Music at funerals

Music at funerals

I did a 400-mile round trip yesterday to attend the funeral of a long-time friend. Their family had asked us to play some music in the church and afterwards at the reception. The reception bit was easy

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Ive played me pipes at several funerals both friends and non and I must say for me it wasn’t easy for either as all persons present seem to emotionally charge the atmosphere causing hands to become cold and sweaty enhancing the already cold climate within the church or at the cemetry. It becomes more poignant though when it’s a family member/friend causing one to struggle even more with emotion.

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I know what you are saying about churches. I once was paid to play a solo whistle piece for a recessional at a wedding. It was to be “On Que”. But when I tried to play, the whistle just “Squeaked” until I got control of it. I’ll never try to do that again. As for instruments, you could hardly beat a harp and flute duet for creating an appropriate atmosphere. But don’t forget to warm up the flute first.

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I played “ For Ireland I’d not tell her name“ at the funeral of my former partner’s father a few years ago. It’s a beautiful, haunting tune and seemed totally appropriate. Far harder was speaking the eulogy for one of my students (he was only 21 when he died). last year. I could hide behind the fiddle at the former …speaking at an occasion like that was far harder.

Harriet, the harper in our band, is in great demand for funerals as her instrument has a natural dignity appropriate to the event. I know that she plays a selection of slow airs (e.g, The Mermaid ) and O’Carolan tunes.

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I’ve posted this in thesession before, but now would appear to be an appropriate moment to give it a whirl again, not least because it talks about playing music at funerals and the way the elements conspire … it’s fitting otherwise.

HOW COULD REAVY DIE!
By Father Michael

The plumber of the hornpipes is dead.
The old diviner with the hazel bow,
That found the Shannon’s source
And made its magic waters flow across the world.
“No” she said “he’s not dead,
How could Reavy die!”
And who are you to say!
“I am the Wind: The Wind
That drove the clouds in herds
Above the Cavan hills and Drexel too
And whispered to the oats in Barnagrove.
I am the breeze that kissed O’Carolan’s face
With moisture on my lips
‘Til notes danced within his mind
Like flames behind a blind.
I am the breath in Reavy’s body
I used to whistle in his mouth
Merely oxygen upon arrival
But virgin music coming out.
He would hold me in the evenings
And we’d play within his soul
He tamed me with his reverence
But I always had to go …
So I bore him sounds of sweetness
Some were sad and some were glad
And he composed half a thousand tunes
About the happy time we had.”
Hush! I whispered. Did you see his fiddle
On the altar - silent as a stone
And his body on the grave in Drexel Hill?
Clamped on the hole in a final salute
Like an old finger frozen on a flute.
Did you see the people in a circle
Standing sadly in the snow,
When the pipes refused to play in the cold?
“I was there” she said
I am the Breath of the earth.
Every mouth is a wisp of my prayer
Breathing blessings of incense on the bites of the air
Because life has the edge on the ice.
Listen my friend, to the lad with the whistle
With his finger tips timid and cold.
See the life that he brings to the old man’s tune
And the leaks that he brings to the eyes.
See Reavy arise from the holes in the tin . .
And announce on his grave “I’m alive!”

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Yeah, that’s a great poem Aidan … real heart. (PS The academic pedant in me can’t resist pointing out that it’s by Father Michael Doyle)

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(to no

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er, that is to say… pass the tissues? I think I got something in my eye.

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That’s mighty powerful prose by Father Michael, really good stuff. For my uncle’s funeral, I was requested (by him before he passed on) to play “Danny Boy” during the funeral, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” at the gravesite, believe it or not. He always had a great sense of humor and that was his final wink to us. His kids were laughing and crying at the same time. But during the funeral, I also added a slow version of O’Carolan’s “Si bheg, si mor” on whistle with organ accompaniment, which seemed to work well. Lots of folks asked me about that one afterwards.

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Sorry to hear about your loss, John.

A few years ago one of the session stalwarts down in SE London died. I’d heard he was ill, and meant to go visit him in Lewisham Hospital. Then I heard he was getting better and he was out of hospital, so I thought Oh well, no need to visit him now. Next I heard he died suddenly. At his funeral, his best mate made a brave attempt to play a few tunes, but had to stop half way through so overcome with grief was he. At least when broke off from playing it provided a focus for our shared grief.

So, well done for bravely playing in those cicumstances, big man.

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If this cancer kills me, I want as many of you as can get to Macclesfield to come to my funeral, and play a helluva good session afterwards.

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“Eyup, I’ll bet she comes from Macclesfield….”

It’s a date, bud. Even if I have to nip back from the other side of the world. Be worth it for a few pints of Boddies while I play, instead of frozen ’roo p**s.

