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Singing at a funeral

02 May 11 - 06:52 AM (#3146325)
Subject: Singing at a funeral
From: Sooz

I've been asked to sing at a funeral. Does anyone have any tips about controlling emotion whilst still having enough to do justice to the song?

02 May 11 - 07:07 AM (#3146332)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Deckman

This is a darned good question. I've been in that situation many times. I can't give you ant magical method, other than relate what I've had to do several times:

1. absolute focus and attention to the song. Visualize the printed words in your mind's eye and do your duty
2. Jab your fingernail into your palm until bleed when you feel yourself losing it
3. Turn the presentation down if you know you can't do it.

I hope this helps. bob(deckman)nelson

02 May 11 - 07:15 AM (#3146337)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Richard from Liverpool

As a former church organist, I've played during funerals many times - including funerals of loved ones where the playing did get a little bit ropey on one or two occasions. I've also sung the psalm at funerals. Singing the psalm is easier to manage than a lot of other singing, because you're expected to sing words from the book - that's very good for keeping sufficient focus not to lose it.

While I know that in normal situations singing from books is seen as not as good as singing without (and for good reason), I don't think the normal rules apply here. So perhaps having a book in front of you to sing from would help in your situation as well? It means that you can focus your attention on the work at hand, and avoid too much eye contact with the mourners (which may be likely to set you off).

02 May 11 - 07:32 AM (#3146344)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Bonzo3legs

We performed Farewell Farewell at my mother in law's funeral last year - probably the the most tear jerking words out there!!

02 May 11 - 07:42 AM (#3146354)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Wesley S

Deckmans advise is very good. Concentrate on the structure of the song - chord changes ect. And avoid eye contact with the people at the service. That has worked for me. The last thing you want to look at is people crying while you are singing.

02 May 11 - 07:45 AM (#3146358)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Bernard

Yes, have the words in front of you - nothing worse than a mental blank, which often happens when you're in an unfamiliar setting.

Some years ago I was asked to sing at a friend's funeral, and they'd printed the words (John Conolly's 'Fiddlers Green') on the order of service, so I had that in front of me. Afterwards, a friend of mine commented that the words on the sheet were wrong, but I'd sung the correct ones...!

A couple of years back I sang Ted Edwards' 'Coal Hole Cavalry' (at the prior request of my deceased friend) with Ted in the congregation, which was doubly difficult.

02 May 11 - 08:08 AM (#3146372)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Sooz

Thanks for all these suggestions. I knew there would be words of wisdom to help.
I think I'll have the words printed on the order of service as a safety net. I haven't time to grow fingernails but I'll think of something.

02 May 11 - 03:30 PM (#3146626)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Anne Neilson

I was once asked to sing for a friend's funeral. The song we settled on was Ewan MacColl's 'Joy of Living' (vv2 and 3 only) but my guitar accompanist couldn't get time off and I was in terror of not managing it unaccompanied -- so we enlisted a mutual friend with a good home recording outfit, made a tape and gave that to the family instead.
I agree that a personal delivery would have been preferable, but I also felt that a poor or uncertain delivery would be upsetting and distracting for all concerned.
Another time I had to sing at the funeral of the person I admired most in the world, to a very large congregation fortunately well familiar with Mary Brooksbank's 'Jute Mill Song'. I managed the first verse but must have begun to sound a bit wobbly -- and then everyone else just came in, in the most supportive and welcome way. But that was only possible because all the songs chosen for that particular occasion were picked because of their significance for everyone attending.
So a piece of advice I would humbly offer would be to consider something familiar enough to a singing congregation that they can participate if you need to invite them in.
And whatever you do, I'm sure it will mean an immense amount to the family.

02 May 11 - 05:44 PM (#3146711)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Janie

Hi Sooz,

I got some very good advice additional advice from 'Catter's when my grandmother died.
I Have To Sing at Granny's Funeral

02 May 11 - 07:27 PM (#3146765)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: kmbraun

I sing in a funeral choir. I would not consider singing solo or even exposed in a funeral for someone I was close to. But for me, this is just a matter of knowing and respecting my limits.

