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I have had a bit to say about wedding music in the past, and now, prompted by an article in this week's Tablet, as well as my increasing sense of frustration, I turn my attention, and yours, to funeral music.

 

Just who was it that decided that the majority of coffins shall be brought into vchurch to one of three hymns: I Watch the Sunrise which seems to me to be lacking in everything but the most mawkish of sentiments and hardly constitues a Christian hymn at all; The Old Rugged Cross; and Oh Lord my God, both with their outmoded expiation theology? I certainly can't imagine any organist jumping up and down at the thought of playing any of these three regularly, nor do I believe that many clergy would sanction these above some of the other hymns clearly more suitable, eg The Day Thou Gavest, even Abide with Me. Is it anything to do with the fact that many funeral directors produce the service sheets and have a certain selection of hymns on disc ready to print off? Are people other than the organist/clergy giving musical advice? As an organist, other than when I was personally involved with the deceased's family this has happened 4 times in my 17 years at this church), I have never been consulted as to the choice of music. Given that there is usually a week or so between death and the funeral, this should be sufficient time for me to excercise this geneally neglected pastoral aspect of my work in the church. After all, I select the music for the weekly sung Mass (hymns, setings, motet, voluntary), having been judged sufficiently competent and liturgically sensitive to do so, as well as act as a consultant to the majority of wedding couples.

 

I cannot believe that it was the dying wish of those we bury that these hymns (oh, and don't forget Light up the Fire!) were the ones they chose to be seen off into the blue yonder; nor can I believe that they are in the majority of cases the wish of the family, partly because about 70% of those we hold funerals for are not, as it were, "gospel greedy" nor the families. This is not a judgement on them; there is one whose authority to do so exceeds my own infinitely. It is merely to remark on the facts.

 

Have you any toughts on this? Am I being harsh/censorious/snooty? Or is it too much to hope that it might be recognised that the organist, with her or his experience and training, might know just what works in church on what occasion?

 

Peter

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............... I turn my attention, and yours, to funeral music.

 

Have you any toughts on this? Am I being harsh/censorious/snooty? Or is it too much to hope that it might be recognised that the organist, with her or his experience and training, might know just what works in church on what occasion?

 

Peter

 

Hi Peter,

I must assume that things are done very differently where you are. In the churches for which I have responsibilty as organist, (admittedly at the 'lower' end of the spectrum), whichever of our team vicars is officiating, will visit the deceased's immediate family and during the course of the visit will obtain from them their wishes for music at the funeral service. My input to the process is to rerquest that I am informed at the earlist possible opportunity what that music reqirement is.

I am not aware of any contribution to the process by funeral directors.

 

For the most part, our funerals are simple affairs, with C & A figureing prominently,( though not quite so often these days, it seems). Pre-service I tend to play fairly gentle, major key stuff, avoiding very well-known tunes so as not to create asscociations between that tune and the death of a loved one. I mostly avoid seasonal music for the same reason.

Sometimes music requests are simply unmanageable, and a recent request for the slow movement from 'Emporer' was gently turned down as an organ piece, but we popped on a cd for them and it was appreciated.

 

On the whole, I try to support my incumbent by playing anything she has agreed to which falls within the bounds of decency. I confess to having used the occasional 'busker' editions where time and ability are lacking, and I have been occasionally thrown by some CCM stuff at very short notice, which regards the rules of music as optional.

 

Generally, I advise her to contact me immediately if asked for anything she is not certain I can play.

 

All-in-all, funerals are my preferred service, ........................if the alternative is a wedding.

 

Regards,

Chris

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
......avoiding very well-known tunes so as not to create asscociations between that tune and the death of a loved one. I mostly avoid seasonal music for the same reason.

 

An interesting point, showing pastoral sensitivity. I also tend to avoid the well-known, but for the simple reason that I get fed up with your Jesu Joy, Sheep may safely, Handel's Largo etc etc.

