Zen wedding music
May 18, 2011 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Wedding music recommendations. Must be instrumental, serene, and suited to a "Zen" theme. A variety of genres is encouraged.

A relative of mine is getting married soon and asked for my recommendations for instrumental music to play at four different points during the wedding (the processional, etc.).

As I said, the theme of the wedding is: Zen. So, the music must be very serene and intimate, not at all grandiose.

For context: this will be a small wedding with less than 100 people, taking place outdoors in a remote area of Texas.

The first ideas that sprung to mind were Bach and Debussy (to give some obvious examples: the first Prelude in Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, or Debussy's "Claire de Lune"). I was also thinking of Death Cab for Cutie's "Passenger Seat" ... if only it were instrumental.

I thought I'd be able to easily come up with a bunch of suggestions since I'm very familiar with the classical music canon, but I've realized that even most of the classical pieces I think of as "serene" or "Zen-like" get dramatic or dark at some point. (Hey, how about the second movement of Schubert's String Quintet? Oh, wait a minute ... not at all!)

So, we'd appreciate some more suggestions. They can be classical, minimalist, jazz, indie, or anything. Doesn't matter how famous or obscure it is. In fact, the more eclectic the better, as long as it fits the above requirements. Thanks.
posted by John Cohen to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Jason Falkner's instrumental takes on Beatle classics are on two albums, both titled Bedtime for the Beatles. My first thought when you say 'Zen.'
posted by troywestfield at 1:59 PM on May 18, 2011

Tony Scott's Music for Zen Meditation.
posted by box at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2011

The Pure Moods oeuvre has a lot of stuff that would probably fit your needs.
posted by Gator at 2:06 PM on May 18, 2011

David and Steve Gordon would be a perfect fit.
posted by jbickers at 2:09 PM on May 18, 2011

Something like Sonny Lim might be nice if played appropriately low (slack-key guitar).
posted by aramaic at 2:23 PM on May 18, 2011

Sigur Ros, ( )
posted by mkultra at 2:24 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about Sigur Rós or something by Madredeus?
posted by smilingtiger at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2011

Check out some Yiruma music on youtube. One piano, lyrical and relaxing.
posted by specialagentwebb at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2011

We had my brother play instrumental versions of Red Right Ankle by the Decemberists, Everlong by Foo Fighters, and Everybody by Ingrid Michaelson (just the chorus) on his guitar for our wedding. It was understated, meaningful, and beautiful.

If you can find someone who plays guitar, it's pretty easy to adapt just about any song you might want.
posted by moojoose at 2:26 PM on May 18, 2011

Steve Reich - maybe something like Four Organs.
Arvo Part's Fratres, or Speigel im Speigel.
Tavener, the Protecting Veil.
John Luther Adams, Red Arc/Blue Veil.
David Lang, Child.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2011

Response by poster: Arvo Part's Fratres

A bit ominous and minor-key for a wedding, don't you think?
posted by John Cohen at 2:30 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

a song or two off Alex De Grassi - Bolivian Blues Bar might be something that would sit well within a lot of serene, Zen tracks but is a little more energetic and includes recognizable jazz standards. Not sure if you want something like that, but it could make the set a touch more dynamic.
posted by dredge at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2011

Discovered in this post this morning, this song called Patagonie is lovely and serene. It's on iTunes and I've had it on repeat all day today while working. Some minor keys, but not dramatic or dark at all.
posted by mochapickle at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2011

Arvo Part's Fratres

A bit ominous and minor-key for a wedding, don't you think?

! heh, perhaps my own emotions about getting married were seeping into my suggestions on that one. Yeah, probs not the best. I can never remember whether weddings are supposed to be happy or somber.

Maybe something happier sounding, like short ride in a fast machine?
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2011

Erik Satie's Gymnopedies come to mind. Or if you want some real zen music, bring a wooden fish and a rin bell and chant the prajna paramita hridaya sutra in Sanskrit and the dai shin darani!
posted by mbrock at 2:52 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

An electronic/ambient track that seems very fitting both musically and thematically is Reload's "The Enlightenment"- there's a sample at the beginning, though, which might not work depending on how strictly instrumental you want it to be. (That sample might actually be appropriate for wedding music though- it goes "You see, something's really happened- something wonderful" and, a bit later, "The whole thing- it's wonderful." If you want to keep it strictly instrumental, though, the track could be started at about a minute in and would still work fine.)

Also in the electronic/ambient vein, Aphex Twin's "Lichen" is a very serene piece that seems to fit the theme pretty well to me. (Another Aphex Twin track from the same album, "Rhubarb", also came to mind, but on re-listening I think it's probably too downbeat in sound for a wedding- you be the judge.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2011

John Cage's String Quartet (first movement, other movements available on YouTube also)
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2011

David Bowie's Moss Garden from Heroes; I believe it was specifically inspired by his visits to Zen temples in Japan. (You'd just have to make sure to fade out as it segues into the rather less serene track that follows, though.)

