Postlude: Definition, Music & Songs

Instructor: Charis Duke

Charis has taught college music and has a master's degree in music composition.

A postlude is a piece of music played at the conclusion of a meeting. It is usually a part of worship services and other important ceremonies. This lesson will discuss the definition of postludes and give examples.

Time to Go?

It has been a long, hot graduation ceremony. You're only here for your nephew. Who are all these other kids, anyway? You doze off in the sun as the long list of names goes on and on and on. Suddenly the school orchestra begins a rousing tune that shakes you from your sleep. It's the postlude! You can finally go home.

A graduation ceremony
Photo of a graduation ceremony

The Postlude

A postlude is music played after a meeting has concluded. It is most often heard after sacred, religious, or ceremonial meetings, such as worship services, weddings, funerals, graduations, and so forth. The music is intended to continue the feeling of the meeting as the attendees leave.

The music can be performed by any instrument or ensemble, even by a choir or a vocalist, although this is rare, except for weddings. Postludes are most often performed on an organ or piano at worship services. For graduation ceremonies or similar services, a small orchestra or band may play the postlude.

Postlude Music

Any appropriate music may be played for a postlude; it does not have to be labeled 'Postlude.' For graduations, cheerful music is often used, such as the Bach Branderburg Concerto No. 2 that interrupted your nap at your nephew's graduation. At worship services, an organist will frequently play quiet hymn arrangements as the congregants leave. Clearly, something somber and contemplative is called for at funerals. For the funeral of Princess Diana of Wales, a movement from Camille Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony was played for postlude. A good postlude will always match the mood of the service it follows.

This wedding likely had a postlude.
Photo of church wedding

Choosing a wedding postlude has become an opportunity for the bride and groom to express themselves. The couple can choose a traditional wedding postlude, such Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Johann Sebastian Bach or Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke. When Prince William wed Kate Middleton, they chose the very well-used Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor for their first postlude. However, today more newly-married couples are opting for popular music they feel is significant to their relationship.

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