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Memorial Service/Funeral Anthems

I serve a small Presbyterian church with a well-balanced choir of 20+, including several professionally trained singers.  We are facing the death of one of our choir members, and quite likely, several other church members in the next year or so. I want to include a few anthems in our regular rehearsals so that when the time comes, we will not be totally unprepared.  Philosophically, this congregation is open, welcoming, diverse, and giving. Frequent sermon themes are community, peace-making, justice, living in the world by faith.  It is not fundamental nor conservative.
Suggestions for anthems would be greatly appreciated.  Peter Hurford's Litany to the Holy Spirit is one we have.
Thank you!
Replies (23): Threaded | Chronological
on September 14, 2013 7:15am
Lenora - Since we are in somewhat the same situation here at the Catholic Choir at Fort Belvoir, VA, I am entirely aware of your concerns and am always on the lookout for approachable yet worthwhile pieces to express the difficult moments of loss at the transition from this to the next life.  I just received in my packet from GIA (Chicago) a wonderful piece which you may wish to consider by John Bell, "Lord Our God, Receive Your Servant" (G-4538).  Textually spot-on, musically very worthy of the occasion - you should give it a look.  Another GIA piece quite appropriate to the event is "The Guardian's Farewell," text by John Henry Cardinal Newman, music by David Haas (G-5658).  Again, textually appropriate but in a way we are not usually directed towards, that is, to the image of water as purification, not fire; and musically very straightforward but which is appealing (my choirs love it!).  You and your choir will be kept in my thoughts and prayers.
Chantez bien!
on September 14, 2013 7:18am
We Shall Walk through the Valley in Peace, arr. Moses Hogan, is a really accessible spiritual and quite beautiful for SATB with some divisi. Useful for funeral or farewell situations without being depressing.
on September 14, 2013 8:15am
Hello Lenora, I might recommend "May Your Voice Be At Peace," just out from Augsburg Fortress (978-1-4514-6238-8).  It uses text from Ecclesiastes 3 ("There is a time to be born and a time to die...") and other poetry to honor those (and, most appropriately, singers) whose voices are now at rest.  The person is remembered and loved: "You were there in our growing, you are here in our grieving, you remain in our loving: may your voice be at peace." But not only the person: "God was there in our growing. God is here in our grieving, God remains in our loving: may God's voice be our peace." I wrote this in memory of a wonderful musician friend, in collaboration with poet Ivan Fuller.  It is SATB unaccompanied, with a deeply felt melody which has brought comfort to those who are mourning. Perhaps it would also comfort your choir and other friends and family.
Best regards,
Deanna Wehrspann
on September 14, 2013 8:18am
Dear Ms. McCroskey,
When I was in the choir of a Presbyterian Church, much like the one your describe, I wrote music for occasions like yours.   If you wish to contact me privately, my e-mail address: .  My website is
If you respond to my invitation, I will send you a pdf. score and an mp.3 sound byte by return mail.
on September 14, 2013 10:24am
Hi Lenora,
I have used these pieces for similar times:
In Remembrance - Eleanor Daley - Warner Bros.
In Remembrance - Jeffrey Ames - Walton Music
River in Judea - John Leavitt et al - Shawnee Press
Abide With Me - arr Moses Hogan - Hal Leonard
May you have a good season of music with your singers through joys and

DIANE HIRES | Chancel Choir Director
First United Methodist Church
Music in Worship R & S Chair, Central Div.
1032 Maple Ave, Downers Grove, IL 60515
Phone: 630-852-9249 |
on September 14, 2013 11:01am
...although a few are not gender neutral, they have historical significance, and are extremely useful, depending on the circumstance:
  • The Lord Is My Shepherd – Allen Pote
  • For All The Saints – setting by Robert Shaw
  • For All The Saints – Vaughan Williams
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men – Vaughan Williams
  • When The Saints Go Marching In – setting by John Rutter
  • Deep Peace – John Rutter
  • The Lord Bless you, And Keep You – John Rutter
  • Greater Love Hath No Man Than This - John Ireland
  • How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place, from Requiem - Johannes Brahms
  • In Paradisum, from Requiem – Gabriel Fauré
  • And I Saw A New Heaven - Edgar Bainton
  • They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships – Herbert Sumsion
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 15, 2013 5:03am
A great list.  I particularly like "Deep Peace", the Brahms, and the Fauré, though the latter two might be a little "big"(?) for some occasions.  "For All the Saints" could be a good congregational hymn if you don't use it as an anthem.
You might add Rutter's "Lord is My Shepherd" as well.
A more personal expression of grief and hope is "Precious Lord, Take My Hand".  I've got a TTBB a cappella arrangement with counter-melody that we've done around here a few times, but the original is probably available in several arrangements.  (Message me if you'd like a sample copy.)
on September 14, 2013 12:25pm
All these suggestions are great.  One more would be "How Can I Keep From Singing," which we sang last summer when our 95-year-old bass colleague joined the heavenly choir.
Patti Mangis
Director of Music
Presbyterian Church of Western Springs, IL
on September 14, 2013 5:53pm
One addition I've not yet seen mentioned:  the various movements of Morley's Burial Service.  Each is a marvelous little gem.  May need to do a bit of sleuthing and editing. CPDL has one movement.  I've prepared the first movement, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life,' and have used it a number of times.  If anyone wants it, feel free to reach out.  Happy to share.
