All together now: leading the hymns at a funeral service
Around 90% of funerals we sing at include hymns, whether the funeral is held in a church or a crematorium. Hymns are a source of great comfort for many attending, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they wish to sing themselves. Often, we can see a church full of mourners and there are about ten people actually singing the hymns.
And that’s fine with us, because there are all sorts of reasons people don’t or won’t sing:
Funerals are very emotional events, and it’s difficult to sing when you’re upset or on the verge of tears
Many people also think they can’t sing well, so they don’t want to spoilt the singing
People from other faiths may know a different tune or words
The younger generation who didn’t have regular school assembly may not even know hymns at all
That’s why many families ask us to come and lead the hymns, to provide a strong voice singing with confidence and clarity that others can follow.
“Thank you so much for singing at Mum’s funeral yesterday. Everyone commented on what a beautiful voice you have and how it helped so much when you sang the hymns with us! Your professionalism was much appreciated, and booking you was the best decision I made on behalf of Mum.”
When we first started singing at funeral over a decade ago, we naively assumed that the hymns we know always had the same tune.
How wrong we were. Take the traditional hymn “Love divine, all love excelling”. Go on, give it a quick hum. Now, were you humming:
the Stainer arrangement
or the Blaenwern tune
We rest our case!
Same tune, different words
What’s more, the same hymn tune can appear with different words, especially in the Catholic church. That’s why we always check with the family AND the organist AND the clergy in advance to ensure that on the day we are, quite literally, singing from the same hymn sheet.
As a result, we have a wide repertoire of hymns from both the Anglican and Catholic church hymnaries, and we are learning more all the time.
Hymns, songs and recordings; who has the final say?
Do remember that, in church, your choice of music and hymns does need to be approved by the presiding clergy. So we suggest families speak to us BEFORE their vicar or priest, so they can meet them with a list of suggestions if one item is not approved. (Look out for our forthcoming articles on choosing music for a church funeral service.)
For crematorium services, the same applies but most clergy are far more relaxed. If you have a celebrant or are doing your own service, you can pretty much choose your own, but do bear in mind the nature of the occasion.