Speaking of Bowie and his work with Brian Eno... parts of Eno's Another Green World would work, too (e.g., Becalmed, Zawinul/Lava)

Paul Weller, Lullaby für Kinder, from 22 Dreams.

A number of tracks from George Sarah's Ossia might work, too (particularly "Horses" and "Minor Key Interjection").

Miles Davis, Blue in Green (from Kind of Blue)

Willie Nelson's version of Ou Es-Tu, Mon Amour? (can only find the sample, sorry)

Instrumental version ("Work in Progress Mix") of Ultravox's Lament (Never mind the title! But it will only work if you think no one at the wedding will know the original non-instrumental version with melancholy lyrics. Also can only find the sample only.)
posted by scody at 3:04 PM on May 18, 2011

Best answer: Something along the lines of Ali Farka Touré seems fitting.

The first track from his In the Heart of the Moon collaboration with Toumani Diabaté is especially nice.
posted by asuprenant at 3:09 PM on May 18, 2011

Sufjan Stevens - Out Of Egypt, Into The Great Laugh Of Mankind
Keith Fullerton Whitman - Track3a
Tallis - If Ye Love Me
Satie - Sarabande #1
Durufle - Ubi caritas
posted by en forme de poire at 3:30 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Philip Glass's piece Invitation, from The Fog of War soundtrack (ignore the war aspect!), is low-key and really beautiful. Not sure whether it hits the right mood, but it always sounds hopeful to me.
posted by just_ducky at 3:44 PM on May 18, 2011

Saint Saens, Carnival of the Animals, The Swan is serene and romantic.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2011

Another vote for Brian Eno, but this time for An Ending (Ascent).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2011

This Carl Orff piece (no, not Carmina Burana!) is in a ton of movies (some of which are admittedly a little... dark), but it's a wonderful, joyous, light, but serene piece of music. Trigger warning: contains xylophone.
posted by dersins at 4:35 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

If the theme is actual Zen, and not new-age Zen (not judging here, just trying to convey the difference), the traditional Zen musical instrument is the shakuhachi. The "Music for Zen Meditation" suggested earlier is shakuhachi duets for Western ears, but there's a lot of actual Japanese shakuhachi music out there too.

That said, the Fuke sect of Zen which uses the shakuhachi is a very small one. Most Zen doesn't have music, just chanting. (And let me tell you, a Zen wedding has a lot of chanting.)

And just for the irony: Our sangha plays Western classical music (Bach, Beethoven) on occasions that could use that kind of background music.
posted by mendel at 4:52 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

John Adams's Violin Concerto, second movement?
David Lang's Wed?
Nico Muhly's A Hudson Cycle?

And it's a bit silly 'cause it comes from anime, but I do love The Sunlit Garden from Utena.
posted by mlle valentine at 5:18 PM on May 18, 2011

Speaking of anime, a lot of the soundtrack from the first Fullmetal Alchemist series is quite lovely and the instrumentals might work well for you. Here's one example, another, another, another, another another, another. They're all fairly short, but they run together very well, very thematically similar and all, since they're from the same series. And hey, Japanese.
posted by Gator at 5:54 PM on May 18, 2011

posted by Splunge at 5:58 PM on May 18, 2011

Here's some of what we used at my Hindu-Christian wedding:
Bach - Air on a G String
Pachebel - Cannon in D
Bach - Prelude: Arioso
Ravi Shankar - Tabla-Dhwani
Alla Rakha, Ms. Jiban, Ms. Widya & Ravi Shankar - Raga Jogeshwari: Gat II (Tala: Ek Tal)
Ravi Shankar - Song from the HIlls
A.R. Rahman & Suzanne - Latika's Theme
Your friend may like the Ravi Shankar sitar-type music, it's kind of "zen" I guess!
posted by echo0720 at 7:00 PM on May 18, 2011

I love koto music and find the spare sound of the instrument soothing. I'm having a hard time searching for it, probably because the best clips will be in Japanese but I did find this on YouTube
posted by fiercekitten at 7:40 PM on May 18, 2011

George Harrison- Marwa Blues
posted by catwash at 7:42 PM on May 18, 2011

You may like the works of Jon Hassell for this purpose.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:41 PM on May 18, 2011

A bit late, just saw the question, but how about Morton Feldman's 'Piano and String Quartet' which is very much influenced by Zen. The first time I listened to this it made more sense to me than any other piece of music I had ever heard.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:42 AM on May 19, 2011

Tin Hat Trio - Lauren's Lullaby
Ass - You Think You're Ugly, but You're Not (if you can get over the name)
Moondog - Pastoral
posted by p3t3 at 6:09 AM on May 19, 2011

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