02 May 11 - 07:36 PM (#3146767)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral

Poster is "ref"

I've done it a couple of times. Somehow, doing "Danny Boy" and "How Great Thou Art" were emotional enough. I also think it helped that both were celebrations with a lot of laughter as well as tears.

02 May 11 - 07:41 PM (#3146773)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Richard from Liverpool

Something that's perhaps not been said here, and perhaps I might add, given that I've had a lot of experience providing music at funerals.

There's nothing wrong with breaking down and crying while playing/ singing. Nothing wrong with it at all. If you choose to sing and emotions build up in you to the point that you have to stop, then there's no reason to feel ashamed. You're not letting anybody down, it's simply part of the funeral, part of your grieving process, and part of the mass of grieving that's natural and important.

If there's a choice between singing for someone you love and crying in the process, or shutting up and not singing and therefore not crying - I'd say, sing your heart out. And if you cry, so be it.

02 May 11 - 08:43 PM (#3146798)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Janie

I don't disagree with you at all Richard. (Let me also say I am not a musician or performer, and I think that distinction can matter when it comes to singing or playing at the funerals or memorial services of family members or people or families to whom we otherwise had/have an emotional attachment.)

I managed to sing at my grandmother's funeral. I did break down some in the course of doing so, but within the context of that occasion, that was OK, and for the most of the song, I sang it well.   

My father recently died (making too many posts in reference to this, I know, but I've been around these parts long enough to be forgiven.) He and we had the luxury and the curse of forewarning.   He asked my remaining sister and I to sing a particular song at his memorial service.   We had to tell him we each knew we could not do it.   That was ok for him, and for us.

No regrets whatsoever regarding his memorial service. It was a perfect celebration of the life of my father.

02 May 11 - 09:19 PM (#3146810)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Phil Cooper

I sang Susan Urban's song Living Works of Art, with Susan, my life partner, at my dad's funeral. We followed that with Guy Davis's song Hooking Bull At the Landing with me singing the lead. I also played guitar while former bandmates, Margaret Nelson and Kate Early sang Children of the Heavenly Father. My dad would have liked them all, were he around to hear. The people at the funeral got release at it from the songs. I focused on what I had to do to get through it. There was a sniffle or two, but we didn't do the songs any disservice. If you're a performer you need to leave catharsis to the listeners, not a luxury you can afford yourself. You can get through it.

02 May 11 - 09:25 PM (#3146813)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Janie

And I know Mick sang at his father's memorial service a few days ago, and has sung to honor those he loved and respected at other funerals and memorial services, as have other Mudcatters.

My hat's off to those who can.

02 May 11 - 10:42 PM (#3146845)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Deckman

I've sung at many weddings and funerals. My success rate in wedding singing is dismal ... most of those events have ended in divorce. My success rate of funeral singing is 100%.

The hardest funeral singing for me was at my grandmother's service when I was just sixteen. I had to sing in Finnish, and I was directed to stand beside her open casket ... that was tough. But .... I'm glad I did so. bob(deckman)nelson

03 May 11 - 03:14 AM (#3146912)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Jim Carroll

The most moving story I heard, and the most moving piece of singing.
Bert Lloyd was working with a team in Rumania (I think) making a programme on traditional song and music when they got word that there had been a drowning in a nearby village. One of the team, who was from the area, said he would have to attend the wake out of respect.
The team went along and arrived to find that a young lad had drowned and a local singer had been called to sing a lament over the corpse - the singer was the young lad''s teenage sister.
The team was given permission to record the wake - the singing, which was later used in a BBC radio programme, 'The Lament', was electric - a knife-edged balance between superb technique and personal, only just controlled, emotion.
Jim Carroll

03 May 11 - 07:13 AM (#3146995)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: GUEST,Desi C

As someone else said, digging your thumbnail into the palm of your hand helps to re focus you. But practise the song several times till you're almost sick of it i.e get all the emotion out in practise, and should you cry,well it is a funeral so who will mind!

