Music plays an important part in a funeral service. It helps to establish a welcoming atmosphere, it expresses the themes of religious texts and faith, it provides opportunities for reflection and enables the congregation to participate meaningfully in the farewell of a loved one, friend or colleague.
The structure of most Christian funeral services allows for music at various places in the liturgy, and may involve instrumental music e.g. organ, vocal solos sung by a cantor or choir, congregational hymns, songs and responses.
When choosing the music for a funeral service, one of the most important considerations is to achieve a balance between instrumental, vocal solo and congregational pieces. For example it may be more effective to select for congregational singing only one or two hymns and a few short responses such as the psalm response or Alleluia, rather than expecting the congregation to sing 4 or 5 lengthy hymns.
Parts of a Funeral Service
The following outline of a typical funeral service might include the following musical selections:
* A Prelude before the service. Provides a pleasant and welcoming ambience for family, friends and guest as they arrive at the church or funeral chapel.
* An Entrance Song: To accompany the entrance of the coffin and/or clergy or simply as a “gathering” song.
* A Psalm: Psalms are biblical songs and the psalm after a reading provides a moment for reflection. Some beautiful funeral psalm texts include “The Lord is my shepherd”(Psalm 23) or “The Lord is my light and my salvation”.
* A Hymn: Depending on the structure of the service, hymns may be included and can be an opportunity for everyone to sing. Alternatively, a solo reflection may be preferred.
* A Song of Farewell: Many funeral services have a “final commendation”. Sometimes holy water and incensed are used to honour the deceased. A song or incidental piece to accompany this action adds to the symbolic gestures. Especially suitable for this part of the service are songs such as “May the angels lead you into paradise”.
* A Recessional An instrumental piece is best to accompany the departure of the coffin and those present. Depending on preference, this may be a dignified or subdued piece, or a more triumphant and uplifting choice.
Well-known Music Selections
Some of the most popular funeral music for traditional style services include:
Abide with me – W. Monk
Ave Maria -F. Schubert
Ave Maria -C. Gounod on Bach’s 1st Prelude
Ave verum corpus-W.A.Mozart
I know that my redeemer liveth from Handel’s Messiah
In Paradisum from Faure’s Requiem
Jesu joy of man’s desiring
Largo from Xerxes-G. Handel’s
Nearer my God to thee(re-popularised by the Movie Titanic)
Panis Angelicus -C. Franck Pie Jesu-from Faure’s Requiem
Pieta Signore -popularised by Andrea Bocelli
Song of Farewell (May the angels lead you into Paradise -Londonderry Air tune a.k.a Danny Boy
The Holy City -Jerusalem
The Lord’s my shepherd (Crimond)
The Lord’s Prayer (Malotte)-popularised by Charlotte Church
It is advisable to consult the funeral celebrant or professional musicians e.g. organists & singers who are experienced in playing for services. Professional guidance will ensure that appropriate and fitting choices are made to celebrate the life of the deceased.