Celebrating a loved one’s life at their passing is a way to bring closure and healing to the difficult road ahead for those left to carry on. There are many decisions to make when preparing for a funeral and oftentimes we are left with little time to decide on everything from flowers to music. I was honored to play piano and violin for both of my grandmothers’ funerals. For me, it was such a comfort to be able to play their favorite songs for them. I had already added their favorite music to my library as I had played it for them on visits. Many people do not have the chance to know what songs bring joy to their loved ones and if a death is sudden there may not be enough time to track down those songs. These are a few thoughts to remember if you are in the position of selecting music for a memorial service:
Where is the service to be held?
Often funeral homes have sound systems that allow for CD’s or mp3’s to be played. They also seldom have restrictions on music that is played, allowing for choices outside of the sacred category. Country music songs often have lyrics that are comforting. You may even be able to include rock songs from an artist to which your loved one enjoyed listening. Some popular ones include Elvis or the Beatles. Keep in mind if you are using musicians, check with the funeral home to see if they have a piano or organ available.
Churches may have more strict rules as far as what music is performed during the service. Some churches will still approve of some country music and pop music but may not allow rock. They may also insist on having musicians rather than prerecorded music. Selecting a beautiful song but not having a singer that is able to sing in that range may make take away from the moment and cause stress for the singer. Churches do often have the advantage of a piano and organ. However, keep in mind not all churches maintain their pianos, and the piano may not be in tune.
Graveside services may be the most difficult because of uncertain weather conditions. Guitar is a popular instrument, but may not be very loud. Instruments like violin and trumpet have more volume, but in the case of the violin, you may not want to play it in rain or snow. Also make sure performers who have never performed outside practice before hand. Preferably have a rehearsal at the cemetery as acoustics outside are so different. The musician may actually have a hard time hearing themselves or even feel they are playing out of tune.
How do you want the music played?
Next decide if you would rather use pre-recorded music or musicians, based within the location restrictions, if any. If you choose musicians, then you will need to decide if you would like to have a vocalist, instrumental solo, or congregational music, also based on locations. If you are hiring musicians, send the music to them as soon as possible to insure that the music will be played well.
Now you can move on to song selection. Were there songs that brought comfort to your loved one? If you are not aware of their favorite music then move on to the next of kin. Does the spouse or child of the deceased have a song that reminds them of the loved one? Or brings them comfort? Finally if you are still uncertain, ask the clergy that will be leading the service if they have some suggestions. Or if you have musicians, ask them what they have that would be appropriate. If you’re looking for a book to start your music searching, I recently found “Going Home” by Brentwood-Benson. It contains 75 Songs for Funerals, Memorial Services and Life Celebrations. The entire song list can be found at www.halleonard.com This collection contains sacred, gospel, country, show-tunes, pop, and more. A great collection of beautiful music for solo piano, voice, and or guitar.
How do I get the music?
If you need music, check with your local music store like West Music for sheet music options. We can often find collections that contain the song in stock or download music. For older music that may be out of print, consider contacting other local church musicians to see if you may borrow from their repertoire. For non-sacred music, a quick trip to the library may help you find older show tunes or community song books. A final option may be to overnight the music through your local store. Even though there will be extra fees, this may allow you to have the perfect song. Regarding playing recorded music, if no one owns a copy of the music, check with local stores for CD’s or considering downloading an MP3.
One final thought. If you take the time to plan ahead for your own celebration some day. Leave a clue for your loved ones as to what music brought you comfort. Ordering the music and tucking it away could become a truly great gift for your loved ones as they go through the difficult transition of moving on without you.