03 May 11 - 08:05 AM (#3147012)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: GUEST,Sooz (at work)

It has really helped reading all of these responses - thanks to all of you. I've agreed to do it now....
I'm going to sing unaccompanied so any extra pauses will not cause havoc, the words are going to be on the order of service and I'm going to have a pocket full of tissues ready.

03 May 11 - 08:12 AM (#3147017)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Gavin A

I have a story to share about this.

My father asked me to sing Brigg Fair at the meal following my mother's funeral.

She was a sweet, well-loved woman, we grew up in my dad's county of Lincolnshire and his request for the song was inevitable.

Singing at my mum's funeral was a very, very hard thing to do, but I had a supportive audience of family and friends, and knew that if I bottled out I'd always regret it.

In the end, I managed to pull it off, and only cracked up on the last line. Nobody minded that for a second, least of all my dad.

So if you're asked, I say do it and don't be afraid to put your heart into it.


06 Dec 11 - 07:09 PM (#3269526)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: GUEST,Mical Peri

I sang at my Mothers funeral and it was a song I had written many years earlier, as I do compose often and have many years writing and singing experence,it was not difficult for me,although I loved her more than any other person in my life, because I know that it is not the ending of our relationship but the beginning of one of a different nature that will be continued...When I sing,I do look at all people because singing is the most special way that I can communicate with anyone without saying a word...Music does bring joy and comfort sometimes and we must accept that death is certain and as Mother Teresa said"It opens the door to eternal Life"

06 Dec 11 - 07:24 PM (#3269537)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Franz S.

Last month I was at an almost raucous memorial in Seattle for an old rad. Jim Page led singalongs: Union Maid, the International, etc.   Lots of good emotion and some very good singing.

07 Dec 11 - 05:17 AM (#3269700)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: David C. Carter

I have done this three times,the last time being July this year.

My wife arranged the whole procedings and planned to read a couple of poems.She almost lost it on the second poem.I was due to sing alone,but a good mate of mine stepped up with me and we went for it.My knees were trembling,my eyes were watering,and in a strange way it pushed me on.

First time I did this was when I was asked by the father of his deceaced son(killed by a bomb)I thought about it for 5 seconds and said to myself that if I can't do this for a great friend then who the hell am I!

It got me through it
Good luck to you Sooz

07 Dec 11 - 05:43 AM (#3269713)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Big Al Whittle

I expect Oh we ain't got a barrel of Money, might get'em all joining in round the graveside.

07 Dec 11 - 06:34 AM (#3269731)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Phil Edwards

There are quite a few songs I can't sing without welling up when I'm practising. When I'm singing to other people that goes away - the sense of what the song needs takes over (I don't mean interpretation, just that after every word you sing there's another word to be sung to another note). I sang at my mother's funeral; I found it a lot easier than it would have been to speak or give a reading.

07 Dec 11 - 04:02 PM (#3270021)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Phil Cooper

My older brother passed away suddenly. Susan and I arranged a lot of the music for his memorial. I was glad to have that to focus on. I found I had to force myself to go greet the guests afterwards, rather than start packing up the PA gear and instruments. A lot of the songs were things I wouldn't mind being sung at my memorial when the time comes.

07 Dec 11 - 10:38 PM (#3270220)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: Elmore

Don't want anybody singing anything at my funeral. I know that's irrelevant, but the less ceremony the better. No funeral mass. Maybe a couple of inoffensive prayers. That's it.

08 Dec 11 - 08:19 AM (#3270396)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: McGrath of Harlow

Maybe they can hold the singing for afterwards, Elmore?

I don't see singing as "ceremony". It's more about natural custom. It's to help the people who are there, not for the person who's not there any more.

28 Feb 12 - 09:04 PM (#3314874)
Subject: RE: Singing at a funeral
From: GUEST,Krisp

Franz S,

In researching I found you, we're cousing through D.K, I would love to get in contact with you if at all possible. Please email me.

Skneme (@)