Arranging a funeral is a very difficult time in anyone's life. Choosing the music can add to the strain. The most important thing is to choose music that you comfortable with, and that your loved one would have wanted. But these suggestions may help if you need some guidance.
At least one hymn will usually be sung if the funeral service in a church, and may be sung at a crematorium. Certain hymns are particularly well suited for a funeral service. Usually the hymns recommended in a hymn book for evening are particularly appropriate, as are those based on the 23rd psalm. You may also want to consider a favourite hymn of the person who has died - bear in mind it might not be known to the organist, so ask as soon as you can.
There's a helpful guide to choosing the right funeral hymns here.
- Abide with Me - an evening hymn often used at funerals
- Amazing Grace - with its message of redemption, as popular for funerals as it is for weddings. This one isn't in either of the main hymn books, but can be found in Songs of Fellowship, and most choirs can dig out a copy.
- Be still my soul - Though not in many hymn books, this moving hymn using the theme from Finlandia is excellent for funerals.
- Be thou my vision - to the well known, gentle Irish folk tune Slane, this is a general hymn but one that is fine for a funeral.
- Going Home - this is a hymn set to music arranged from Dvorak's 9th Symphony (for UK readers, the music of the old Hovis advert with the cobbled street). The words are very emotional, so won't suit everyone. Not in the hymn books, but you can get the words, sheet music and hear it sung for free at LNWHymns. We now have a "backing track" accompaniment for this hymn as an MP3 download or on CD - see the Funeral Hymns page on the Hymn CDs site.
- In Heavenly Love Abiding - once a popular hymn at funerals, but not seen so often now. It isn't in either of the main hymn books, but is in Mission Praise.
- I vow to Thee my Country - best suited to military funerals, but the moving tune has made it increasingly popular generally.
- Jerusalem (And did those Feet in Ancient Time) - not specifically a funeral hymn (technically not a hymn at all), but it is moving and much loved.
- O God, Our Help in Ages Past - a good, traditional hymn that is very appropriate for funerals. The fifth verse (beginning "Time like an ever-rolling stream") is often omitted, and this is particularly sensible with a funeral as the words of that verse can seem inappropriate.
- O strength and stay - an evening hymn appropriate for funerals.
- Saviour Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise - an evening hymn appropriate for funerals
- The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended - probably the best of the evening hymns and although more cheerful than some, still appropriate for a funeral
- The King of Love My Shepherd is - this hymn version of the 23rd psalm is frequently used at funerals. It has two tunes - more common is Dominus Regit Me , but spare a thought for the rather lovely St Columba.
- The Lord's My Shepherd - like "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" a setting of the 23rd psalm that is even more frequently used at funerals.
- Thine be the Glory - a very good choice for a funeral, if you want a positive note of affirmation that death is not the end. Its lively Handel tune is uplifting, and the words speak of "endless is the victory thou o'er death has won".
If there is no organist available, you might find our hymn accompaniment CDs and downloads useful - they enable you to sing hymns without anyone to play. They can be downloaded individually from iTunes or Amazon, or bought as a CD. We have a selection specifically designed for funerals, or for military services you may find it useful to take a look at our Remembrance CD.
We quite often get asked where you can get sheet music for a particular hymn. Few hymns are available as separate sheet music. Most of the hymns and tunes we mention above are in one or both of the main Anglican hymn books: Ancient & Modern New Standard and The New English Hymnal. See our hymn book page for information on buying these from Amazon, but check with your organist first - many will already have access to copies.
As funerals are often held during the week in can be difficult for a church choir, where many members might be at work or at school, to attend. In some churches, where the choir is largely retired, this is is possible - if you would like help with the singing, it does no harm to ask. If the members of the choir are liable to attend the funeral anyway - for example, if the funeral is for a member of the choir, or someone well known in the church they will often volunteer to attend.
Although church choirs normally charge for attending special services, funerals can provide difficulties for both the choir and those making the arrangements as to whether or not this is acceptable. If the members of the choir are likely to be attending anyway it is very unlikely that they will want to charge, and if the family would like to make a donation it will probably go to charity. If, however, a choir is requested for which the choir would not otherwise attend it is only fair to expect to pay a similar charge to that made for weddings.
Church choirs are often not available on weekdays. If you would like live music when a choir isn’t available, or prefer a different sound, try:
- Singers for Funerals, specializing in providing a soloist for the service.
- No Sad Songs. This company provides singers and instruments for funerals, performing a wide range of music, be it classical or jazz. They travel across the country when required.
Organ music is traditional in churches and can add to the occasion at the beginning and end of the service as well as accompanying any hymns. There is much less tradition here than with the wedding service - talk through any suggestions with your organist.
You can of course use recorded music (you may have to provide the equipment to play it - check), and this may be the best way to get a favourite piece into the occasion, particularly as people are arriving. Note that to use recorded music you may have to pay appropriate copyright fees - check with the vicar or whoever is taking the funeral.