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Easy Funeral Music

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  • Easy Funeral Music

    We have a B2 & Leslie at church I've been playing for a few months.
    I'm sure I'll be asked to play a funeral sometime.
    I have no idea what to play, but it better be simple. :-(
    Any suggestions for funeral music books?
    Hammond SK1-61

  • #2
    Depends greatly on the type of church and the formality of the service. Some folks would probably suggest some particular "classical" pieces, and that might be best for a formal service. But in the typical church service, especially in a church that favors standard hymns and/or Gospel songs (which I suspect might be the case, given that your church has a Hammond with Leslie), the usual thing to do in a funeral is to play a number of hymns and Gospel songs put together in a logical and meaningful string.

    When I play for a funeral in my church (and I'm not a recital player nor do I have many classical pieces in my repertoire), I generally take a file folder full of well-known and beloved hymns right out of our hymnals at church, or from other common church hymnals. Sometimes the family of the deceased will request that certain hymns be used in the service, while at other times they may simple ask that there be appropriate music.

    Given free rein, I'll choose a number of my own favorites and hymns that I feel almost everyone who attends will recognize. Obviously "Amazing Grace" gets a lot of use at funerals, but it is in fact the #1 most popular hymn in the US, and virtually everyone knows it, so I usually play it at some point. I also love a good sturdy and uplifting hymn such as "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," which I may play as the family is ushered in, unless they have asked for something else.

    Otherwise, I'll want to play through what I consider the "top 10" most often used hymns in our church, especially if the deceased was active in church or even a choir member or one who loved to sing the hymns. I do avoid playing anything that might remotely be considered too "modern" or loud or fast, as they may simply not fit the mood. On the other hand, I do think it's fine to bring in some more exuberant and hopeful hymns if I continue to play after the service has ended, while people are leaving the sanctuary. No need to leave them on a purely somber or sad note, as the purpose of the funeral is normally to celebrate a life well-lived by a joyous Christian soul.

    Anyway, after you've done it a time or two, you'll get a better feel for it. You might do well to pay attention to what other organists do in funerals, but don't be afraid to follow your own instincts as well.
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!


    • #3
      Thank you so much! You sensed our church correctly. We are Southern Baptist. I'll do as suggested. You confirmed what I thought would be acceptable, so that's the way I'll go.
      Thank you again!
      Hammond SK1-61


      • #4
        Can't agree enough with jbird on this. Stick with the classics. Stick with the hymns. Unless specifically demanded, stay away from contemporary, upbeat, or shuffling. This is a funeral, for goodness sake.

        Amazing Grace (of course)
        Rock of Ages (simple melody line)
        How Great Thou Art
        What a Friend We Have In Jesus
        Nearer My God to Thee
        Abide With Me
        Abide With Me, Tis Eventide (don't play these together, it'll confuse you and them)

        You can't go wrong with the solid slow hymns, thus adding dignity and sobriety to the event. 'I'll Fly Away', for instance, is perhaps more appropriate for the after-dinner.
        And there's a bonus! Because this is a funeral, you're gonna be playing S L O W. Plenty of time to stack up the next notes. Play the chorale parts right out of the hymnbook.. So if you don't know the hymn, or sightread all that well, no biggie! Every otherwise embarrassing pause is just a dramatic interpretation.

        It's not necessarily the responsibility of the musician to put everyone in a good mood. That's for the minister and the eulogist. They can feel just as uplifted at 58bpm as they can at 120bpm, given the right attitudes of the participants.


        • #5
          :-) thanks
          Hammond SK1-61


          • #6
            I agree with all of the above posts, and I do a lot of funerals. I am semi-retired, so I am available weekdays when a lot of other organists / keyboardists are at their real jobs.

            Many times the family does not have any clue about what music they would like, much less have a particular hymn(s) in mind. I have made up a binder with copies all of the "usual" funeral hymns in it ( and they include some Easter music ), and paired a lot of them by key and subject. That way I can play appropriate, well known ( to churchgoers anyhow ), favorite hymn melody mashups during the usual half hour or so pre-service time. It is easy that way to pretty much keep the music going, without needing to stop and find the different pages in the hymnal. I have had many thank-yous for that sort of pre-service music, as familiar hymn melodies are comforting to people even if they do not know all the words.

            For the funeral service proper, the music selection is sometimes guided by the family requests ( if they have any ), and by the particular minster presiding. Other times the minister has no preferences, and says play whatever you want. Around here is varies a lot by denomination as the whether or not the congregation will even attempt to sing hymns at a funeral. The Lutherans do sing ( and well usually ), the RCs never even attempt to try to sing, and the Congregational / Reformed are sorta in the middle. I have not done any Southern Baptist funerals, as there are not many of those churches around me. But I would imagine that they would indeed sing very well.

            I do not have a list of all the ones in my binder handy, but you have a start on a list here already. On Eagles Wings is a real popular request around these parts. How Great Thou Art is another staple. There are lots of others as well, but I don't have the time today to list all of them.

