Playing the guitar for a funeral is a very particular and specific skill and the guitarist needs to be very aware of what is needed and able to respond to the client’s needs.
Sometimes the family of the deceased feel that it would be appropriate to have music at certain moments during the funeral service.
If they have chosen guitar this will be because guitar music has been important to the deceased in one way or another. They may have been a guitarist themselves, or simply enjoyed guitar music or perhaps the sound of the guitar has a specific reference in the hearts of the family.
It is then important to discuss the type of music with the client. It is not just a matter of selecting repertoire although certainly there may be certain pieces that they would like to be heard. It is also important to talk about the moods for each piece. Although a funeral makes us immediately think of a sorrowful mood there is rather more to it than that.
Some people will want a restful mood while other people may need something a little stronger and perhaps uplifting at a given moment.
In my case I am sometimes asked to accompany a reading with guitar music. In this case it is helpful to meet with the person who will recite the text so that I can understand their pace and flow as well as the elements in the text that they want to emphasize.
Very often I will play music as the mourners arrive and again as they leave and again these are chosen carefully to provide the correct background atmosphere.
A funeral is a time of tears and lament and the readings are often most touching. Additionally I find that I become aware of and influenced by the sadness around me and it is at this point that it is most important to remember that we the musicians are providing a service to the mourners and that the purpose of our work is to be helpful to them.
As such composure is required.
I will chose music that will be especially lovely as well as the right choice for each funeral and naturally the situation will be moving for the guitarist as well but being professional we understand decorum and how to behave appropriately.
On this note we the hired guitarist must always be impeccably dressed and I always ask if there is any particular colour that they prefer or that they wish to not have. At one funeral it was very clear that black was not wanted and that this was in respect of the deceased’s wishes.
Acoustics in churches often means that amplification is not needed but if it is I arrive very early to set up in advance of the start of the funeral and not until the last person has left do I begin to put the guitar away and collect my things together.
The early planning with the family member who officiates the service as well as a member of the clergy where this is the case should mean that my guitar playing should go smoothly but I am always very attentive to what is happening and ready to make changes should they be needed.
Finally, when it is the right time I leave quietly and discretely.