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Funeral Music - a Guide for the Organist
Itís never easy to deal with a family which is arranging the funeral music for a loved one. They are upset, unsure of what they want, looking for help. They need your assurance that what they choose will be absolutely right for the occasion. You have played organ music at hundreds of services: but for the family, it is a rare and difficult occasion of which they have little experience.
When you first meet with the family, listen carefully and show great concern and sympathy. Being there for them and just listening to them can be a great solace to them in their grief and emphasises the pastoral side of your work. It will also give them confidence in you and make the task easier.
Keep in mind the part that music plays in a funeral. It provides great consolation, unites a congregation in shared emotion, and can express - profoundly - what speech cannot express. It's an essential part of the formal ritual of mourning and it will be of immense support to all those who grieve. If you base the interview upon this overview you wonít go wrong.
The family will probably know little of funeral music, and be at a loss where to begin. You can always ask if their loved one had a favourite style or piece which should be included in the programme. If there's a particular piece you can play it at a time when everyone can sit and listen - not merely as background music.
And if there's a performer in the family, offer him or her the opportunity to take part.
Find out if they want "upbeat music" or the traditional funeral marches. Click here and you'll find some suggestions for suitable funeral music.
Hymns ... ancient or modern?
Did the deceased have a favourite hymn? Have a list of suggestions available, preferably on a home made CD so the family can listen and choose what they consider appropriate. Your list of hymns can include Gospel Songs and Folk as well as the traditional ones. Guide the family to choose hymns which everybody knows.
When you discuss the arrangements you will find that the family is often confused. Take time to put them at their ease. It's handy to have a list of questions ready so that you can discover exactly what they want. They depend completely upon your knowledge and expert guidance, and are often relieved to find that choosing the right funeral music is not the headache they feared.
And do check that words of hymns are suitable! If the funeral is followed by a trip to the crematorium, for example, steer them well away from the hymn Sing Hosanna. Why? Have a look at verse 4 ...
"Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning Keep me burning till the end of day."
Memorable Funeral Music
Would they like a singer, an instrumentalist, or a choir? A CD of suggestions really will help the family make an informed choice. We've prepared Funeral Music - a Guide for the Family which you may download free and give to the family to help them, and you may find the Favourite Funeral Music list helpful here too.
I always feel that a solo voice can be deeply moving and poignant. A piece like Faureís Pie Jesu moves people to tears but it also ennobles their mourning Ė this is one of the most important functions of funeral music.
When I conducted the Memorial Service for Sir John Barbirolli his record company arranged for recordings to be played of him conducting Kathleen Ferrier singing Mahler. It was memorable and wonderful. This might be a road down which the family would like to travel, so see if they have any inclination this way. It will mean that they can choose a grand piece which would be impracticable to perform live.
You will need to discuss fees with them, and when the payment is due. This is normally at the beginning of the service, or via the undertaker or Minister. If a choir is involved give the family an exact quote so that they know the cost of what they are buying.
The advice you give and the quality of the funeral music you provide will be of inestimable value to the grieving family. You canít bring their loved one back but you can provide consolation, comfort and strength to a family in mourning.
Itís quite a responsibility.
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