Bad Funeral Music

My father-in-law was buried in a large Presbyterian Church in Littleton, CO.  We met at the church at 10:00 am for the service to place his ashes in the Columbarium in the church yard, and then trooped inside for the memorial service. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had chosen the music for the funeral a couple of years ago. Neither of them knew a whole lot about church music or the pragmatics of congregational singing.  There were issues.

The first hymn we all had to sing was “The Lord’s Prayer”. It is very difficult for a congregation to sing, being better handled by a soloist. (Our daughter-in-law has a beautiful voice and sang it at my parents’ funerals. )  It really doesn’t have a set tempo, and the tempo changes as the song progresses. Then we had to sing “How Great Thou Art”. That went a little better, but the whole thing was made worse by the piano player.

The piano player was an elderly man who played the grand piano in the sanctuary like Liberace. I was surprised there was no tip jar.  He is the main keyboard player for the church, and he is a soloist, not an accompanist,  who seemed to not care a bit if he helped the congregation get through the hymns. He was loud and bombastic. and played with lots of arpeggios and ornamentation.  It was all about him and how flashy he could play. I would find attending regular services there really annoying.

I suppose I have been spoiled by the wonderful  music I have been exposed to in the Lutheran churches I have attended in my life.  This experience made me decide to to write down  what music I want at my funeral.

What music do you want to celebrate your life when you are gone?



48 thoughts on “Bad Funeral Music”

    1. Husband listened to Vaughan William’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis as a way to express his grief lately. I like the hyms “For all the Saints” and “O Day full of Grace”.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve told my daughter to do a memorial only if she’s convinced it would help her. Otherwise, no. My “surprise” musical pieces would be “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Haha” or “Please Mr Custer, I Don’t Wanna Go.” Candidates for a serious service would be “Holy Now” or “Let the Mystery Be.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I would prefer not to have an official funeral…just a party. People can wear purple or orange or whatever they want. And I’m thinking the playlist that we used for the Morning Show review would be nice and of course (I’ll have to admit to it), stuff from the 70s.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s too bad, Renee – the music can add so much to the service!

    This is a great question, something I’ve wanted to spend some time thinking about. Steve mentioned my favorite – Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be”. I used to think I’d like PP&M’s version of “And When I Die”, but some of the lyrics are problematic – I just really like “..there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am with Barb here–that probably made the service hard to tolerate, and it does not sound like the experience assisted Chris in saying good-bye to his father. The piano player would have probably made me start giggling, a la Mary Tyler Moore in the Chuckles the Clown funeral after Chuckles, dressed as a peanut, was trampled by an elephant. Only hysterical laughter would fit what you described. I take it that the elderly piano player did not wear a Liberace outfit.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    When Lou’s close friend died this spring, he did not have any kind of service or celebration. In the end we both have found that difficult. I don’t think a traditional funeral is needed when people do not want one, but I do like something that allows me to say good bye and shed a few tears. I liked Edith’s service at the Friend’s Meeting House. I thought it was simple and respectful.

    I would want a Black Gospel Choir singing “Take My Hand Precious Lord” not because I believe the sentiments it expresses, but because I think it is a wonderful grieving experience to hear that form of music. I doubt it is possible to get that large a choir together, so that is a fantasy. But I can want it. Then Eva Cassidy singing the old hymn, “How can I keep from singing” which she blasts to the rafters about the joy and beauty of life.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. There is a poem by my friend Barbara McAfee that I would want read – as we did at Joel’s memorial:

    On Being A Carrot in God’s Garden
    You can be sure the hand will pull you from the ground.
    You can be sure.
    No matter how longingly the earth presses against you.
    No matter how sweet the mineral sips at the tips of your roots.
    No matter how comfortable your somnolent, unchanging days,
    When you are ripe, you will be taken.

    In this slumbering time,
    in this tiny, dark cradle,
    you cannot imagine sky
    or the clouds that splatter the surface above,
    or the green lace of your own intricate leaves.

    When the hand comes,
    may your flesh be sweet in surrender.
    When the soil falls away from your snapping roots,
    may you slide easy into the light.
    When you lie naked in the basket,
    may the hand rub the last soil from your skin
    and carry you — singing and fresh —
    straight to the mouth of God.

