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