Music for Funerals
When I lived in Michigan, I had an informal agreement with the organist at my parish, regarding music for our own funerals: One of us would make sure that the other got really good music. We worried that our relatives, prostrate with grief, might program some lousy music. We even made a little list for each other. We did a lot of funerals together, and sometimes we would whisper, "I want THAT hymn!" or, more often, "Please make sure that song is BANNED at my funeral, ok?" On Eagles' Wings did not make the cut. And now I have stated it here on my blog, too. Take note, family! I love the Faure Pie Jesu for funerals. It's short and beautiful. But, I think for my own funeral I would rather not have a soprano soloist. I'd like to be the Star Female one last time. So . . how about The Call, by Ralph Vaughan Williams? I love choral music, too. . . the In Paradisum from the Faure or Durufle Requiem would be lovely, but I'm practical. I know there won't be a lot of time to rehearse anything. Do the chant version of the In Paradisum and I'll be happily on my way. Do Be Not Afraid and I'll haunt you. I'm tickled at the thought of having a New Orleans Second Line, but that's hard to come by up here!
The last time I sang the Pie Jesu for a funeral, it was for a baby girl who died in her mother's womb a couple of days before she was supposed to be delivered. I had just formed a small children's choir at my parish, which included some of the girl's older siblings. The parents asked if the children would sing, and they sang God Who Touchest Earth With Beauty. It was heartbreaking, and yet also hopeful. I could feel the sadness in my own voice as I sang, but I held it together. At the request of the parents we also sang Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones, a great hymn looking forward to happiness with the Communion of Saints.
My dad played the organ at both of his parents' funerals, and he accompanied me as I sang Albert Hay Malotte's The Lord's Prayer. I know it brought him comfort to be able to play. He also delivered the eulogies. My mother sang at her own mother's funeral. I don't think I will be able to do anything but hold my sister's hand at that time, but we'll see. When your heart is broken, sometimes music is the only way you can bear it. If I have to sing, I'll sing.
This week my True Love and I attended a funeral at the same parish where we were married. It was a service of thanksgiving for the life of Laurie, a woman I had never met. The church was packed. The choir sang Herbert Howells' Pray For the Peace Of Jerusalem. At Communion the choir sang several short motets, including one of my favorites by Theodore DuBois, Adoramus Te Christe. (It's on my list. It's quick to learn, too.) We used to sing it at the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday.
The final hymn was For All The Saints, and we sang all eight verses. I noticed that as I sang each verse, my voice was stronger and stronger, and I was happy to help sing this beloved woman to Heaven. The organist played a dazzling fanfare, and we began the final verse. The choir soared past all of us, with the descant reaching higher and higher. The music in the hymnal got blurry as tears came to my eyes, and I choked up so much I could no longer sing, just listen and be thankful.
The entire congregation stood as the grieving mother and children processed to the back of the church with the casket, while the organist played a triumphant postlude. A few people left the pews, but most just stood and watched. The choir was invited to recess but they remained standing in the loft, motionless. The organist kept his eyes on the music and completed the postlude, and everyone remained standing, weeping silently for the gift of the beautiful woman and the gift of the beautiful music.
Laurie was the organist's daughter. He played her to Heaven.
Laura Kent Hynes 1962-2012