    © Barbara McAfee

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Saw the movie ‘Four Weddings and a funeral’ on TV the other night. I always like his reading of the W. H. Auden poem, “Funeral Blues”, but it’s pretty heavy and not exactly the mood I’d be going for. I think perhaps it’s the Scottish accent of it I like so much.

    I’d like just the refrain of the Stones ‘Time is on my side’.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Years ago at a family wedding at Stavanger Lutheran Church in rural Ossian, Iowa (Norwegian Lutheran) I observed this wonderful thing. In European style, the church is surrounded by the cemetery. My husband’s Dixieland Band provided the wedding entertainment and dance music among the gravestones, the band tucked away under a tent. The adults stayed on the dance floor. The children, however, were moved to dance wherever they were. I looked up and saw three little girls, children of Lou’s cousins, dancing like dervishes on top of a wide, pretentious stone. They were adorable and completely unaware of what they were dancing on.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. I found it cathartic to know that the rage I felt was not abnormal, that other women had gone through it and survived. And yes, a little later on, be able to laugh at it.

          Liked by 3 people

  7. I just got word yesterday of the 4th funeral for me go to since the beginning of July.

    I really thought when I heard about the third one, I was done for awhile.

    I have buried 3 women who were very important to me in the last 5 years and have felt like an outsider at every single one of their funerals, because the service had almost nothing to do with the women I knew. So I really treasure a meaningful send off.

    For my own send off, the s&h knows there are some very popular hymns in the Lutheran hymn book that I find to be twaddle, but invariably they are chosen at “favorite hymn”sings at our church and one of them shows up at baptisms and funerals regularly.

    I have let him know in no uncertain terms that I will HAUNT him if any of that is sung over me, and whenever one if them comes up in church, we really have to take ourselves in hand so we don’t embarrass ourselves.

    Of late, I’ve started telling him I am going to fill out the funeral planner they have at church and put in every single one of those hymns, just to make him laugh.

    I admit it, I like a funeral where we get to laugh together with the deceased.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I have promised to rise from the dead and smite the selector if anyone decides to play or sing “On Eagles Wings.” One very good friend has teased me with playing it just so I will rise from the dead (which then sets us to giggling…)


  8. There’s one more that I’d like to have if we could just skip at least the first verse, and go straight to the chorus:

    Well we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.
    Yeah we e all shine on, and on and on and on…


  9. Wow, here’s another one:

    Breaths – Sweet Honey in the Rock

    Listen more often to things than to beings
    Listen more often to things than to beings
    Tis’ the ancestors’ breath
    When the fire’s voice is heard
    Tis’ the ancestor’s breath
    In the voice of the waters

    Those who have died have never, never left
    The dead are not under the earth
    They are in the rustling trees
    They are in the groaning woods
    They are in the crying grass
    They are in the moaning rocks
    The dead are not under the earth

    Those who have did have never, never left
    The dead have a pact with the living
    They are in the woman’s breast
    They are in the wailing child
    They are with us in our homes
    They are with us in this crowd
    The dead have a pact with the living

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have actually thought abut this from time to time. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral of either of my parents, but my sister asked me to pick a couple of songs for my father’s funeral. For some reason I wasn’t consulted about mom’s.

    Dad was an atheist, but he came from a family with strong Lutheran ties. His great grandfather was Steen Steensen Blicher, a Lutheran minister, writer, teacher and reformer; he is still considered one of Denmark’s greatest writers.

    One of the songs I picked is this one. It was written by Steen Steensen Blicher and I have loved it since I was little girl. It’s a song about faith. It addresses an angel as a metaphor for faith that was a constant companion during childhood, but has now fled from him. It questions the angel’s constancy, having deserted him as life got complicated, but also observes that perhaps he, himself, is no longer the same. It ends by asking the angel to return him to the Eden of his childhood, or if that’s not possible, draw him to new one. I love both the tune and the words of this old song.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Such a pity about the selected first song and insensitive pianist. My granny loved singing and there were about 5 hymns plus soloist for her funeral and really that was too many but these experiences can make you ponder what you would do if you could do it differently… I think funeral music should celebrate a person’s life more than mourn it. People are sad enough as it is. Sad music is comforting yes, but I think the onus should be on each of us to consider what music sums us up for when the time comes… too much pressure to leave for family to decide! I don’t mean Pharell Williams ‘Happy’ but if the deceased was a cheerful teaser, why choose something that will leave everyone depressed?!


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