Couple dancing

Musical Memories

Get that party started with the perfect mix of memorable music

By Carrie Frasure

While you and your sweetie will be the main attraction during the ceremony, the music can make or break the reception. The tunes you choose can send your guests home with happy feet – or pained grimaces, so choose carefully.

To get started, think about the types of music that best reflects your personalities and inspires the mood you want to create. The way the music is delivered – by live band or DJ – also affects the ambience.

Music often cues the staging of the reception from the time the couple makes their grand entrance to the last dance. “Choosing the appropriate music when your guests arrive and while they are getting comfortable before your grand entrance will be very important,” says Martin James at Alaska Professional Entertainment (APE). “Keep in mind that your selection should create the kind of ambience that will match your personal style while complementing any themes you may have chosen.”


Here’s some advice on choosing the right song for those key moments of the reception.

Introduction of the Couple/Wedding Party. Our experts have seen a wide range of music chosen for the new couple’s introduction – from “The Imperial March” (the Star Wars theme), to “Walkin’ on Sunshine,” to “The Wedding March” – it all depends on the personality of the couple.

A good entertainment director will work with the couple to find the perfect song or songs to introduce the wedding party. Band director Jack Jackson suggests instrumental pieces such as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Bossa Nova” or the classic “The Girl from Ipanema” to underscore the announcement of the wedding party’s arrival. DJ Martin James often mixes it up, splicing together several songs that escalate in rhythm and excitement as the family, wedding party and, finally, the bride and groom enter the room.

“This is where you will set tone for the rest of the reception,” says James.

“While some couples want a loud and energetic entrance, others may prefer a more subdued and classy one.”

Bride and Groom’s First Dance. It’s important to choose a song unique and special to you. If you have difficulty deciding between a few songs, take them for a spin! One recently married couple, Tara and Derek, had narrowed down their first dance song to three choices, then tried dancing to all of them. They settled on the classic “At Last” by Etta James. “It just felt right dancing to it,” recalls Tara.

One word of caution: Remember to always consider the true lyrical content of the song before committing to it. For years, Olivia Newton John’s “I Honestly Love You” was a favorite choice, despite the fact that its subject matter involves the ending of an extramarital affair. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” are also break-up songs. They’re all heart-felt ballads, but lack the true spirit of a first dance as husband and wife.

Whatever song you choose, experts agree that this memorable moment should be something you will be able to cherish forever – whether it is a song that has a special meaning or is a choreographed number showing off your dancing skills.

“This song can be either slow or fast, or a combination of both,” says Evelyn Sizemore at R&R Productions. “Some couples like to start off slow and scratch into a choreographed ensemble of dance moves that bring about a lot of laughs and great photo opportunities. Remember, the ‘first dance’ you choose will be your first dance forever.”

Wedding Party Dance. Usually, the couple will invite the wedding party to join them on the floor near the end of the first song. This is the bride and groom’s way to show their thanks and appreciation for everyone in the wedding party for being part of their special day. The song can be a slow or fast dance depending on the couple’s preference. Choose one that isn’t a love song, such as “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. Or, consider asking the wedding party’s opinion on whether it should be a fast or slow song or if there is a specific song they would like.

Father/Daughter and Mother/Son Dance. For this song, experts suggest that you listen to all the lyrics of a song before choosing it. Sometimes a song may seem like a good choice based on its title or the chorus, but if you listen to the entire song, it’s more romantic in nature. Also, parents are usually not comfortable with up-tempo songs, so a slower song is preferable.

For the father/daughter dance, Sizemore suggests having the bride choose a song reflecting her relationship with her father or step-father or both. She also encourages the groom to ask his mother what song she would like to dance to for the mother/son dance.

Surprise! Sometimes it’s fun to surprise your dance partner with the song you’ve chosen, or be surprised yourself. Amy and her dad are huge baseball fans so Amy surprised him when the band started up a jazzy version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for their father/daughter dance. It’s also a great photo opportunity catching Dad laughing as the song begins.

One bride-to-be, Carla, tells us that she’s getting married this summer and her dad is going to surprise her with a song for their father/daughter dance. She’s excited to hear what her dad will choose, and grateful not to have to make at least one decision!

Mix It Up. For the rest of the evening, DJs and band leaders alike suggest couples mix up the musical menu with a wide selection of songs in a variety of genres.

“(While) personalizing your event is crucial to making it unique, you want to keep in mind that your intention is to also entertain your guests – who frequently have varied tastes in music,” says Sizemore. “Pay attention to who you have invited and pick something for everyone. The grandparents might enjoy an older classic tune or two. You may want to incorporate some current Top 40 and hip-hop for the younger generation, and you certainly can’t go wrong with some of the great country artists for when it’s time to dim the lights and get a little closer.”

Closing Song. As the day winds down, couples get the opportunity to say goodbye to their guests with the last song of the reception.

Martin James has used everything from the bride and groom’s first dance song to the upbeat tongue-in-cheek song “Hit the Road Jack.” Once again it all depends on what the couple wants to do with this last, lingering special moment. Entertainment directors include a variety of options into this last song such as mixing in the best man’s wedding toast or playing subtle background music while guests take turns offering their congratulations to the departing couple. Or you may want something upbeat where everyone leaves tired but happy.

If you feel good about your choice of band or DJ, leave most of the music choices up to them to create a great atmosphere for your reception. After all, if your guests have a good time, so will you.