A Ceremony of Union is a combined work of text, music, and design for conducting a civil marriage, which I prepared for my wedding. The ceremony is told through three motifs: the knot, the ring, and the chain.
Music for A Ceremony of Union is the music which binds the ceremony together. The original program notes state:
“Our shared passion is music. The music for the ceremony represents our journey together, and its performance is a gift to share with all those present. Three motifs permeate the music, transfigured by inversion, and culminating in a double fugue representing the union of two families.”
The three motifs each convey one of the ceremony’s three themes: “searching”, a wandering melody of irregular leaps, represents the knot, or heritage; “striving”, an insistently repeated pitch, represents the chain, or fidelity; and “singing”, a rising arpeggio on the minor seventh chord, represents the ring, or inspiration.
The recordings below are from the live performance at the ceremony by pianist Michael Angell. Two additional movements remain unfinished: the prelude, a chaconne in quintuple meter, and the postlude, both developing the searching motif.
A discordant fanfare announces the ceremony’s beginning, emerging into the key of the processional. Each member of the wedding party is announced by the striving motif and accompanied by a chorale-like theme in septuple meter. The singing motif makes its first appearance with the bride’s entrance. The music ascends to the dominant of a new key as the couple takes their place.
During the ceremony, the searching motif plays as a ghostly reminder of the path that brought the couple to this moment. As each instance of the motif rises out of hearing, another voice takes its place, until the voices come together to ascend the tonic scale. The final open fourth prepares the dominant pedal of the vow.
The striving motif emerges as a constant dominant pedal, slowly rising. The song, fashioned from the singing motif, is first sung by the couple individually, before they join in unison to declare their steadfastness against the striving motif. The song ends once again on the open fourth on the dominant.
The lyrics are:
Give us on each precious day
A moment to recall
The steps we shared along this way
And our blessings great and small
Forgive our thoughts of bitterness
And words we left unsaid
Let patience heal and kindness still
Each moment of regret
And by wisdom let our selves be led
For there is no despairing word
That shakes my changeless trust in you
And there can be no great discord
That can break my timeless vow to you
Your care for me is clear in all I do
And so I pledge:
To magnify each tender hour
And hold you close in pain
To love you for the one you are
And ever to remain
As I have promised you, my promised one
The singing motif becomes a bell-like fugue subject, a homage to Bach. A second, exuberant subject, fashioned from the striving motif, develops in another fugue and culminates in the theme of Vaughan Williams’s “Rhosymedre”. Finally the two subjects, disparate in origin, join together in a double fugue, in which the searching motif makes its return. The triumphant finale ends definitively on the open fourth on the dominant, an interval symbolizing both the sound of the couple’s Chinese heritage and their life together which is yet to be completed.
The ceremony text unifies elements of traditional marriage ceremonies and the three motifs, drawing heavily on the philosophy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to define the nature of union, and its duties. The original program notes state:
Reading and writing, whether through messages, diaries, poems, or letters, has always joined us. The ceremony texts distill our experience together and present our shared philosophy. A trinity of symbolism unifies the ceremony.
The three symbols are heritage, represented by the weave of paper and the color of red for tradition, fidelity, represented by the clarity of glass and the color white for clarity, and inspiration, represented by the lustre of gold, and the color of silver for sweetness. The text was presented by officiant Tamara Jones.
Dear friends, thank you for gracing us with your presence this day. Before you stand two who have travelled far together to stand before this threshold, and with your consent, they shall cross it together into journeys beyond. We gather here as companions, counsel, kin, and couple, to bear witness to the union of this couple.
Today we ask, what is love? Not the first kiss, but the last. Not a conquest, but a gift. Beauty makes not love, but love’s labour makes all things beautiful. To love is to consent to be constrained, to be a constant companion, and together, to conceive of greater beauty. Love grows not from finding, but through seeking. There is laughter in love, and tears also, for no harmony can exist in a domain without discord. Love inspires us beyond earth’s reach, strewing meaning across the sky and giving reason for the stars.
