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Funeral Voluntaries

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Back again:

 

I do hope that at my own obsequies there will be plenty of opportunity for humour and the occasional belly laugh. Somehow, I felt that the genie would be out of the bottle ere long and I did enjoy Vox’s splendid list.

 

It reminds me of the customer in the music shop who asked the person behind the counter for a copy of the Kodaly Buttocks Pressing Song. No one in the shop had encountered this singular masterpiece and much furrowing of brows took place. The customer was invited to call back a few days later. Still no one had found the piece he had asked for until another customer, overhearing the discussion wondered whether the piece for which they were searching was one by a Russian composer, Leonid Malashkin, whose piece translated into English as “(O) could I but express in song.”

 

As Neddy Seagoon used to say, “I’m going.”

 

David Harrison

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The single, most frequently asked composer for me has been Bach, particularly the P & Fs.

 

One piece that I have found useful to have with me for funerals is Vierne's 'Préambule' (Op. 31 No. 1) from the 24 Pièces en style libre.

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Lately I have found myself playing for a lot of funerals. Strangely, considering I'm not so very far away from my own, this is completely new territory for me as I never had to do it in any of my previous incarnations. I'm just wondering what sort of things you all play for voluntaries when you have a free choice, most particularly at the end. How funereal a tone is appropriate these days? I assume (and would hope) that the traditional Chopin and Handel warhorses are right out.

 

I ask because the other day I played the coffin out to Howells's Sarabande in modo elegiaco and it nearly had me in floods of tears, so God knows what it did to the bereaved!

Personally, I just play 'tuneful' music, and nothing too funereal - something which the congregation can 'latch on' to. I found at my last place that this sort of thing seemed to go down rather well.

 

At a 'big' funeral, I tend to send the coffin out to BWV 572 (starting at the second section) for no better reason than hearing this being done many years ago, and thinking it rather effective.

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I have two rules when it comes to funeral voluntaries - the piece should be in a Major key, and/or a well known classic. It's always safe to assume that the people attending funerals will be unchurched and out of their comfort zone, so it makes sense to give them something they know well or can easily appreciate.

 

Pieces like this always work:

 

Ave Verum - Mozart

Panis Angelicus - Franck

O rest in the Lord - Mendelssohn

Largo - Handel

O Welt, ich muß dich lassen (1 and 2) - Brahms

Sheep may safely graze - Bach

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I have to do the funeral of a close friend next week. I'm thinking of using Toccata in 7 by John Rutter at the end of the service. I have never seen any reference to the work in these pages so does anyone have any views?

JC

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My mother left the same church twice to the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Sympathy - once for her wedding, the second time for her funeral.

 

Contrabombarde

 

this is what my dad has requested too,

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I have to do the funeral of a close friend next week. I'm thinking of using Toccata in 7 by John Rutter at the end of the service. I have never seen any reference to the work in these pages so does anyone have any views?

JC

 

Much as you can criticise pieces like this, it is a very useful one. Short, snappy and cheerful, so makes a decent ending to a service without having to prepare a big postlude. I received a couple of positive comments when I played it on a Sunday morning a few weeks back, and then used it again when we had the Society of Catholic Priests in later that week (they didn't want something long - just something to 'play them out').

 

If you're talking its relevance to the funeral, I think thats something you'd need to judge, depending on the overall mood of the proceedings.

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Much as you can criticise pieces like this, it is a very useful one. Short, snappy and cheerful, so makes a decent ending to a service without having to prepare a big postlude. [...]

 

If you're talking its relevance to the funeral, I think thats something you'd need to judge, depending on the overall mood of the proceedings.

I have to admit that don't know the piece that well (I've sight-read it a couple of times for people and I've heard it perhaps two or three times), but from recollection I'd agree very much with all of this. Holst used driving quintuple and septuple dance rhythms to very exciting effect (e.g. in the Hymn of Jesus) and Rutter's Toccata seems similar in concept - and none the worse for it. To be sure it hasn't got Holst's inner strength, but it's definitely a cut above the Prizeman (which was fit enough for the purpose for which it was written).

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Two suitable new discoveries for me in the last few days - Prelude Funebre by Guy Ropartz - (his third Meditation would also be eminently appropriate for a funeral) - and then the 2nd movt of Bach's E minor Trio Sonata. I am appalled that I have only just discovered it - I found a Youtube (or similar) example of this being played by someone called Bernadette at St John the Divine, NY. It's a super movement. I would also add Prelude, Fugue and Variation by Cesar Franck - this could make a good concluding piece.

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It's actually a popular tune of the time. A lecturer in German once told me that it is actually a farewell to batchelorhood (the "young life" in the title referring to this state), but I can't comment on this. Maybe our Continental friends can elucidate.

