Civil Ceremony Music Ideas: No Religious Music Allowed At Your Civil Ceremony? No Problem!

Civil Ceremony Music Ideas: No Religious Music Allowed At Your Civil Ceremony? No Problem!

Civil Ceremony Music Ideas!

Wondering what makes great, non-religious civil wedding ceremony music? Alive Network's wedding ceremony musicians and entertainment coordinators suggest 42 songs that are perfect for your civil ceremony. Read on for some professional tips about planning your civil wedding ceremony music and for the list of songs!

How to add the romance, passion and sophistication of live music to your civil wedding ceremony without falling foul of the rules, with top suggestions from the Alive Network team and some of our favourite wedding musicians.

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Civil Wedding Ceremony Music; The Rules

A civil wedding ceremony is, by definition, a non-religious ceremony, and the same applies to a civil partnership ceremony too.

The regulations for civil ceremonies vary according to where you live in the UK. England and Wales share the same, whilst Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own. However, in essence, they all require that all spoken and musical content during a civil ceremony is secular.

nidirect civil ceremony music

England & Wales

"Civil ceremonies can include readings, songs or music, but must not include anything that’s religious - e.g. hymns or readings from the Bible." (ref)

General Registry of Scotland civil wedding ceremony music


"You may incorporate readings, poetry, music or indeed your own personal vows to one another, in addition to the Statutory Declarations you must make. As a civil ceremony is non religious in all aspects, all readings and music must be of a secular nature." (ref)

NI Direct civil ceremony music

Northern Ireland

"While nothing of a religious nature may be included in the ceremony, music, poetry, exchange of rings and flower arrangements may be included and should be discussed with the Registrar." (ref)

Your civil wedding or civil partnership can be held either at a registry office or at a council-approved venue that is licenced to hold weddings, such as a hotel, exclusive venue or stately home. Your ceremony must be held in premises that are permanent and roofed, so you cannot get married in a garden or on a beach.

Planning Your Civil Wedding Ceremony: Timings

The great feature of civil weddings and civil partnerships is that the formal elements are very short, leaving you the rest of the ceremony to fill your choice of readings, poems and, of course, music!

Do bear in mind that civil weddings and civil partnerships held in a registry office often have a time limit imposed. So, you may only have a 30-minute time slot allocated for your civil ceremony, which must include guests coming in and sitting down and everyone vacating the room at the end.

If you choose an approved venue for your civil wedding or partnership, you'll have more time available as there won't be another wedding booked directly after yours. Again, do bear in mind that the official Registrar required at your ceremony may have a time limit on their attendance, usually around an hour, and at weekends they might have two or three weddings to officiate at.

Timing Your Civil Wedding Ceremony: Music

There are three main moments in a civil wedding ceremony where music can fit in perfectly: 

• Your arrival
• While you both sign the register
• As you both leave

You can also opt for any number of musical interludes during the service, as time allows. This may seem like a short timeframe to feature live music, but it’s amazing how much music you can fit into 20 minutes in a registry office if you really want to!

Harpist civil wedding ceremony musician

Choosing Your Civil Wedding Ceremony Musicians

Live musicians really provide something extra special at your wedding ceremony, providing beautiful music and a dash of sophistication, glamour or fun, depending on what you like.

Many couples opt for a harpist at their wedding, combining the ultimate in romantic music with the visual appeal of a beautiful instrument. Having music played rather than sung can also be an advantage, as Oona from OL Harp explains:

Most registrars will now allow pieces such as Ave Maria to be played - as long as there's no singing and you can't hear any words, it's generally acceptable. The rules are a lot less stringent than they once were!
Andy Cherry civil wedding ceremony musician

Classical guitarist Andy Cherry has a wide repertoire (playlist) that includes instrumental versions of classical tunes, such as the Wedding March and Pachelbel's Canon, perfect for a more formal arrival. Most of the civil wedding ceremony music he plays are gentle acoustic guitar version of classic tracks, often on request:

If a bride wants a particular song or piece of music, I can usually help so long as I'm given enough notice in advance. My favourite unusual requests include the Top Gun and Indiana Jones themes, and the Flight of the Conchords. My sister has just asked me to play Happy (Pharrell) for her wedding; I bet that’ll be a popular one this year!

Singers & Choirs For Civil Wedding & Civil Partnership Ceremonies

Duette Classical singer for hire

A solo singer at your civil wedding or partnership ceremony is a wonderful way to have live singing as part of your special day. Solo singer Sara Llewellyn says:

"Deciding on music for a civil service is without doubt trickier than for a church service, but there is some beautiful music to choose from if you don’t mind considering some of the less typical choices. A song that is beautifully suited to a civil wedding that I often recommend is “No One Like You” by , from the movie “Powder”. The most suitable accompaniment is a live pianist, or for a really stunning sound, I sing it accompanied by a harpist. I have a handful of gorgeous Welsh folk tunes that I’m sometimes asked to perform for civil ceremonies too."
Opera Singer civil wedding ceremony music

The Soprano Singer Lisa offers a selection of opera and pop classics for civil weddings and civil partnerships:

Puccini's ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (O my beloved father) is a lovely alternative and suitable for civil weddings. It works well with piano, orchestral backing track and I also sing it unaccompanied. For a more contemporary style, Songbird by Eva Cassidy also works very well unaccompanied.
Big Soul Gospel Choir for hire civil wedding ceremonies

Just because your civil wedding ceremony music must be secular, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the joyous singing of a gospel choir, as Tim King of the Big Soul Gospel Choir explains:

"We perform a soulful array of feel-good, non-religious songs including I'm Kissing You, Songbird, Make You Feel My Love, Ain't No Mountain, Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher & Higher) and Signed Sealed Delivered."

Superb Songs For A Civil Wedding Ceremony

Why not give your wedding ceremony a musical twist with great songs performed by talented, entertaining musicians from steel bands to jazz bands, or combine the best of both worlds with a singing pianist, an acoustic duo or trio, or even a mariachi band! And in case still stuck for inspiration, here are a few more civil wedding ceremony music ideas from the Alive Network team:

All You Need Is Love (The Beatles)
Can You Feel The Love Tonight (Elton John)
Can't Help Falling In Love (Elvis Presley)
Come Away With Me (Nora Jones)
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You (Bryan Adams)
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Ewan MacColl)
Fly Me To The Moon (Frank Sinatra)
Foxy Lady (Jimi Hendrix)
Get Lucky (Daft Punk)
Greatest Day (Take That)
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (Van Morrison)
Here There And Everywhere (The Beatles)
I'm Yours (Elvis Presley)
Isn't She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)
Kissing You (Des'ree)
Let's Stay Together (Al Green)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)
Love Is All Around (The Troggs/ Wet Wet Wet)
Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan)
Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)
Nobody Does it Better (Carley Simon)
One Day Like This (Elbow)
Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland/Eva Cassidy)
Song Bird (Fleetwood Mac)
Stand By Me (Ben E, King)
We Have All the Time in the World (Louise Armstrong)
You Are So Beautiful (Billy Preston and Bruce Fisher)
Your Love Gets Sweeter (Finlay Quaye)
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher (Jackie Wilson)
Your Song (Elton John)

Happy Wedding Planning!

Your Ultimate Guide to Wedding Entertainment