Choosing Original Wedding Readings | Zena Birch

The topic of ceremony readings popped up in the wedding world again recently. 

When choosing your readings or being asked to read we’re often directed to the same material.

I sometimes wonder if we ask people perform readings at our weddings because we want to add a personal touch, or out of obligation because we feel that is the standard format of a ceremony.  For me, it’s the perfect opportunity to personalise your ceremony and involve your guests in a meaningful way.

I have been to weddings before where readings have either induced tears, giggles or yawns. The latter sadly, more frequently. Why? Because we are so often copying each other and churning out the same readings time and time again with little thought behind them. Also, we are not all born natural public speakers, it’s a big ask and dedicating time to consider skill-set and wether or not you / they are comfortable and competent with public speaking is a key part to consider. (more on that soon!)

I asked Nu Bride Ambassador and humanist celebrant Zena Birch to inspire you to search for something original, meaningful and simply gorgeous  to add another dimension to your wedding readings and not being afraid to step outside the box too!

Enough from me, over to Zena!

Tosin and Matthew_Nu Bride_My Beautiful Bride-168Photography:My Beautiful Bride | Matthew and Tosin

More and more of my couples know that by asking one of their friends or family to read at their ceremony they are adding even greater depths of personalisation to their day. But for their readers, if given the choice, this means that they know they must choose something good.

I always offer to get in touch with each of my couples’ readers so that I can offer a helping hand in finding the right piece of poetry or prose. (Although, the options do not have to stop there as you will see as we make our way through this post!)

To make matters worse, or better depending on your sense of bravery, I also encourage my couples to let their readings be a surprise to them on the day. (Nu Bride: Yes!)

I have come to realise that a wedding day is possibly the most highly organised day of your life. It is a huge organisational endeavour and as such, in many cases, couples may know what they are doing and where they will be right down to five-minute intervals!

Knowing that there will be moments in the ceremony that they will hear for the first time, along with all of their guests, is a truly wonderful way of grounding themselves and making sure that they are present in that very moment. In a day that all too often spins by so fast, these moments are priceless.

Being asked to do a reading at a loved ones’ wedding is a wonderful, honouring and magnificent double-edged sword 😉

On the one hand being asked is the greatest of privileges. You know that your friends or family must hold you in high esteem, you understand that you are important to them and it is an honour to know that you get to stand up and do them proud, but as such, you wish to do right by them. This is where the double edge comes in….it is a huge ask, what on earth are you going to pick?

Searching for readings

bm0032Photography: Bloc Memoire| Jason & Junia

There are innumerable wedding poetry compendiums that you can look at, and I do encourage this for inspiration. BUT, unless you have a very specific affinity with a poem you find there, I tend to encourage people to continue looking.

There are countless websites and blog posts which offer ‘25 best wedding readings’, ‘non cheesy wedding readings’, ‘funny wedding readings’, ‘unusual wedding readings’, ‘more unusual wedding readings’. And I would encourage you to look at these too for the same reason. BUT, it is worth remembering, that everyone else will be looking at them too. And when at a certain time in your life, you are attending 7 weddings a year, it will become inevitable that you will start to hear the same readings over and over again.

More importantly than simply avoiding repetition though, I know that the joy of taking the time to find a more unusual reading doesn’t just provide the couple with an irreplaceable gift, but it gives the reader a gift too. You will be asked to take a little bit of time out of your busy lives to immerse yourself in writings that can be touching, profound, revealing, irreverent! This is a lovely thing. (Nu Bride: Couldn’t agree more!) 

Think about the couple

Photo by Katch Silva

Photography: Katch Silva | Heather & Andrew

As a reader I would ask you to think about the couple that have asked you to present something to them and their guests. What do they share together, what do they love, how do they laugh together, what makes them cry? What is your personal relationship to them? How do you interact with them both?

How do you sound?

KT PhotographyKT Photography

I ask you to think about how you will sound reading it? Does it sound like you? (It should.) Are you comfortable reading it? (You should be.) Do you like it? (You definitely should!)

Why did they ask you in the first place? What did they know about you that made you right for the task?

Consider your skills

sarah&wayne-weddingLR-0513Fiona Kelly Photography | Wayne and Sarah

Look at your skill-set. Can you sing and play the ukulele? Then you should, chances are, this is why they asked you! Can you speak German?  perhaps they wanted someone to read Rilke in the language it was meant to be read in (this is often a great way of involving guests where there are more than one mother tongue!).

I ask you to think about what you would be excited by, more than daunted, to stand up and say out loud to them on their wedding day? This will lessen your nerves by at least 50%, I promise.

In short, I ask you to revel in this task!

When you find something that isn’t expected, when you settle on a piece that you know will speak directly to them both, it will be a delight for all of their guests.

It will bring everyone closer, as you will all understand how personal and meaningful this day is and you will feel an astonishing sense of pride. It will help to illuminate what the couple are doing as they stand there making their declarations to each other under the supportive gaze of all of you gathered. It will strengthen your relationship with them, as you will have gone on a little journey of exploration with your memories of them to find what feels just right. It will enhance human connection and it will be memorable. Like I said….it’s a huge ask! 😉

Getting Started

Benjamin Wetherall PhotographyPhotography: Benjamin Wetherall   | Luke and Joey

  • Start by jotting down words that you associate with them (individually or together).
  • Gather together your best (and worst) memories and place them down on a page (bullet points, mind maps, doodles and scribbles, whatever works best for you!).
  • Look back through your past with them and see if there are any books, songs, articles, albums, films, places that you very specifically associate with them and then refer to these things, there might be just what you would like to say enclosed within them.
  • Don’t limit yourself to what you think you are ‘supposed’ to say at weddings.
  • Then, and ideally, only then, start scouring the internet and compendiums, but also, with this list in mind, start looking a little off the beaten track.

