Church soloists, choirs and instrumentalists are often asked to perform for grieving families and friends during Christian funeral services. This can be a challenging and somber task, especially if there is an emotional connection to the deceased. It often falls on the performers to select sacred and even secular music appropriate to the occasion, although family members may provide some guidance or suggestions. Funeral services have a natural ebb and flow, with moments of silence, solemnity and levity when appropriate. The music should incorporate all aspects of the service, from the spiritual to the commemorative.
- Consult with family members of the deceased. Many Christians have favorite hymns that have sustained them through difficult times in their lives. A short interview with close family members or other church members might reveal the personal preferences of the deceased. Those responsible for the musical portion of the service may need to get this information rather quickly, since the requested hymns may be difficult to perform or a score may have to be located. Family members should not be expected to provide each and every piece of music for the funeral service, but using several preferred hymns in the presence of the entire family is always appropriate.
- Use the hymnal’s topical guides. Many congregational hymnals provide topic guides for various functions and services, including funerals. Hymns considered appropriate for Christian funeral services are often listed together by title. Some hymnals provide headings at the top of each page to denote the general theme of the hymn, from prevenient grace to strength under adversity. Music for a Christian funeral should be a blend of all aspects of death, which means providing comfort for the bereaved family as much as commemorating the deceased.
- Seek guidance from a pastor or minister of music. Selecting music for a funeral service may be challenging for newcomers to Christian musicianship, so it may help to ask a pastor or music director for advice and guidance. Experienced ministers and musicians often keep a list of significant bible passages and traditional hymns for funeral services, since they may be asked to perform them at any time. The service itself can be customized to better suit the needs of the family, but a basic outline of acceptable hymns is very useful.
- Remember that silence is important. Church musicians may be asked to perform during extended calling hours or a period of time before the actual service. There is always a temptation to fill nearly every moment with music, but it is not strictly necessary. Visitors and family members may appreciate a few silent moments between hymns to reflect on the occasion. Repetition of certain hymns is also appropriate, so musicians shouldn’t feel obligated to select 20 or 30 pieces for the sake of variation. Sometimes just a few soft chords played on a church organ or piano are enough to create a reverent atmosphere.
- Be especially careful with secular or inappropriate selections. Some family members may suggest a secular song that had particular meaning for the deceased, such as a romantic piece or one performed by a favorite artist. Performing these requested pieces may indeed bring closure or levity to the service, but tread lightly. What may seem appropriate for certain friends, co-workers or family members may not be universally acceptable. Different people handle grief in different ways, so it helps to decide if the request can be performed with dignity or not. Once you have a list of hymns selected for the service, it may be helpful to provide a copy for the family. This may reduce the chances of any last-minute additions or inappropriate requests.