Try to hang on a few more years though, to give me time to put some decent sets together. About forty should do it. Years, that is, not sets. 😉

Caught yer profile and couldn’t agree more - “sessions which are a sharing rather than a show”. Might have to trademark that one, or I’ll nick it.

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We got visited at our sesh a few times by a lass from down under, and all she ever did was complain about how she didn’t like the beer.
Grumpo said something along the lines of “If you don’t like the beer here, pray go elsewhere and find a beer you will enjoy, don’t stay on account of us” - and she ain’t been back.

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Dave, perhaps what we might want to do is come to Macclesfield BEFORE any funerals, huh?

My grandmother died yesterday around noon. I had been planning on going out to see her the second week of May. Now I’ll have to see her at her funeral.

Before is definitely better than after.

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BTW, for my grandmother, who fell and was in hospital (and that was when the family discovered she’d had breast cancer for two years) the week before St. Patrick’s Day, I played Far Away. The first time, I cried all the way through the tune, but got through it. It was easier at the shows after that.

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“Before is definitely better than after.”

Amen to that. Sorry to hear about your grandmother.

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Sorry to hear about your gran, Zina.
I remember you mentioned a while back that she was ill.

Crying’s a funny thing though - how does it work?

This all brings back something I mentioned a while back - about laments and slow airs having a use, or a point, to help (if that’s the word) in the process of grief.

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Thanks, Orson, I appreciate that. Dave, funerals are more for the people left behind – I’d rather celebrate you right now! And if the celebration turns out to be decades-long, all the better. I’m quite serious here, dude. We ought to figure out a way to get a bunch of us in Macclesfield sometime soon.

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Or better yet, let’s parade you around the globe. C’mon, what do you say!

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Showaddydadito sorry to here about your cancer, you probably know this already but visualisation, exercise and a really good diet with lots of fresh vedge can help you beat this.
Do you ever play at the Harrington on Fridays? I’ve not been there for years, maybe we could organise a thesession session there or somewhere else in Mac to celebrate your continued existence.

Good luck

PP

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Pied Piper - I’ve been trying to work out who you are.

Did Mrs Bailey ever ask if you’d forgotten to shave? and you responded by asking if she had?

She died about three years back.

Zina - thanks but I can’t go round the globe, cos I only go to places I can take my dog.

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Regardless of how hard it is to play at a funeral, I know from experience that there is little you can do that gives more comfort and a focus for love to the family than to have a friend offer music. It is never easy, and sometimes can even be heartbreaking, but it can be a true and lasting gift. I’ve played at many funerals of family friends and relatives. Never was it so hard as after the death of my best friend’s son Jaime at age 18. I had a son who was 4 days younger, they grew up together. I sang the funeral, and the first song begain “Our Brother Jaimie is here, we give him now to you”. I did not know how I was going to be able to do it. With my wife’s patient help, I literally sang that line a hundred times the night before the funeral until it almost lost it’s meaning as words and just became sounds. I did that, because by focusing less on the meaning, I hoped I would be able to get thru it. It worked. Having a family friend do good meaningful music meant so much to them. Sometimes it hurts to help, but it is a gift only a few can give, and it’s a blessing both ways.

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Thanks for telling us that, Plunkett.

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Showaddy, sorry to hear about your situation. Music heals; keep playing!
Zina, sympathy for your loss. My mom passed the same way, and I still regret not having that last chance to see her. It’s hard.
Plunkett, you are exactly right. Music can be such an important part of expressing grief! I’ve seen it again and again in many settings — a piece helps someone break through numbness, or remember the deceased with love, or let go of some of their pain. For me personally it’s a vital part of coping with loss.
It can still be terribly hard, though. You’re a courageous man to do that. Thank you!
Sara

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My grandfather died last year and my grandmother asked me to sing something at the funeral. I had no idea what he liked - (somebody said something about Johnny Cash but come ON) - anyway, there are so many songs I was worried I’d pick the wrong one, or one that wasn’t exactly right, so I wrote one. (I think my grandmother was being sneaky and that’s what she wanted all along). It wasn’t my best song and it kept making everybody cry, but it was nice to be able to express how much I cared about him. As people were being seated my brother, my cousin and I played a few chunes, but they both play guitar and know nothing about Irish music. I taught them a few things over copious amounts of alcohol the night before and hoped for the best. My brother wrote a song for the wake - a funny one about my grandpa’s tone deafness - and made everybody sing along in the choruses (which kind of go “BawwwwwAAAAWWWwwwwaaa” in a pitchless, atonal way). Overall, I’d have to say it was a mighty good time suffused with intense nostalgia and punctuated all around by fits of uncontrollable weeping. Oh, and I forgot I was not supposed to call it a funeral, I was supposed to call it a “celebration of life”.