            Now and then you will get a family requesting a song ( normally a pop one ) that is just not appropriate for a Christian funeral. Then you need to guide them as to why it is not good. Or failing that, get the minister presiding to tell them NO. One recent example that comes to mind is a request for Memory from Cats. While it is a beautiful song, and I like it, and even have it memorized, I felt that it was not appropriate for a funeral service. It is after all about a character in the play wishing to be reincarnated. That is Not really the Christian belief about what happens to us after this part of our lives are over.
            Regards, Larry

            At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), US-1, EL-25 ( Chopped ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755. 1919 Wangerin 2/7 pipe organ.


            • voet
              voet commented
              Editing a comment
              Larrytow wrote:

              "One recent example that comes to mind is a request for Memory from Cats. While it is a beautiful song, and I like it, and even have it memorized, I felt that it was not appropriate for a funeral service."

              Was it a cat funeral? (Sorry, I just couldn,t resist.)

              I used to play for a church that was across the street from a pet cemetery. They had a small building with a "room of repose" where people could sit with their deceased pet. Fortunately, I never was asked to play for a pet funeral. However, I do occasionally send sympathy cards to friends who have lost pets.

          • #7
            Speaking of "pop" songs at a funeral... If I'm just the organist and not the "director" of the funeral music, it's out of my hands if they have already talked to the funeral director and made plans to use some pop song. I'd not be able to actually PLAY such a song if requested, but they will have their own CD that the funeral home or church sound guy will play for them.

            First time I heard something like that was when a cousin of mine died. He was a country boy who loved pickup trucks and cowboy stuff and the outdoors, and at his funeral, which was held in a small country church, we sang some songs with the old piano, then as the casket was opened, they played a CD of a song called "Like a Rock" which I had not heard before except on a commercial for Chevy trucks! Apparently it was actually a song and one of his favorites, so whatever....

            Another time I was playing the organ for a funeral of some old country guy who wasn't even a church member, but the people had asked to have his funeral in our sanctuary. I played the hymns they asked for, then when they viewed the body they played "Wind Beneath My Wings" as sung by Bette Midler using a CD. I just kept my poker face on and went back to my hymns when it was over!

            That's not even the oddest pop song I've heard at a funeral, but I won't go into any others because I respect the families so much in spite of not totally understanding their musical requests. People have their own reasons for choosing totally secular music for a funeral, so who am I to insist that all the songs have to come from the hymnal?

            Another odd request recently... A sweet little lady passed away and had left instructions about her funeral with her daughter. She asked that two songs be sung -- "In the Garden" and, of all things, "Silent Night." (and the funeral was not during the Christmas season!) I have no idea why she had left that request, but we did it of course. She also had left some money to have the family go out a buy enough scratch-off tickets to give one to everybody in attendance! (I heard someone won $10.)

            Anyway, it's a nice ministry you can provide to families at a time when they are often very much in need of ministry.
            *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



            • #8

              I am Southern Baptist and have played at my church for 33 years. (I don't know if I'm committed or should be committed! :)). I also have a binder with "funeral" hymns and Gospel songs in it. Here are some that I use that have not already been mentioned.
              • In the Garden
              • Because He Lives
              • God Will Take Care of You
              • The Old Rugged Cross
              • Sweet Beulah Land (I've had several requests for this one.)
              • There's a Land that Is Fairer than Day (In the Sweet By and By)
              • It Is Well with My Soul
              • Near to the Heart of God
              • Face to Face with Christ My Savior
              • What a Day That Will Be
              A couple of "old-time" and more obscure songs that I use ( and happen to like) are
              • Precious Memories
              • I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone (I like the harmony in this Stamps-Baxter song.)
              I have several more in my binder but most of these have been by special request. Or in one case, it was a long-time church member who loved music and loved to sing. (She unfortunately had hardly any musical ability.) I knew some of her favorites and played them.

              I hope this helps.


              Currently own: Roland Atelier AT-90, Yamaha 115D, Roland DP-90SE, Yamaha PSR-S910

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              • #9
                I recently played at a funeral and the family asked that a pop song was played on the stereo during the service - a song that meant a lot to their deceased family member and the pastor had agreed to it, too. This happens more often than people think. Over here, if it's a Christian funeral, the pastor will decide, but most are quite accomodating unless the lyrics aren't deemed suitable.

                Most people here like the "classics" like Bach's "Jesu bleibet meine Freude" BWV 147 or the Air from BWV 1068. Amazing Grace isn't as widely known and often used at weddings, too, mainly because of the nice melody.


                • #10
                  I live in Holland and with funerals here almost everything goes, from bridge over trouble water from Simon and Garfunkel I even was on a funarel from a very young person, under 25, He loved hard rock music, his wish, See you on the other side from Alice Cooper. Not played on a Hammond but I think you get my point, it's personal and as with the young bloke, when ure dying becouse of cancer and you're able to plan ure funeral I think every wisch has to be respected, and honestly I never heard that song from Alice but afterwards I thanked the deceased in my mind for his choices. It was worthy.