You, who stand before us, know the meaning of love. You have here to behold a companion in delight and a comforter of sorrow. Your trust makes a perennial refuge, in which your union, thus sheltered, shall ever abide. From each thought let your bond banish all loneliness. You will be together, in times of bounty or sickness, and in moments of rapture or grief. In each your lives, through all the seasons of your years, from dawn’s glow to the last light of dying day, you will have each other.
By the wisdom of your parents you were raised strong and able, ready to live free of guidance and aid. Yet you stand here, seeking to submit your wills to one another. If you would ask, “Why have I need of you?”, then attend to these words from “The Little Prince”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. For there came to the little prince a fox, and the fox said:
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world… If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.
You stand here in confession of your mutual need, because you have been tamed. But know that “one runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed”. For age will bring weariness, and in time you may wonder if fate was merely accident, and your riches but common trifles. If you would ask, “Why must I remain with you?”, then recall how the little prince came upon a garden of roses, and began to doubt his love for a single, ordinary flower. But with the wisdom of the fox, he returned to the roses and said:
You are beautiful, but you are empty… To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you — the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars… because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
You stand here desiring companionship, because you have already given all this to each other. And these gifts alone will tip the balance of your lives to joy, for “if someone loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy simply to look at the stars... For all the stars are abloom with flowers”. You have made of one another a lamp to light the heavens.
That you stand here, is a testament to the proud labour of the family and friends who are gathered before you. Make this day a tribute to them and bind it in your memory, so that you honour not only yourselves but also all those present with your vow. As a sign of your dedication, we now call upon you to join your voices as one:
(Our Pledge is sung)
As thread twines the knot, so your lives have interwoven. Wandering as two together your steps, now hesitant, now hurrying, have imprinted in your memories as indelibly as ink-pressed paper. Together you write a new chapter in your family’s histories: a legacy as inescapable as the memory of your mother tongue, and the rich traditional red that recalls joy. Deny not your heritage, but guard it proudly against decay, knowing that “it is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important”.
Now with palm on palm, clasp tight your hands in form of the knot, and solemnly declare that you do not know of any lawful impediment why you may not be joined in matrimony to your spouse.
I do solemnly declare that I do not know of any lawful impediment why I may not be joined in matrimony to you.
As light illumes the glass so you shall remain transparent to one another. You will examine each link within your chain of trust and find it honest and sure. Together you form the strength of glass: adamant in unity and yet frail against a careless blow. So, shield well your bond from harm and tend to its flaws, for in the clear face of glass all fractures are made visible. Acknowledge these imperfections not as faults, but as sign of your shared knowledge, for “one only understands the things that one tames”.
Now with arm on arm, hold fast your hands in form of the chain, and call upon those persons present to witness that you do take your partner to be your lawful wedded spouse.
I call upon those persons present to witness that I do take you to be my lawful wedded spouse.
As glad tidings ring the bells, so you must inspire each other. Through all your days and their pivots between clemency and gloom, chart a cyclic course that returns your union to celebration. Remember that the clamour of bells is sweeter for their discordance, and each clouded moment will unveil a path lined in silver. For “what makes the desert beautiful, is that somewhere it hides a well. The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen”. Let your bond, that thing invisible, imbue all your surroundings with beauty.
Now with hand on hand, take up the form of the ring, and as sign of your pledge bestow this ring upon your partner, freely of your will and in full knowledge of your choosing.
As sign of my pledge, I bestow this ring upon you freely of my will and in full knowledge of my choosing.
With the authority vested in me by the Government of Alberta, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss as a wedded couple.
With the consent of those present, you are now crossed over the threshold of marriage. May health and plenty grace your years together, and remember, always, that “you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose”.
Now, please join us in celebration as I present to you our newly married couple!
The ceremony includes original design elements incorporating the three motifs.
The wedding rings are based on a concept I developed, and were realized by Designs by Manuel. The original program notes state:
Signs of lasting value, the wedding bands are an heirloom for future generations. They take the threefold form of the Borromean rings, which come undone if any one band is removed. The twist of the bands is derived from the braided orbits of a three-body system - inspiration from the stars!
The hand-made stationery is derived from a monogram of the couple’s names. The original program notes state:
Each of the three symbols the ring, knot, and chain combine in our monogram, surrounding our crossed initials in its heart.
If you are interested in performing any of my pieces, contact me here.
2015 June 21