For some reason, the subject of music at (or for) the funerals of musicians has recently been percolating up with some frequency in my life, and I don’t think it’s merely the fact that my contemporaries and I are all continuing to scale Mount Chronos.
The first memory I have of a liturgical musician specifying funeral music is when my first organ teacher/choir director told me she wanted the Fauré Requiem sung at her funeral. This was in the late 1960s, so a new order for the funeral Mass was not yet firmly established, and the Requiem would still have been, in her sensibility as a church musician, a viable option. When I was called upon to provide the music for her funeral in 2010, we did do the “Pie Jesu” from that Requiem, but the rest of the playlist had changed
I am fascinated by the music lists that my liturgical music pals come up with for their own funerals. Often they are very, very specific. Most of these same folks are surprised when I say that my instructions are “Do whatever music helps you remember, grieve, and celebrate.” This is sometimes seen as a manifestation of my own laziness and/or passive-aggressive tendencies. That may partly be the case, not entirely.
One reason for my directive is this: I do not think the music at my funeral (or any funeral, for that matter) is for the purpose of enshrining my personal preferences, tastes, or understandings about liturgical music selection. This goes against the current grain of many funerals, which do turn into enshrinements (of musical tastes, tastes in food, personality traits, hobbies, etc.), if not outright canonizations*. While I realize that I could come up with a musical list that would help avoid that, I’m convinced that the music at that time really should tend to those who are bodily present, and not some sort of attempt to hear my “voice” from beyond the grave.
The primary reason, however, that my instruction is pretty much “Do what you need to” is because—even though I have no concrete, factual knowledge of exactly what will happen upon my death—I firmly believe that whatever my post-mortem destination may be, I will definitely be in a place where I will not be occupied by the music happening at my memorial. Should the Spirit send the chorus angelorum to lead me to realms celestial, I’ll be much more involved in the playlist of heaven. Maybe to make me feel more at home there will be some of what has already given me glimpses past the pearly portals, but I’m hoping for far more on the iParadisum list: music with which I’m not at all familiar, that my too-limited mortal life was not able to encounter or appreciate.
Above all, I hope that iParadisum playlist contains a whole bunch of musical selections to which I currently have an aversion, or those I have treated uncharitably with disdain.
This would mean that the Spirit, at long last, had bent my stubborn heart and will, had melted my frozen being, or at least warmed my chilliness, as I have requested so often in praying the Pentecost Sequence. What will heaven sound like? I have no idea—but I keep trying to listen for it here and now.
*At the 2019 gathering of the Liturgical Composers’ Forum in St. Louis, we were reviewing new/recent pieces by member composers, and there was one funeral piece that addressed the deceased: “Now that you are home in heaven.” (Or some such.) It came as a surprise to many that the funeral rite never overtly expresses any sentiment like this. The rite’s confidence and hope in the Resurrection is a different matter. Our ultimate destiny—no matter what the greeting card industry may want us to believe—is in the hands of God.