 

Sets of variations on popular tunes were particularly favoured by the English virginal composers and it could have been emigrants like John Bull and Peter Philips who introduced the form to the Netherlands (though other nations were at it as well). As with those of the English virginalists, Sweelinck's variations on popular songs were most probably written with a plucked keyboard instument in mind, though players of the time would no doubt have played them on whatever instruments they wished, including organs.

 

I think that you are quite right generally that variations would have also been played on the organ, certainly on the chamber organ, but I think that in Amsterdam Sweelinck's lowest note was a C, so pieces with lower notes were possibly intended primarily for stringed keyboard instruments, although we do know from contemporary sources that players became adept at rewriting pieces to fit within the compass available on whatever they were playing at the time - far more pragmatic!

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Lately I have found myself playing for a lot of funerals. Strangely, considering I'm not so very far away from my own, this is completely new territory for me as I never had to do it in any of my previous incarnations. I'm just wondering what sort of things you all play for voluntaries when you have a free choice, most particularly at the end. How funereal a tone is appropriate these days? I assume (and would hope) that the traditional Chopin and Handel warhorses are right out.

 

I ask because the other day I played the coffin out to Howells's Sarabande in modo elegiaco and it nearly had me in floods of tears, so God knows what it did to the bereaved!

I use Bach's "Wachet auf". It is not funereal, the tune was in a TV commercial some time ago, and the words hint at the resurrection.

I am now 79 and have already paid for my funeral under the "pay now, die later" scheme (although they don't call it that, of course). I want a CD of the "in Paradisum" from the Faure Rquiem.

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I have to do the funeral of a close friend next week. I'm thinking of using Toccata in 7 by John Rutter at the end of the service. I have never seen any reference to the work in these pages so does anyone have any views?

JC

It's certainly cheerful.

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I have to do the funeral of a close friend next week. I'm thinking of using Toccata in 7 by John Rutter at the end of the service. I have never seen any reference to the work in these pages so does anyone have any views?

JC

As long as the mourners don't try to keep in step.

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At my church, I am pleasantly surprised by the number of families who ask for “something cheerful”; I have played the March from the Occasional Oratorio sometimes.

 

No list from me that

would be of any interest to forum members except for one piece, that is, I am sure, no longer in print - “Air in C” by Arthur Somervell. It was published in an arrangement which put it up a tone into C major and is effectively a take off of the so-called Air on the G string of Bach. It was originally written for violin and piano in B flat and I have made my own arrangement for organ in the original key, which I think sounds better and follows more closely Somervell’s original text. I would be glad to make a pdf of it for anyone interested. I have used it for weddings, funerals and just as a simple pre service voluntary. It begins quietly and is marked to end “ff” but it is just as effective to end quietly. Adrian Lucas included it, in the C Major version, on his Priory disc at Hull City Hall some years back.

 

Somervell’s music is, I feel, sadly neglected; his setting of the 23rd psalm using H.W. Baker’s paraphrase is a little masterpiece; his G major service deserves to be better known and his “Thalassa” Symphony in D minor also very well worth hearing - the marvellous second movement being, in the period between the Wars, as popular as Nimrod for “elegiac” occasions. I have an arrangement of this for piano by the composer and would be glad to send it together with the Air, if requested.

 

Perhaps I shouldn't be flippant in the current context; we have all heard crem stories of "Smoke gets in your eyes" and "Keep the home fires burning" but a friend of mine told me once that, many years ago, she was convinced that she heard "Roll out the barrel" being played in Norwich Cathedral at the end of a funeral service. No, it wasn't him.

 

If the two Somervell pieces are of interest, send me a PM and I will see what I can do.

 

David Harrison

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The usual request here is to "play something nice", which is a fairly broad description! :unsure:

 

I recently heard the Elegy by George Thalben Ball played, and wondered whether that might be appropriate. It is certainly very memorable. However, seeing it is listed in the new AB syllabus at G7 I also wondered whether it might be a bit tricky?

 

I am told that the Elegy is an improvision on a hymn tune, and that GTB first played it when the BBC church service he was playing for ended earlier than expected. Does anyone know what the hymn tune is?

 

PD

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An organist friend of mine recently asked me if I had a copy of "All the nice girls love a sailor" which had been requested for the funeral of a prominent lady politician. I remembered this tune (or thought I had) and promptly reached for the manuscript paper. Fortunately, he managed to track down a copy which was somewhat at odds with my feeble effort. I don`t think that I`ll attempt this again!

On a more serious note, many years ago I used to play a piece by John Ireland which I found extremely suitable at military style funerals and Remembrance Day. I lost my copy and have been unable to replace it and cannot rely on my memory. I think that it was called "Elegy" and in the same vein as GTB`s "Elegy" and Elgar`s "Nimrod", and possibly an arrangement from a string quartet. Although I don`t know the "Elegaic Romance", I fairly certain that it is not what I`m lookong for.