 

For example, at a Requiem Mass last week I played beforehand: Buxtehude Canzona in d BuxWV 168 (why have I never heard anyone else play this, EVER?!); 3 Clavierubung part 3 CP's BWV 672/3/4 and O Mensch bewein - JSB, with the Allabreve in D at the end.

 

I too always make it known to clergy that I am willingly available for consultation. I am often called upon by FD's to play here there and everywhere, and they too are aware of this fact.

 

At my RC Church, we have the opening hymn after the coffin has been brought in during the Prelude - hymns never go well at this point.

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For example, at a Requiem Mass last week I played beforehand: Buxtehude Canzona in d BuxWV 168 (why have I never heard anyone else play this, EVER?!); 3 Clavierubung part 3 CP's BWV 672/3/4 and O Mensch bewein - JSB, with the Allabreve in D at the end.

I think almost all of Buxtehude's canzonas are totally delightful pieces.

 

I like your choices. It occurs to me that the Buxtehude D minor Passacaglia which we have been discussing recently would be another good choice for a pre-funeral piece.

 

Would Bach's Mit Fried und Freud be another? I understand that the hymn is a metrical version of the Nunc dimittis, so I assume it would be suitable.

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If I may be so gauche as to comment on my own post..... further, dare I commit a musical heresy,..... in spite of my preference for major key gentleness at pre-service, one of my regular offences is to play the D min.Dorian fugue on small diapason/flutes coupled to pedal, leaving my lone pedal woofer to rot in its rack. However much this may offend my betters, I find this to be wonderfully contemplative piece thus performed and, having the added advantage of being concludable (?) within a couple or three bars almost anywhere in the piece.

You see, that's what you get when incompetents are let loose on perfectly good musical instruments. We simply don't understand what's right :)

 

Chris

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Guest Patrick Coleman
I have had a bit to say about wedding music in the past, and now, prompted by an article in this week's Tablet, as well as my increasing sense of frustration, I turn my attention, and yours, to funeral music.

 

 

Peter

 

In 15 months here, I have reduced the use of the Rugged Cross to about every tenth funeral. I visit families as soon as they are ready after the death, and often have some idea of how the funeral should be when I've had the privilege of accompanying them through the illness and death itself. If a family is determined to have a particular hymn, then I will allow them, although I actively discourage gloomy or miserable hymns, and also anything that will end up with a solo rendering from me given that no one else knows the hymn or tune. Both our organists are happy to play what they are asked. On the rare occasions when a new undertaker rings me with details and says - "Oh, by the way, the family want these hymns" I make sure they don't take requests from the family again before I've had the chance to construct the funeral service together with the family. We do allow CDs (against my better judgement, but I think it would be cruel to have a blanket ban) although, as I've written before on this forum, I will not allow them at a wedding. In defence of those who make bad choices: i) most of them only go to church when there's a funeral, and bad choices of music have been the norm in many local churches for years; ii) most of the local clergy, especially the nonconformist ones, don't do their pastoral visiting until the night before the funeral, which is obviously far too late for hymn/order of service choices.

 

It is interesting to note that the number of funerals coming to church has almost tripled over the past year, possibly because there is now so much less room for dreary music (and theology!).

 

To address Peter's point on 'outmoded expiation theology': it may be outmoded in academia, but it is still very current in many church settings, including those more evangelical churches which are very successful. As long as it isn't out-and-out penal substitution, I don't object the model used in the hymns, although the address given at the funeral will reflect more open models.

 

I don't agree with Peter that organists should necessarily have direct input to the family - often it's hard enough for them having to deal with one person representing the Church. Better to make sure that the clergy/funeral directors have a sound idea of the role music plays in the funeral. If you don't trust them, or they are not yet properly educated, why not produce a simple handout for families outlining the different musical choices and helping inform them (listing suitable hymns/voluntaries &c)? Most undertakers would be only too glad to give such things to families when they make their initial planning visit.

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I have had a bit to say about wedding music in the past, and now, prompted by an article in this week's Tablet, as well as my increasing sense of frustration, I turn my attention, and yours, to funeral music.