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This is a bit off the topic, but it has to do with music and grief, so here goes:

I lost a loved one a couple of years ago, someone I cared for deeply, and I grieved deeply. More than was good for me, I’m sure.

I had just been getting back into playing my fiddle again when this happened. A couple of months later, a friend invited me to an Irish session, the first at a pub that had just opened. I wasn’t sure I was ready to play in public, or even to go out in public (other than work, or maybe dinner with close friends). It didn’t help that an excellent fiddler was present, easily intimidating to me, but I took a deep breath and plunged in. The music was a true form of communion, very joyful and healing. It was the first time I had smiled so much for months.

Even when I was practicing alone, at home, I found the music to be healing. People seemed to assume it was because I could express myself (my grief) through the music, but that wasn’t it at all. It was that I could lose myself in the music, and somehow transcend the grief.

Everyone suffers loss of loved ones; I just wish (or hope) that everyone has something — music, religion, spiritual practice, art, service, whatever — that offers such comfort.

Blessings to all,
Carol

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Yep thats me, now all I have to do is to work out who you are.
What do you think about the session idea?
Good luck
JS

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The more I think about it, the more I like Zina’s idea of a group trip to Macclesfield.

Showaddy, what do you think about a bunch of us descending upon your fair city for sessions and celebrations?

I’ve been debating whether my next visit across the pond should be to Scotland, where I was about this time last year, or to Ireland, where I haven’t been in several years. Either way, I want it to involve sessions. Macclesfield could be the starting point for a grand tour of sessions, up through Glasgow (I went to a great one at Babbity Bowster’s), over to Inverness and Aberdeen and back down to Edinburgh. I heard of a couple of sessions in the west, too — on the Isle of Skye and in Kilmartin. And of course there are many others. And I’d have to go back to the Falkirk Fiddle Workshop; maybe I wouldn’t be jetlagged. (Barrie, are you still with us? Maybe I’d get to meet you this time.)

Showaddy? Anybody? Thoughts?

Carol

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Carol I’m with what you say about music and grief. My father was suddenly taken ill last summer and died 2 weeks later. The first week he was in hospital and the 2nd at home where I nursed him with his wife. It was the most extraordinary time - hard and sad but also so very rich and special. It was a hot summer and one of the things he loved most of all was to hear me playing my flute around the house or out in the garden under his window. I played for him after he lost conciousness (hearing and touch are the last senses to go) and after he left his body whilst still in the house. His presence was still there and it just felt right to do it - somehow something comforting and familiar.. At that time I had only just started playing trad on a dixon polymer (previously played boehm flute) and knew just a handful of tunes. Sally Gardens was one I often played - and a theme from one of the Planet Suite (forget what its called but its a classical tune everyone knows - very moving). I had my wooden flute on order from Gilles Lehart and my Dad’s parting gift to me was telling me he wanted to pay for it for me. He said to scratch his initials on it - um - I didn’t do that yet though since the new flute is so beautiful!! But his doing that somehow makes learning and practising easier because of the connection and drive and motivation it gives me - even when my (Irish) teacher told me a few weeks back that I’ll need to practise doing rolls for a year - I’ll do it because I want to play well! My Dad loved music and he loved people and always encouraged it (he sang, ran choirs, played guitar etc). I didn’t play at the funeral but both my brother and I spoke - it wasn’t hard because he was such a great guy and I felt very proud of him. Two months later my brother in law died and a month after that my best friends brother in law. I put my feelings into playing the piano (I know its not ITM - but it was very theraputic!) and ended up with a composition I would never have thought I could come to - my best friend played clarinet with it. We recently sent a recording of this to another friend whose partner recently was killed in a crash in the hope it would give her at least some easement. Music can have the most extraordinary effects on the human condition and is a rare gift from somewhere!
Hope this isn’t too off topic as I’m quite new here….. 🙂
On with the rolls (and a few new tunes - I’m so glad I found this site!!)

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There is something in the music that allows the living to come together and share feelings about the deceased that go beyond words. I was asked to play a slow air on the flute at the memorial for a past lover of mine who succumbed to breast cancer. She had been one of my strongest and most consistent supporters in my early musical development, so the idea of playing at her memorial felt very natural to me. It was held at her favorite spot in the center of a ring of redwoods on a college campus she went to, and later worked at. Her loved ones formed a circle and asked me to play in the center. As I played, my heart filled with the fond memories of this lovely soul. I remember hearing sobbing and occasional gasps from the people in the circle as I played, but I wasn’t aware of what was actually happening until a very long period of silence had past while people regained their composure. It wasn

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Aw, Jack. What a lovely story.