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The usual request here is to "play something nice", which is a fairly broad description! :unsure:

 

I recently heard the Elegy by George Thalben Ball played, and wondered whether that might be appropriate. It is certainly very memorable. However, seeing it is listed in the new AB syllabus at G7 I also wondered whether it might be a bit tricky?

 

I am told that the Elegy is an improvision on a hymn tune, and that GTB first played it when the BBC church service he was playing for ended earlier than expected. Does anyone know what the hymn tune is?

 

PD

Grade 7 seems a bit extreme for GTB's Elegy. It really isn't difficult. (I am judging from having sight-read it a few times; I really must get a copy!) I don't know what others think, but I would be inclined to put it at grade 5 (perhaps at the trickier end?).

 

It is not based on a hymn tune. As I remember the story, Sir Henry Walford Davies was in charge of the BBC morning services and GTB was his organist. One day HWD asked GTB to "play something tuneful" at the end of the service. So GTB improvised the Elegy and subsequently wrote it down.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Grade 7 seems a bit extreme for GTB's Elegy.

 

I can make a reasonable fist of playing it, which means either I'm better than I think I am, or it's not as hard as Grade 7! :unsure:

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It is not based on a hymn tune. As I remember the story, Sir Henry Walford Davies was in charge of the BBC morning services and GTB was his organist. One day HWD asked GTB to "play something tuneful" at the end of the service. So GTB improvised the Elegy and subsequently wrote it down.

 

That is interesting as I have always maintained that the GTB Elegy reflects the mood of Walford Davies' Solemn Melody - so I wonder if GTB was influenced by it?

 

Peter

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That is interesting as I have always maintained that the GTB Elegy reflects the mood of Walford Davies' Solemn Melody - so I wonder if GTB was influenced by it?

 

Peter

 

This was what I thought too - it is structured in a fairly similar way. The Elegy may not class as brilliant music but it is always a good one to wheel out for funerals, remembrance etc.

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On a more serious note, many years ago I used to play a piece by John Ireland which I found extremely suitable at military style funerals and Remembrance Day. I lost my copy and have been unable to replace it and cannot rely on my memory. I think that it was called "Elegy" and in the same vein as GTB`s "Elegy" and Elgar`s "Nimrod", and possibly an arrangement from a string quartet. Although I don`t know the "Elegaic Romance", I fairly certain that it is not what I`m lookong for.

 

Could it be Alla marcia? It is a march-like piece, pretty loud, about 3 or 4 minutes long. I have it in 'The Organ Music of John Ireland' published by Novello (http://www.musicroom.com/se/ID_No/07456/details.html). I wasn't aware that he had written anything for organ that wasn't in this volume, and I don't recall any of the other pieces fitting the bill. The 'Elegiac Romance' I have never played but it doesn't look militaristic (if thats a word) - mushy with lots of key changes I think. The Holy Boy is a useful filler around Christmas time, and the Meditation on John Keble's Rogationtide Hymn is quite nice too. The volume isn't a bad investment I'd say - I've got a fair amount of use from it and there are a few biographical details and some registration suggestions at the front.

 

Alla marcia is a good piece though, not particularly taxing - one of my standards that I roll out once or twice a year. Thinking about it, it could work if you wanted a loud ending for a funeral (maybe a touch too pompous?). It would go down well on Remembrance Day too I suspect, although at our big civic service I like to do something bigger as the church really is packed - have done Walton Battle of Britain before, War March of the Priests last year, and this year will be doing the Widor Marche Pontificale which is suitably pompous for the occasion.

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On a more serious note, many years ago I used to play a piece by John Ireland which I found extremely suitable at military style funerals and Remembrance Day. I lost my copy and have been unable to replace it and cannot rely on my memory. I think that it was called "Elegy" and in the same vein as GTB`s "Elegy" and Elgar`s "Nimrod", and possibly an arrangement from a string quartet. Although I don`t know the "Elegaic Romance", I fairly certain that it is not what I`m lookong for.

Was it Elegy from A Downland Suite, as arranged by Alec Rowley. A very beautiful piece that suits the organ perfectly. Mind you, the arranger has abridged the piece somewhat, without comment. In fact, now I look at it, he doesn't even say where it comes from! I only discovered it a couple of years ago.

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Grade 7 seems a bit extreme for GTB's Elegy. It really isn't difficult. (I am judging from having sight-read it a few times; I really must get a copy!) I don't know what others think, but I would be inclined to put it at grade 5 (perhaps at the trickier end?).

 

Thank you all for this information. I will have to re-read what I thought I knew about this! :unsure:

 

I have just re-checked the new (2011) ABRSM syllabus, and unless I have it wrong, the GTB Elegy is shown as Grade 7. And they tell us that exams are not getting easier! Mind you, I always thought Vierne's Berceuse was quite easy for Grade 5.

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