 

Just who was it that decided that the majority of coffins shall be brought into vchurch to one of three hymns: I Watch the Sunrise which seems to me to be lacking in everything but the most mawkish of sentiments and hardly constitues a Christian hymn at all; The Old Rugged Cross; and Oh Lord my God, both with their outmoded expiation theology? I certainly can't imagine any organist jumping up and down at the thought of playing any of these three regularly, nor do I believe that many clergy would sanction these above some of the other hymns clearly more suitable, eg The Day Thou Gavest, even Abide with Me. Is it anything to do with the fact that many funeral directors produce the service sheets and have a certain selection of hymns on disc ready to print off? Are people other than the organist/clergy giving musical advice? As an organist, other than when I was personally involved with the deceased's family this has happened 4 times in my 17 years at this church), I have never been consulted as to the choice of music. Given that there is usually a week or so between death and the funeral, this should be sufficient time for me to excercise this geneally neglected pastoral aspect of my work in the church. After all, I select the music for the weekly sung Mass (hymns, setings, motet, voluntary), having been judged sufficiently competent and liturgically sensitive to do so, as well as act as a consultant to the majority of wedding couples.

 

I cannot believe that it was the dying wish of those we bury that these hymns (oh, and don't forget Light up the Fire!) were the ones they chose to be seen off into the blue yonder; nor can I believe that they are in the majority of cases the wish of the family, partly because about 70% of those we hold funerals for are not, as it were, "gospel greedy" nor the families. This is not a judgement on them; there is one whose authority to do so exceeds my own infinitely. It is merely to remark on the facts.

 

Have you any toughts on this? Am I being harsh/censorious/snooty? Or is it too much to hope that it might be recognised that the organist, with her or his experience and training, might know just what works in church on what occasion?

 

Peter

 

 

Can I comment as a clergyman yet a business man and person with great concern for music?

 

The clergy even as the leader of the service actually get little real chance to advise. Usually, if even that word can be used, the family are in a state of shock with fear of the unknown. Often family tensions arise; different relatives have different ideas; you tread through a minefield.

 

Most often the undertaker, the initial family contact generally, has already made suggestions.These usually are at least hymns. The requests from the family tend to centre round what X liked/knew. Yes the 'Old Rugged Cross' is still asked for and 'the day thou gavest' and 'Abide with me'; worn may be, yet somewhat suitable. The most common are 'All things bright and beautiful', 'One more step along the road' all the family recalls from school thirty years back. Then 'I did it my way' features (- from tape). Football makes several contributions. National events bring to peoples minds 'Jerusalem' and 'I vow to thee my country'; these require tactful handling.

 

One memorable occasion the family asked for a hymn 'ever so well known about living in God's halls'... my wonderment began to clear when they assured me it was 'written by a cathedral organist'. Confirmation of worst fears came when I sang the first line of the song by Balfe 'I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls with vassels and serfs by my side'. Then came the day when the family requested the coffin be taken out to the march 'Blaze away'... This has the (clean version) lines 'We'll make a bonfire of our problems and we'll watch them blaze away'....

 

The reality is even as the leader of the service it can be hard within the grief to get any carefully liturgically theologically thought out content to the music. If indeed in the county setting one can find an organist who can play more than the basics...

 

They key is finding what will help the family cope with grief and is at least not blasphemous. There is a right of veto but believe me it has to be used tactfully, 'That **** Vicar wouldn't even...' We have to meet people where they are however confused and liturgically plus musically ill informed then hopefully point them toward Christ.

 

I would dearly like to have a real musician to help. How many are available? How many are available to meet people at short notice? How many capable and are prepared to sit down for an hour and hear the story? How many then have the time to sit down and work through planning the service with the person leading the service so overall required to set the tone and hndle the dynamics?