Cariad, have you ever thought of asking Gilles Lehart to engrave one of the silver rings on your flute with your dad’s name for you?

I’d be up for a flying trip to Macclesfield this year. I have to get in to London at some point anyway, so what the heck. ;)

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Such moving stories. Music truly is a gift, and we are fortunate to be its bearers.

By the way, Barrie, if you’re reading this, my apologies. When I said, are you still with us, I meant on this site! Given the topic of this thread, that sounded a bit macabre.

Zina, I had planned not to go overseas until next year, but should a Macclesfield session materialize, I could probably be talked into it.

Carol

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Jack your ‘story’ is very special - and brave of you to share it - thanks.
And Zina - thanks for the idea about the engraving. I hadn’t thought of it. Maybe I will…
cariad

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Cariad, I don’t think your posting was at all off topic. And thanks to everyone else who has posted responses.

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PP

You are the

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Everyne Else:

You are ALL welcome to visit me in Macclesfield any time you like. If you email me in advance it may be that we can sort out the timing and I can take you to the nicest little session in all the known world (but remember, if I tell you where it is I’d have to kill you afterwards.) Macclesfield has almost no hotel accommodation of any sort, so posh people would have to stay out of town, and ordinary people could crash on our lounge floor - so long as you don’t mind cats or dogs, (or have a phobia about snakes). We are also a non-smoking house - but a smoking garden (or yard if you are american). We have a piano, and could probably lend a concertina, mandolin, banjolin, flute, and various whistles to any who were forced to travel without their instruments (also a Bowed Psaltery!)

If anyone from foreign parts really wants to take this up, we are about 20 minutes from Manchester (International) airport, and I could come and pick you up if I was not in a grumpy mood.

Dave

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Showaddy. It would be a great thing to have this “long life” session in Macclesfield. I would be extremely happy to arrange a trip from Italy on that porpose.
When tired there is no snake who can prevent me to sleep, and I can do that easily outdoor. So , the only problem I can see is just my fiddle playing, but one of my best skills is to understand when’s time to stop it.
My best wishes to You
massimo

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I’m getting close now; did you go on holiday to Saddle castle on Kintyre where I inadvertently sat on your good ladies Hammered Dulcimer?

John

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No, John. My wife never had a hammered dulcimer.

At the Top House I was a slim good looking lad of about twenty nine, with a fine dark beard and piercing brown eyes who had just taken up the whistle. There were very few other people there, but I had gone specifically to meet a hooligan piper I think was called O’Brien.

We’ve collided in the great scheme of life a couple of times Mrs Bailey’s. Kind though the attempt is, I wouldn’t expect you to remember me from a couple of chance meetings. I remember you because of the aforementioned banter with Mrs Bailey, and the other incident that cant be made public (which I must stress to all eavesdroppers was entirely normal acceptable behaviour and didn’t involve any sort of physical contact, or the removal of any clothing - it was an innocent remark about the legendary “money-carefulness” of a mutual acquaintance).

Now I’m slightly less slim (some would be unkind enough to say ‘more plump’), with a greying beard and wrinkles round the eyes.

If ever you make it to Harries Disco Diner on a friday, it’ll probably be the weekend I go to visit the mother in law. This could really drag out for a long time.

Dave

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Sorry to hear about your Grandmom, Zina, and blessings to everyone else here who is going thru a rough time health wise and who have recently lost loved ones.

My father in law died this past October, and we played in the church and also at the wake. Everyone said it was beautiful and healing. We simply played all the normal dance tunes, just slowed down a bit, and also songs and airs. It seemed very appropriate.

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So should we bring our own blindfolds, Showaddy?

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Thanks, Andee, much appreciated. Dave, I’m trying to sort out schedules (and of course money, but what the heck), but I may take you up on that. Although I’m not so fond of snakes. 🙂

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When my Father died my Husband at the time played some tunes in church and it was incredibly moving as Dad was a great lover of Irish Music.

Since I moved to Leitrim I’ve been asked to several weddings and at one was asked to play, of all things, Kevin Barry, the groom’s name was “Kevin Barry”. I thought it was a bit morbid bearing in mind the words “just before he faced the hangman” for a wedding but practised away and decided to liven it up by following with the Wedding Reel. Alas the greatest plans….. there were also singers who were asked to sing “the voyage” as the happy couple came down the aisle and then I would do my spot. The signing of the register was all done very quickly and they were in the middle of “The Voyage” when they finished and they started to come down the aisle. As the last note of “Voyage” rang out I launched into an upbeat version of Kevin Barry followed by a whirlwind Wedding Reel and then had several large brandies. All in all an experience never to be repeated.