This summer we’ve been singing around the south of England, from Slough to Southampton. Soprano Toni has picked her five favourite funerals and told us what made them so memorable.
1. Always take spare music
We should be used to this by now, the moment when Father in a Catholic mass says, “We are now going to sing…” except of course, due to COVID, it’s been “Toni is going to sing…”. In Netley Abbey in Hampshire, it was a surprise Psalm, and thanks to our digital system, “The Lord’s My Shepherd” backing track was on hand at the press of a button. Luckily the words came as easily too!
Carrying spare music is something we have always done both for the funeral singing and our opera highlights performances, ever since the opera company pianist left the second half folder of music on his kitchen table. Luckily the performance was in an Essex library (long story…) so we plucked scores off the shelf and sang what we knew. The audience were let in on the secret, and loved every minute, even suggested we might try a rousing chorus from “Delia’s Christmas Cookery” or a gripping aria from “Fly Fishing for Amateurs”!
Toni, Thank you so much your singing was wonderful. It was such a pleasure to hear you sing and it made the mass a perfect tribute to our wonderful mother. Thanks once again.
2. Quiet and restrained
In our modern times where many people expect all music to be LOUD, it was a pleasure to have a family request a “quiet and restraint” approach. Despite soprano Toni have the ability to be heard at the back of cathedrals with ease, she also loves to sing gently and with warmth. This was definitely the right approach for the Dorking funeral of a much-loved lady aged 101, who had letters from both the Queen and the Pope to prove it!
With Irish blood in the family, the service included favourites such as “May the road rise to meet you”, aka the Irish blessing.
Thank you for your lovely singing at my aunt’s funeral. It was perfect and made her funeral a very fitting tribute to a lovely aunt.
3. Speaking and singing
Speaking at a funeral can be very hard for family members, whether a eulogy, a passage from the Bible, or a poem. Indeed, we’ve been at services where the clergy or the celebrant has read everything themselves.
Sometimes, just to have another voice gives a fresh perspective and angle on the spoken word. This was the case in Southampton, where Toni drew on years of performing to deliver a poem with empathy and clarity.
Both Kirsty and Toni are more than happy to read poems on behalf of the family, from favourites such as “She/He is gone…” by David Harkins. We also have some lovely musical settings of popular poems too, including “Do not stand at my grave and weep”.
4. A choice of Ave Marias
Most of the time we sing the Schubert setting of “Ave Maria” for a funeral. For a Catholic requiem mass in Slough, the Italian family gave Toni the option to sing whatever version she wanted. Knowing the family were opera fans, she opted for the setting by Caccini, with its dramatic lines and contrasting phrasing.
This piece was originally thought to be written by Italian Baroque composer Guilio Caccini in the late 16th century. Composer Vladimir Vavilov recorded it in 1970 and ascribed the work as “Anonymous” but it later emerged that he had written this now much-recorded version himself. Have a listen!
5. Churches as concert venues
As professional singers, many of our pre-pandemic evening performances were in churches. We loved these performances for the natural acoustics, the sense of history, and the warm welcome of the audience (often in stark contrast to the tepid temperatures of the central heating in winter!)
So it was lovely to learn that the church in Finchley North London had been renovated not just for the congregation and for funerals, but for future concerts too. Toni loved singing in this church that had been lovingly and sympathetically restored during lockdown, revealing its origins as a Methodist chapel before being acquired by the Catholic Church. (In case you need a lovely concert venue, contact Father Paul McDermott at St Mellitus. Toni says the acoustics are on a par with St James’ Guernsey and St Johns Smith Square London.)
Toni, Thank you so much, your singing was wonderful. It made the service extra special.
Looking for a soloist to sing at your loved one’s funeral, but not sure what music to request? Call us to discuss your requirements – tel: 01252 511 762 or email