When it comes to deciding what to include in the service for a small funeral, there really are no hard and fast rules. The last few funerals I’ve sung at have shown exactly that point.

I’ve been at:

  • a crematorium in the Buckinghamshire countryside
  • a cemetery in Surrey
  • a crematorium in Hampshire
  • a Catholic Church in Surrey

The lasting impression from all of these family funerals was that it was a celebration of a life; and that celebration was personal, poignant and positive.

Semi-religious funeral

One had a very little religious content, although the service was led by a minister. He showed that with careful consideration and discussion with the family, you can develop a service showing the deceased love of nature and family. This well crafted service left all the congregation with fond thoughts of how the deceased affected and influenced their lives.

In this case, the family chose not to have a physical service booklet for people to follow. So, the congregation was very much listening to the poems, readings and eulogy, all read by the minister.

My role was to lend a different voice to the occasion. The family wanted some traditional hymns sung, but as they were few in number, they wanted a singer to give confidence to their own voices. They also wanted to have something meaningful to listen to during a period of reflection.

They chose:

  • Two well known hymms: ‘Dear Lord and father of mankind’ and ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’
  • Two solos by me: Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Time to say goodbye’

With only a few in the congregation, it was a very personal experience. Afterwards, the family said it was lovely to have the songs sung live, and that this added to their celebration.

Thank you, you have a wonderful voice. Mum would have loved it. I’m sure she was listening.

MB, funeral at Chilterns Crematorium, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Religious cremation

The second funeral in a cemetery had similar hymns, and the solo was ‘Time to say goodbye’. This service was very religious including a gospel and other bible readings and a eulogy read by the deceased’s daughter.

They had a printed order of service booklet with many pictures from the life of the deceased, so those who attended had a physical keepsake of the event, as well as their memory of the celebration.

What a beautiful voice, thank you for your singing, the solo was wonderful and also it was so uplifting having a strong vice leading the hymns. So often it can be difficult to sing in times like this…. Truly was wonderful, so much nicer than playing a CD, your singing gave it a real personal touch. Dad would have loved it!

JS, funeral at Woking Cemetery, Surrey

Simple cremation service

The third funeral was at another crematorium. This service was a family affair: they too had a printed Order of Service, a quite modest one with a simple photograph of the deceased.

The only reading was the congregational Lord’s Prayer, and the eulogy was given by a family friend. They had more music in the service:

  • A recorded piece: ‘Chanson de Matin’ by Edward Elgar
  • Hymns: ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘All things bright and beautiful’
  • Two solos: ‘Over the rainbow’ and ‘Memory’ from Cats

The congregation were few in number as the deceased was well into their nineties and had outlived many friends and family members. The service may have been shorter in time, but no less a heartfelt celebration of a life well lived!

Thank you for such a wonderful performance today. My family and friends all commented on how good you were, my evidence being that know-one wanted to leave on the exit song. Thank you again for all your help.

TR, funeral at The Park Crematorium, Aldershot, Hampshire

Small Catholic funeral 

The fourth funeral was without a doubt the smallest funeral I’ve ever sung at. Held at a bijou and beautiful Catholic Church in Surrey, I was one of the three people in church: the priest, the mourner and me. There were more people carrying the coffin!

But this did not detract from the heartfelt service for the deceased. The only difference from any other funeral I’ve been a part of was the order of service. No printed booklet or sheet, it was entirely in the mourner’s head. However, we had all the traditions of a Catholic funeral service, including lots of music:

  • A reading 
  • Gospel reading
  • Homily
  • Poem
  • Eulogy
  • Music (me singing all)
    • Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’
    • ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Howard Goodall) for the Psalm
    • ‘Abide with me’
    • ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ (John Rutter)
    • ‘Pie Jesu’ (Lloyd-Webber)
    • ‘Amazing Grace’

I must say at first I was slightly unsure about all this solo music with just two ‘live’ people to focus on, but it wasn’t an issue. Such beautiful music and intimate venue, meant I too could sing to the deceased and living, whilst filling the church with song. Afterward’s the family member, said how glad they were to have my singing and that it made the saying good-bye more personal.

The most touching point in the funeral was the eulogy delivery, which the family member read whilst standing next to, and with a hand upon the coffin, reading to the deceased, myself and the priest. 

Doesn’t matter how small a congregation, a funeral service can be personal, beautiful and fitting.

Thank you so much, having you here was a perfect send off for my brother. Your singing was wonderful and he would have loved it.

GB, funeral at The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Liphook, Surrey

Even if you are small in number, there are no hard and fast rules to follow for a funeral service. Just make sure it’s the celebration that means the most to you and those who are there to celebrate and remember.

And if you want wonderful singing; you know who to call.