The Process and Sentiment

bm000347Photography: Bloc Memoire | Jason & Junia

Its worth noting, I don’t have anything against classic wedding readings. There are classics out there because they are exceptional. What I am in favour of is the process. I am in favour of this within the work that I do with my couples and this spills out to you the readers. Why? Because as I mentioned, this is a gift you can give yourselves too.

I am against empty sentiment. Hollow words. Saying things just because it’s what we’ve always done. (Nu Bride: Absolutely!)

We live very immediate lives these days and sometimes we forget to stop still and think. It isn’t necessarily the most convenient of options. But it is the most rewarding. And I can promise you (bold words!) that you will be rewarded for your efforts in this process.

You will find yourself pouring over books you’ve read and forgotten – for that one passage you know is in there, you will watch Dirty Dancing all over again (Nu Bride – YES!!) and discover, with your pencil poised to jot it down in your notebook, that Patrick Swayze never did say that sentence you have always quoted, he just alludes to it, and in fact, over the years, your quoting it has made it better, more poignant, more full! So jot down your quote instead and read it out as ‘inspired’ by Patrick Swayze 😉 Close your bedroom door and transport yourself back to when you and the bride/groom sat listening to every lyric Morrisey/Pulp/Belle and Sebastian ever wrote and pull out your favourites.

IMG_2103My friend Sophie helping me find some new quotes for ceremonies in our favourite cafe-come-second hand book shop in Broadstairs

Take yourself to the place in the world you have had most fun with them, put your own pen to paper and write them something of your own. Most people think they don’t have the talent to do this. I tell each and every one of you doubters…you’re wrong. You do.

And then, if you settle upon Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 or E.E.Cummings’ I Carry Your Heart (which incidentally a mother just chose to read at a naming and I realised that man alive does work well in that context!) it will be because you know it is precisely what you would like to say. And herein endeth the lesson.

If you can explain why you chose the reading you choose, you have found the perfect reading.

Unexpected Readings 

image2Alicia Clarke Photography | Dancers ‘Average Height Ladies’ – Lizzie Barker and Sophie Arstall.

One of the very first weddings I conducted taught me early on the revelation of encouraging a reader to seek out something personal and meaningful. The bride’s best friend was an avid diary writer. She pulled out her 8 year old diary and read the extract from the day the bride and groom had met. As it was her diary it was also full of incidental anecdotes and in many respects pointless daily observation, but in the context of the ceremony, all of these became steeped in greater importance.

The weather was a genuine recorded account of the weather on the day they had met. The fact she had gone to the shops simply to bump into her crush at the time and that had led to the first ever sighting of the bride’s future husband, wasn’t ordinary or flippant, it was a first person account of the moment the bride and groom ever learnt of the other’s existence. It was funny and insightful and every single one of us was knocked off our feet at the sheer intimate personalisation of her reading. If you have a diary, look back over it, “there be gold in them thar hills”.

More than just words

Bradford0219Photography: Benjamin Wetherall   | Luke and Joey

A number of readers have created readings out of their favourite written words. These have come in the form of Kylie lyrics (I swear, it was absolutely brilliant and encapsulated not only their shared love of Kylie and but illuminated the evenings they spent as teenagers imagining who their future loves would be!); a very cleverly and not-using-all-the-lyrics-you-would-expect amalgamation of Beatles lyrics for a groom who was blown away that his friend had found so many lesser known songs to help express the fabric of their friendship as well as the bride and groom’s love for each other; a very funny short story told by through the medium of 80’s film quotes which took all of our breath away when the final quotes swung the hilarity to sentiment and quietly broke all of our hearts. Words of wisdom gathered across cultures and time to act as ‘advice’ to the couple when advice from the reader felt too “weird” (himself being unmarried but earnest enough to seek out the words of others).

For one of my couples their reading took the form of a piece of contemporary dance. One of the brides was a dancer and the friends she had asked found it much easier for them to express their sentiment through movement and music rather than words. This was extraordinary and proved engaging to every single guest not just the couple.

Likewise I have had ‘readings’ that manifested as pieces of original music played on the piano, cello, violin and even trumpet!

One reader choose to read the Introduction to one of Nigel Slater’s recipe books, some readings might not seem relevant, but when you contextualise them and read them within a wedding ceremony, it is amazing how pertinent the words can be!

It isn’t only readers who can look to unusual sources for the things they will say on the day. I had one groom recite the words to a track that had meant a lot to him and his bride throughout their relationship. He used these as his personal vows. He also wrote to the songwriter and asked their permission to do so. They wrote back giving him full permission and also providing an extra special story element to the vows he declared on the day.

All this to say, one of my favourite readings of all time was a classic, pure and simple. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. Read by the bride’s grandfather. He breathed so much life into the words and read with such an arresting and powerful confidence that I heard the words I had heard a hundred times before anew and with a greater understanding.

This had been the poem he had recited to his late wife throughout their 65 year long marriage. These words he knew like the back of his hand and the sentiment was so understood to him that he gave us all a deeper sense of understanding. He knew why he was reading it to his granddaughter, he felt the weight of love and history in the transference of ‘his’ poem to ‘theirs’, and he held us all, captivated in words written long ago about something as eternal as love and infrequently bettered.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

            So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Choose your reading with foresight. Choose your reading with care. Choose a reading that suits your voice and personality….And most of all, enjoy every single second searching for it.

Now that is some exceptional advice on how you search for an wonderful and meaningful wedding reading. Thank you so much Zena. Queen of personalised wedding ceremonies!

For more information on my gorgeous Nu Bride Ambassador and Humanist celebrant Zena Birch; please visit: http://zenabirch.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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