Spread the Vibes: Playing Music in Funerals



I have had a number of ideas that have been bouncing around in my head over the past weeks since @edje made a #spreadthevibes post that invited me to write something about music. Of course, music is my day job (and night job and all other hours jobs...), and so when I sit down to write about something, often I will want to write about something else!

However, this evening... I will write something about music. And it is about the mixed feelings that I have when I play music for someone's funeral....

... but first some background. So, as musicians, we are often called upon to perform music to enhance a particular atmosphere in addition to our usual concert performances. This can range from barely audible or listened to background music for parties and visiting Heads of State through to ceremonies like weddings and funerals. When I was younger (ha... I never really thought I would ever write that... I still feel young, everyone else just younger around me!). Anyway... WHEN I WAS YOUNGER... I did lots of these things as an easy way to earn money. Weddings and parties where always a big earner... and Corporate and Government functions were always a great way to get some REALLY nice food!

However, I was always a bit less keen about taking on funeral jobs. Mostly, it was due to the often short notice nature of these events... they tend to be rarely planned months or years in advance, so I would often find that I wouldn't be free to do them anyway.

... but more to the point, I would always find the atmosphere of funerals to be a bit too raw and unnerving. There is a certain beauty in the sheer grief and power of these events... and I do love to experience that (it is a time of beautiful human emotion, the Baroque era really cherished these "negative" emotions as the natural counterweight to the "positive" ones). However, I would always find that they were not times for comfortable performing of music. The stress of "getting things just perfect" for the mourners, and the muted nature of the performing was at odds with my preferred loose, hacky and somewhat chaotic stage and performance manner. I love to play and mess around and laugh when I'm playing... something that doesn't really fit too comfortably in a regular funeral service... especially if you are the paid help.

Today I played for a funeral. No-one I knew... I have played for people that I have known in the past... not a great idea. But if I'm asked, I will oblige.... but I do find it difficult to concentrate on the "job" when I'm unsteady emotionally.

Anyway, the person whose ceremony it was... was a fan of Classical and Baroque music. So, his widow had arranged a few of us to play some arias and instrumental works... likely, some of the favourites of the deceased. They were all beautiful pieces... and things that also bring back touching memories for me of my father (one piece in particular, this aria in the embed below).

This piece is something that I played a while ago, soon after my father had passed away... and it is something that really links strongly back to that time for me. The others played it today, in a slightly different setting, as the violin and harpsichord version... but done in a different taste. A subdued reverent style, which is more the common way... for me, I prefer the bittersweet joy that the more elegant dance style gives. The idea of beauty and regrowth after disaster and death.

Anyway, now that I'm older (haha... wiser...). I do find that the funeral service performance is something that I'm honoured to be part of... I will never know the family and the deceased, but the fact that we are able to help complete their remembrance of their loved one is something that is treasured and cherished by them. Sure, it is more fun and easier to play at a wedding... but there is really something special about also contributing to the end of life celebration as well.

It is in this precious time, that we need to be on top of our game... unspoken understanding and adapting to the service and atmosphere, making everything seamless and work without fuss and talk... the ensemble functions as a silent team to make our part of the service as special as possible.

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When I pop my clogs, I want "Happy". I don't want any tears. Everyone is to wear bright (summer type) clothes. A couple of songs played (Probably Bowie songs), no religion whatsoever and a bit of party after.

The thing is, Folk should be happy that I don't have to worry anymore. I'll of had a good inning, owned a couple of houses and a few cars, brought up two kids, one who is a nurse and the other a teacher, and I'll leave a couple of quid in the bank for the Mrs to squander.


Pop my clogs... that is a new one for me! I think that everyone wants to be remembered in that way... and in many ways, I think it is like that. But there is always going to be that mix of sadness and happiness.


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