Playing for funerals is not the easiest task for a church pianist; especially if the deceased person was a close friend. Over the past year, I’ve had to play at several funerals of people I knew very well.
God has given me the grace to make it through these funeral services. I like to play songs that comfort the family as well as myself. I avoid too slow of a tempo on purpose…making it less of a sad tone and more bearable for the family. Hymns with a medium tempo/mood such as Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, He Hideth My Soul and Like a River Glorious are a few of what I call comforting tunes to play at such a time. Check out my piano funeral collection consisting of about 18 minutes playing time.
Several readers have emailed me lately asking for funeral tips.
Automatically I think of the prelude (music played before the funeral). The length of the prelude can vary according to many factors. For example, the last funeral I played for took place at a funeral home. The family of the deceased person had many relatives that attended the viewing across the hall from the chapel. The funeral home provided music over their intercom system during the viewing time. We worked it out for me to start playing the prelude once the people started entering the chapel which was about twenty minutes prior to the service.
Playing for a funeral at a church can vary depending on if the viewing is held at the church or not. At our church, the sound man provides soft taped music in the background during the viewing and sometimes a little longer prior to the service; to avoid having me play for an extended period of time. The background music is just a collection of suitable recorded instrumental music from our church services. I usually begin playing about 15 to 20 minutes before the service.
Unless you all do things differently, the immediate family members start filing into the area of the funeral service right before time to start the service. This is one of the most emotional times of the funeral. I make sure I continue providing music during this difficult time to avoid an awkward time of silence. I finish playing when I see the last member of the family being seated or when the pastor looks at me and steps up to the pulpit to let me know he’s ready…whichever comes first.
Once again, at the end of the service, I begin playing when the family begins to exit and continue until the majority of the crowd disperses.
Some pianists have asked me where to expect the soloist(s) to sing. Depending on the order of service, the special music can be placed just about anywhere. Here are the different places I’ve seen vocal specials during a service: at the beginning after family members are seated, after an initial welcome and remarks from pastor, after pastor’s message, after a prayer, for the conclusion of the service (especially if it was a favorite song of the deceased person).
Playing for a funeral service is the church pianist’s opportunity to minister to both family and friends during a difficult time through God’s gift of music.