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'Here Come The Brides': Same-Sex Weddings Call For A New Soundtrack

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Chances are, if you've ever been to a wedding, you heard the classic bridal march commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride." The song has been a staple of weddings in the Western world for more than 150 years, since Richard Wagner composed it as part of his opera Lohengrin.

But things are changing in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Since then, the number of same-sex weddings in the U.S. has leapt significantly — and many gay couples have been ditching the "Bridal Chorus," as it was originally known, for a different kind of soundtrack to their ceremonies.

Margie Chebot and Meredith Apfelbaum, for example, married in 2004 — just after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. When they went to the Statehouse to get their marriage licenses, Apfelbaum tells NPR that the building was surrounded by demonstrators on both sides of the issue.

At the time, Apfelbaum says the supporters of gay marriage were singing patriotic songs — "God Bless America and the Star-Spangled Banner," she says. "I remember people on the other side of the courthouse saying: You can't sing our songs!"

So, music took on a heightened sense of importance when they planned their traditional Jewish wedding. The couple picked the Hebrew song "Ani V'ata" — which was written in 1971 by Arik Einstein — because they saw it as a recognition of the struggle same-sex couples like them have faced. Apfelbaum points to one section of the song in particular:

“You and I will change the world. You and I, by then all will follow.”

"I can remember, actually, as the song was being sung by our song leader, our rabbi whispered to both of us, 'You already have changed the world,' " Apfelbaum says.

"Obviously, many of these songs can be heard at just about anyone's wedding ceremony or reception, but they often have a special meaning within the LGBT community," says Kathryn Hamm, a same-sex marriage advocate.

She says that many couples include gay anthems in their wedding ceremonies.

"When I talk about our anthems, it's important to note that I speak as a 40-something woman who came out in the early '90s at a very different time," Hamm says. "We spent a lot of time talking in code, because we were largely a closeted community. So we responded any time there was an artist telling our stories, whether implicitly or explicitly through song."

The song, "In Twos," is about thwarted love. It was written in 1957 by gay composer and lyricist Marc Blitzstein. Its careful avoidance of gender identification is considered a code for relationships in an era when gay lovers could not be open about their relationships.

Peter Vitale and Stephen Nelson selected it for their own wedding in 2013, just after gay marriage became legal in Minnesota.

A couple sang it as Peter Vitale and Stephen Nelson stood at the altar in 2013, just after gay marriage became legal in Minnesota. Vitale wanted people to think about the lyrics, so he had them printed in the program:

“And so they walk in twos, or talk in twos, And look or kiss or dream or say no word in twos. For lovers feel that they are cheating time. As long as they remain In twos.”

And it wasn't simply the song's lyrics that Vitale loved. He also appreciated the way the song expressed hope in the melody itself.

"I kept realizing how it starts to cadence into this dark place, and then suddenly starts over in the original key, and renews itself," Vitale says. "And I thought, intentional or not, what a beautiful metaphor for how difficult it is to stay in twos."

With this song as a musical centerpiece, Vitale says he and Stephen Nelson chose to process down the aisle to Johann Sebastian Bach and recess to jazz.

"There's kind of something freeing about not having decades and centuries of traditions that some of my straight friends have felt compelled to follow. It's very empowering to just make it how you feel it should be."

All of this doesn't mean that the most conventional of wedding tunes is irrelevant. At a recent ceremony in Central Park, in New York City, a wedding attendant displayed a banner reading "Here Come the Brides" — and in marched the couple, in delighted and dignified duplicate.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.


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