — a very proper groom and his family and a bride with her motor cycle biker family – she in a short leather mini skirt and what could only be described as a large handkerchief hanging from her neck and tucked in to the skirt in front. I don’t know if they are still married.

Wayne Rollins

In my former life as an organist, I insisted that couples read the texts of hymns they suggested for their weddings. All the December weddings brought exclamations of “OMG!” and giggles as they considered alternate meanings to many of the familiar Christmas hymns sung in the context of a wedding service. At another wedding, where I was a guest and not the organist, the congregation sang “The church’s one foundation.” I had to stifle a laugh during the phrase “‘mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore.” It had a been an on-again off-again courtship. That phrase found its realization a decade or so later in divorce court. Real life is much more entertaining than fiction.

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