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Funeral Music - a Guide for the Family

Planning the funeral music of a relative or friend is not easy. You are upset, mourning, bereft and unsure. But making the arrangements can actually be a consolation – it often starts the process of healing. Funeral music can play a great part in this – it offers huge comfort to the mourner.

I have provided organ music for many funerals, and I've discovered that it can focus a congregation’s mind and become a deeply moving part of the service. People are in the mood to listen and they seek comfort from what they hear. Music provides a profound feeling of love and unity.

So you want to plan a really good “send-off” for your loved one and essential to this is your choice of funeral music. But how should you go about it?

Practicalities ...

The first thing is to check that the Organist is booked – you can get the phone number from the Minister – and then talk with him or her about the pieces you want. He'll need to know what type of funeral music you'd like. Would your family go for something “upbeat” or would they prefer the traditional funeral marches? And would you like hymns, a choir or just a soloist? These are the questions you need to think about.

The amount of music will depend upon your Minister, but basically you will need something before the service - while the people are arriving - interludes during it, and an outgoing voluntary. If you want a grand finale, ask the Organist if the instrument is equal to the task. It may be that the organ provided in the Church or Crematorium - indeed the Organist himself - may not stretch to this, and you'll need to choose something a little more modest.

If you wish for a traditional Funeral March, ask for Handel’s Dead March or Chopin’s Funeral March. You could also consider having a hymn at the conclusion instead of a voluntary, or maybe an upbeat number.

In all this, seek the Organist’s advice - he'll be anxious that the service will be just what you want, and that it goes without a hitch. Ask if he has a CD of possible funeral music and choose what “speaks to you”. You can be sure that if the music speaks to you, it will also “speak to other people”.

Customised Funeral Music

Did your loved one have any favourite music or style? See if it can be included in the service. If it's a favourite piece arrange with the Minister a point in the service where everyone can sit and listen to it – perhaps the conclusion of the eulogy would be a good time.

Include some hymns - people are greatly uplifted by fine hymns. Make sure your choices are well known, because it can be therapeutic to sing of one’s grief – and choose at least one that's “upbeat”. After all, you want to celebrate the person's life, and not just focus on your loss. The Organist will tell you how many hymns you'll need - and how many verses - and if your loved one had a favourite be sure to include it. Check the words carefully to see that none of the texts have unfortunate meanings! And make sure that the congregation have the words, either in an Order of Service or a Hymn Book.

Do you want a choir or soloist? A Choir can be expensive but it will add something wonderful to the funeral music. Once I was asked to conduct Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah as the deceased was carried out. At its conclusion there was loud applause and I looked around to see the coffin had been lowered to the floor and the pall-bearers were busily clapping. I’d never come across this before so I took a bow! People left in an elated state of mind.

There is a lot to be said for having a soloist – the sound of a single voice can be very moving, especially singing the Pie Jesu from Faure's Requiem, or a Celtic love song.

You'll need to be guided by the Organist but do ask to hear a selection of pieces before you decide what you want. The Organist could either play them to you or let you hear them on a CD. You want to be absolutely sure you're getting the music you want. Click here for a selection of favourite funeral music we've picked out for you at Music-for-Church-Choirs.com

I remember conducting the Memorial Service for the great conductor Sir John Barbirolli at which records were played, of him conducting Kathleen Ferrier and Janet Baker singing Mahler – wonderful and moving. If you want to go down this route you will need the approval of the Organist and the Minister – but you don’t have to have Mahler!

The Question of Fees

With regard to fees, ask the Organist or the undertaker to check this out. Singers are usually paid per head so eight will cost twice as much as four. A soloist will be cheaper but make sure that you have a good one. There will be a fee for the Organist which will vary from church to church. Be sure that you know exactly what the music will cost – you don’t want any unpleasant surprises. Payment is usually made at the beginning of the Service.

If there is a good performer in the family, do give him or her the opportunity of playing or singing. Oh, and if you bring your own organist to play, you'll still need to pay the resident Organist - after all this is his bread and butter!

The funeral music you choose will bring great comfort and solace to a mourning congregation. This in itself is wonderful - it will give people great strength and consolation.

Choose with confidence, and give your loved one a service to remember.

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