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In 15 months here, I have reduced the use of the Rugged Cross to about every tenth funeral. I visit families as soon as they are ready after the death, and often have some idea of how the funeral should be when I've had the privilege of accompanying them through the illness and death itself. If a family is determined to have a particular hymn, then I will allow them, although I actively discourage gloomy or miserable hymns, and also anything that will end up with a solo rendering from me given that no one else knows the hymn or tune. Both our organists are happy to play what they are asked. On the rare occasions when a new undertaker rings me with details and says - "Oh, by the way, the family want these hymns" I make sure they don't take requests from the family again before I've had the chance to construct the funeral service together with the family. We do allow CDs (against my better judgement, but I think it would be cruel to have a blanket ban) although, as I've written before on this forum, I will not allow them at a wedding. In defence of those who make bad choices: i) most of them only go to church when there's a funeral, and bad choices of music have been the norm in many local churches for years; ii) most of the local clergy, especially the nonconformist ones, don't do their pastoral visiting until the night before the funeral, which is obviously far too late for hymn/order of service choices.

 

It is interesting to note that the number of funerals coming to church has almost tripled over the past year, possibly because there is now so much less room for dreary music (and theology!).

 

To address Peter's point on 'outmoded expiation theology': it may be outmoded in academia, but it is still very current in many church settings, including those more evangelical churches which are very successful. As long as it isn't out-and-out penal substitution, I don't object the model used in the hymns, although the address given at the funeral will reflect more open models.

 

I don't agree with Peter that organists should necessarily have direct input to the family - often it's hard enough for them having to deal with one person representing the Church. Better to make sure that the clergy/funeral directors have a sound idea of the role music plays in the funeral. If you don't trust them, or they are not yet properly educated, why not produce a simple handout for families outlining the different musical choices and helping inform them (listing suitable hymns/voluntaries &c)? Most undertakers would be only too glad to give such things to families when they make their initial planning visit.

 

That all sounds very sensible to me.

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I have been incredibly blessed here in Prestatyn since I have a former Cathedral Organist living just a hop, step and a jump away. He is always pleased to pop in to play for a funeral for me, and we are always assured of glorious music!!!

 

Many families talk nowadays of the funeral being "a celebration of the life of..." so shouldn't it follow that we should have majestic music as the congregation leaves the church? How many times I have heard "I know that my redeemer lives" played softly and reverently - even at a "celebration" service - delightful, but not really celebration. But when Roger plays we have Bach "Great" Preludes or Fantasias and Fugues; on one thrilling occasion the first Movement of Rheinberger 8; on another Karg Elert's Now Thank we all our God.... to name but a few.

 

No wonder then that I just love a funeral when he's around! :)

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But when Roger plays we have Bach "Great" Preludes or Fantasias and Fugues; on one thrilling occasion the first Movement of Rheinberger 8; on another Karg Elert's Now Thank we all our God.... to name but a few.

 

No wonder then that I just love a funeral when he's around! :)

 

Perhaps one day he will do the Reubke ... :mellow:

 

(but seriously you are really lucky having someone available who can come in and play absolutely anything with no advance notice and do it really well)

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67

At the end nowadays, unless there is a specific request, I tend to go for something "big" , eg from Bach the Piece d'Orgue, Allabreve, "Wir glauben al", Fantasia & Fugue in g, etc

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At the end nowadays, unless there is a specific request, I tend to go for something "big" , eg from Bach the Piece d'Orgue, Allabreve, "Wir glauben al", Fantasia & Fugue in g, etc

 

I find that the Piece d'Orgue has been well received whenever I've played it (and I mean that as a testament to the music, rather than my playing thereof!) It helps, I think, that there is a contrast of textures between the inner and outer sections.

 

Also, "the" Widor has been requested twice now at funeral/memorial services.

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Guest Psalm 78 v.67
Just a quickie, my dad has written in his will he wants "the" Widor Toccata when they bring him in to church, and everyone HAS to stay for a bach T & F.

Peter

 

Yes, I've ben asked for the Widor at church and crem funerals.

