What fools these mortals be

I’m playing a wedding this weekend. It’s the first wedding gig I’ve had in a couple years, and I realized this morning that I’d lost my copy of the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin. So I figured I’d pull it off the web; it’s in the public domain, it’s out there somewhere.

I found it in about a minute—but the search also turned up a number of church wedding music guidelines that expressly forbid it. Why?

1. “Part of the problem is that [its] use is a Hollywood invention.” No, actually, the first use of the “Bridal Chorus” in an actual ceremony was in 1858, at the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter.

2. “[In the opera,] we watch as suspicion triumphs over love, and the marriage celebrated ends before it begins.” Well, they do at least get through the vows. And suspicion does dissolve the couple, but only because the husband won’t tell his wife his freakin’ name… that seems a little extreme even for James Dobson. (And how many weddings have been similarly graced with “One Hand, One Heart”? Anybody remember how that one ends?)

3. “This instrumental piece originated from theatrical, operatic repertoire.” Flip through a hymnal and ask yourself if the church really wants to start going down that road.

4. “The impression created by this piece is that the focus is on the bride alone.” Guess what, guys: when she’s coming up the aisle—it is. Even if you play “The Lady is a Tramp.” (Or even “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”)

What really got me was not the reasons they chose, which seem to me to be on the same level as early Puritan debates over infant baptism (try those for your next bout of insomnia), but that they conspicuously ignore the one good reason for keeping Wagner out of the church: namely, that he was an anti-Semitic jerk. Then again, this is a Unitarian wedding I’m playing—maybe surrounding the tune with all those everybody’s-welcome-here vibes will stick in Richard’s purgatorial craw. Serves him right.

And the title of this post? Well, I also get to play the “Wedding March” from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music. Sure, it’s the warhorse to end all warhorses, but I love it, and I’ll program it at the drop of a hat. (The man starts on a ii-half-diminished of iii, and somehow gets back to tonic within three bars. It’s like music theory porn.) Turns out that this one’s no good, either—that “Hollywood” thing again (nope; used in ceremonies as early as 1847), and then this:

The Mendelssohn march was written for the marriage of a young woman to a satyr—half man and half horse!

No, it wasn’t, you dimwit, it was written for the triple marriage that’s celebrated in Act V. Does anybody even know how to crack open a book anymore? Yeesh.

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