Many Jewish brides and grooms find it difficult to choose Jewish wedding music for their ceremony. Many who are unfamiliar with the traditions and structure of the service do not know where to start. In this article, I will clear up any doubts and questions you might have. In addition, you will also find excellent suggestions for Jewish wedding music. Please note that this article addresses more traditional wedding ceremonies.
Before the ceremony begins, guests arrive at the venue, either before or during two major simultaneous events. These are the Kabbalat Panim and the Hakhnassat Kallah.
At the Kabbalat Panim, translated as “Greeting the Guests”, men rejoice and toast the groom, in addition to each other. Afternoon prayers are often then recited. The ketubah, or marriage contract is also signed here.
At the Hakhnassat Kallah, translated as “Attending the Bride”, she is seated in a special chair as a queen would be, and is surrounded by women who attend to her, to make sure that the bride is taken care of and is happy. This is the time to arrange her hair, makeup, and jewelry.
How does this translate musically? While these events are taking place, many guests enter the synagogue or chuppah (wedding canopy) area. This is a great time for a string quartet to play chilled, calming music that reflects the beautiful ambiance of the day. Some couples prefer a Jewish-flavor to their music, but this is not required.
Next comes the Bedeken, or Veiling Ceremony. This is one of the most heart-warming parts of the ceremony. At the Bedeken, the groom arrives with a procession of men (usually the rabbi and fathers of groom and bride) to the bride’s throne. He places the veil over the bride’s face and says a prayer for the future generations.
Depending on one’s choice, the Bedeken can take place in front of all guests, or in a special room. As a result, the musical selections can vary. Some couples choose a particular song to be played, while others are content with the string quartet staying near the chuppah to entertain the guests. Logistically, this makes more sense, as it is hard for musicians to move in the short amount of time allotted.
Afterwards, the most anticipated part of the day begins – the actual wedding. Following the Processional, the parts of the Jewish wedding ceremony are as follows: Kiddushin and Nissuin, translated as “Betrothal” and “Nuptials”, respectively. The Betrothal includes blessings and the giving of the ring to the bride. Afterward, the marriage contract is read publicly. The Nuptial part of the ceremony consists of the Sheva Brachot, or “Seven Blessings”, another high-point of the ceremony. Finally, the groom stomps on a glass in memory of the destruction of the ancient Jewish holy temple in Jerusalem, and the couple leaves the canopy with the honored guests.
Now that you have a general idea of the structure of the ceremony, let’s tie in the music. During the Processional, the groom arrives at the chuppah first. While many choose to have two songs played (one for the groom, and one for the bride), this is usually impractical, because of the short distance to the chuppah. The entire procession can often only last three minutes! You will have to use your judgment based on the size of the procession and distance traveled. For a beautiful Jewish wedding processional music sample, consider Yerushaliym Shel Zahav, also known as “Jerusalem of Gold”.
The wonderful thing about this piece is that it can be repeated many times without ever getting old. As soon as the bride reaches the chuppah, she starts to circle the groom seven times. While this is happening, the musicians can keep playing “Jerusalem of Gold” for a truly emotional effect.
From here on, the Rabbi usually takes charge until the Recessional. The Recessional immediately begins after the breaking of the glass. This is a wonderful time for the string quartet to play Siman Tov, a highly spirited song that guests clap to and sing along with. Before walking out, the family under the chuppah often takes in the atmosphere and dances with each other and the rabbi. Once this is done, the wedding party walks out, followed by all guests.
I hope that this article has been a valuable resource in planning your Jewish wedding ceremony! You may also wish to book a string quartet for your cocktail hour or reception.