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It happens that I am due to play for a funeral at 11.00 today - and I think I'll take advice and go for a "big" piece at the end. I will try the JSB G major Fantasia, but the middle section only (ending on the chord of G of course!); the first section would probably sound a little too flippant for a funeral. As I know the family (well, the deceased's son and his family really) I'll see what the feedback is.

 

Peter

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I have to play for a memorial service of one of Alwyn Surplice's daughters this coming weekend. The family are quite keen that some of his music is played. There won't be a choir - do any of you know if he wrote any organ music?

 

(Alwyn Surplice was organist of Winchester Cathedral for many years and is buried in the graveyard of our church at Twyford)

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I have to play for a memorial service of one of Alwyn Surplice's daughters this coming weekend. The family are quite keen that some of his music is played. There won't be a choir - do any of you know if he wrote any organ music?

 

(Alwyn Surplice was organist of Winchester Cathedral for many years and is buried in the graveyard of our church at Twyford)

 

Dear Colin,

I have just looked him up in John Henderson's splendid tome; I reckon that if he's not there (and he isn't), he cannot have published any organ music. However, when I used to hang around Winchester Cathedral in Alwyn's time, the cathedral choir regularly sang some of his brief introits, so you could try asking Anrdew Lumsden if there's a copy of these you might borrow. He's a gent, so don't be afraid. These might be a bit short, but they would at least be the genuine article and could be played perfectly well on the organ in the absence of a choir.

 

Alternatively, I would put the ball back in the family's court and ask, do they have any of his music that hasn't been published?

You can honestly say that there doesn't appear to be any otherwise.

 

 

P.

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Dear Colin,

I have just looked him up in John Henderson's splendid tome; I reckon that if he's not there (and he isn't), he cannot have published any organ music. However, when I used to hang around Winchester Cathedral in Alwyn's time, the cathedral choir regularly sang some of his brief introits, so you could try asking Anrdew Lumsden if there's a copy of these you might borrow. He's a gent, so don't be afraid. These might be a bit short, but they would at least be the genuine article and could be played perfectly well on the organ in the absence of a choir.

 

Alternatively, I would put the ball back in the family's court and ask, do they have any of his music that hasn't been published?

You can honestly say that there doesn't appear to be any otherwise.

P.

 

Does the RCO Library still exist? A few years back I played for the memorial service for the late Sir Jack (former RCO President) Westrup's brother and they wanted something of his played. Robin Langley was extremely obliging and had some copies with me in 48 hours. (That doesn't answer the question as to whetyer AS wrote anything though!)

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Does the RCO Library still exist? A few years back I played for the memorial service for the late Sir Jack (former RCO President) Westrup's brother and they wanted something of his played. Robin Langley was extremely obliging and had some copies with me in 48 hours. (That doesn't answer the question as to whetyer AS wrote anything though!)

 

Hi

 

The RCO library is now in Birmingham at UCE (alongside the NPOR office) - in the absence of direct contact details, try e-mailing NPOR.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Thanks for the replies about organ music by Alwyn Surplice. I've already asked Andy Lumsden for suggestions - I guessed he was a pretty good bet. I believe they still sing some of his music, along with music by McWilliam and the infamous Sweeny responses. As a last resort, Alwyn Surplice wrote the hymn tune Wessex, which is in NEH.

 

The RCO library is alive and well - I was even able to search it online for music by Alwyn Surplice! But still no luck.

 

I'm just glad nobody's unearthed a 70 minute organ symphony by Alwyn Surplice yet.

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Thanks for the replies about organ music by Alwyn Surplice. I've already asked Andy Lumsden for suggestions - I guessed he was a pretty good bet. I believe they still sing some of his music, along with music by McWilliam and the infamous Sweeny responses. As a last resort, Alwyn Surplice wrote the hymn tune Wessex, which is in NEH.

 

The RCO library is alive and well - I was even able to search it online for music by Alwyn Surplice! But still no luck.

 

I'm just glad nobody's unearthed a 70 minute organ symphony by Alwyn Surplice yet.

 

What is infamous about the Sweeny responses.? :huh:

 

(I'm not being provocative - I don't know them!)

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