Dr. Deborah Simpkin King
Artistic Director/Founder, Schola Cantorum on Hudson
Director/Founder, PROJECT : ENCORE™
Co-Chair, New York Choral Consortium    
Coordinator, NJACDA High School Choral Festival
"In order to do the impossible, we must be able to see the invisible."  - David Murdock
on September 15, 2013 5:19am
"The Lord is My Shepherd" by Howard Goodall.  Most highly recommended. not difficult and works so well with a small choir or large one.  (it might get a knowing smile from the "Vicar of Dibley" fans, but they'll have heard it and love it.)
If your choir likes to sing Gospel - 
"Beams of Heaven" - arr. Abbington/GIA (I shall get home some day)
"Precious Lord" - suggest Jack Schraeder's arr. from Hope Publishing for its playable stylistic accompaniment. 
O Quam Gloriosum Est - Victoria
these are they which follow the lamb - John Goss
A newer composition that is fanatastic - the text might be "secular", but I've used it for All Saints - 
"A Farewell" by Molly Ijames.  Some divisi and larger moments, but your skilled 20 can go it.  Great accompaniment.  ** be sure to correct one text error by googling the Tennyson poem! **
Lift out the Agnus Dei from the Faure requiem.  Or the In Paradisum or the Sanctus.
on September 15, 2013 9:55am
My choir loves "Jesus is Calling" by Aaron David Miiller.  A warm and gorgeous piece we have sung several times at funerals.
on September 15, 2013 1:50pm
We really like Bobby McFerrin's (yes, that Bobby McFerrin) "Psalm 23--For my Mother."  Chant-like, with gorgeous harmonies and all pronouns female, this is a favorite of my chamber choir.  We sang it for a community 9-11 service a few years ago and all were touched by it.  Not that hard, but with changing meter and unaccompanied, SATB.  Once you learn it, it will stay with you always. And it never hurts to have another version of Psalm 23 under your belt either! My own mother has requested this for her funeral/memorial service and having been diagnosed with colon cancer for the third time a few weeks ago, I fear we may have to sing this sooner than I would like.
Another good memorial piece is secular and not sacred, "Music, When Soft Voices Die," with text by Shelley (and I've pasted the text at the end here so you can see it).  We do a version by Eugene Butler but there are other settings out there you may like better. The Butler (SATB with piano) version builds and builds and while not sacred, per say, is quite moving. It is certainly very spiritual and would contribute to a memorial service.........our loved ones are never gone, but live on as long as we remember.
Music When Soft Voices Die
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.
on September 16, 2013 10:17am
I recently had to play for a funeral service with my choir which had had no rehearsal for the service. I had them arrive early and we quickly learned a piece that worked very well, though I had some reservations with it. It went over well with everyone. The piece was a setting of Londonderry Air, with a very appropriate funeral text, sung in unison. If you are a member of the St. James Music site, you can download this there. The work is "We are the Lord's" arranged by Roland E. Martin. I wouldn't use this for all funerals, but it was very appropriate for this funeral.
--Warren R. Johnson
on September 16, 2013 1:50pm
May I offer my setting of "Come, Ye Disconsolate?" I hear frequently of its use at funerals. Here is a video of the beautiful performance of the TTBB version by the Baylor A Cappella Choir.
The original SATB is singable by a choir like yours.
Best wishes,
Terre Johnson
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 16, 2013 2:17pm
BIG AMEN to "Come Ye Disconsolate" arr. by Terre Johnson, our colleague above!  I can't believe I didn't include it.  Sooo beautiful!
on September 16, 2013 2:38pm
Lovely piece, Terre!
on September 16, 2013 4:34pm
Also sang this at community 9-11 services--wonderful.  Text and music--such a beautiful marriage of the two.  We have it ready when needed.
on September 16, 2013 2:44pm
I have used a lovely piece called, "Was I Faithful" by Carolyn Hamlin.  It is a choir favorite, and very appropriate for Funerals and Memorial Services. Unfortunately, we used it very recently for two deceased choir members and placed a robe on an empty choir chair.
       "Was I Faithful? Did I help the blind and weak, did my love include the meek?"
on September 16, 2013 3:19pm
"Beati Mortui," by Felix Mendelssohn, is available on CPDL for mixed voices (originally TTBB). I added an English translation (Beloved are the Souls) that preserves the accents of the original Latin. It's at:
on September 16, 2013 3:44pm
Thank you all so much for these wonderful suggestions.  I've made a long list, will make some choices, and take them to the choir.  We do have some time before we need them, as far as I can tell.  You are wonderful colleagues.  I wish I knew you all personally!
Thank you again,
Lenora McCroskey
on September 16, 2013 4:17pm
May I offer my arrangement of Julia Mendina's beautiful tune "The Wind of the Spirit"?  While I often think of it as a piece suitable for pentecost, it occurs to me that it would be an absolutely lovely offering at a memorial service as well.  You can see it at
Thanks for looking,
Chris Humphrey
on September 19, 2013 8:43am
Lenora, click these links to listen and view music of three pieces I composed that could fit your needs.  I feel for your and your congregation's loss, and give you permission to freely make copies of these three pieces of music. I am a published composer/arranger of choral music, have won several choral composition contests, blah blah blah - telling you this so you don't think that "free" = "poor quality".   Much love and blessings - Andrew Miller
**This one is easily re-voiced to a mixed choir voicing.  I've heard it done in a myriad of different ways!
on September 19, 2013 4:52pm
Thank you, Andrew.  I especially like the Alleluia--for any number of occasions.  Thanks for permission to print all of them!
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