Families who wish to pay special tribute to their Irish or Scottish heritage during a funeral or memorial service will oftentimes make quite liberal use of the bagpipe. They frequently ask for some music to be played before and after the church or funeral home ceremony and, again, at different times during the gathering at the cemetery. Sometimes, I am asked to provide music for the wake. In that case, unless the family specifically prefers the Highland pipes, I will play guitar or smallpipes because of their softer tones and their particular suitability for indoor use.
In my experience, though, the most common way in which I am asked to help is for me to play the Highland pipes, according to this sequence:
- outside the church as guests and family arrive, playing until everyone moves inside;
- outside the church as people exit the building and until they are in their cars;
- at the cemetery as the procession arrives (I having arrived there ahead of the group);
- after the final prayer is said or Taps is played;
- and then as people file away from the cemetery.
In all cases, I do whatever I can to accommodate the wishes of the family.
When I play, I stand at a comfortable and respectful distance. I also play tunes that are appropriate for the occasion. At the church or funeral home, this usually means slow, evocative, Gaelic airs. At the cemetery, Amazing Grace is the most requested piece for after the prayer or the playing of Taps; while for the rest of the time at the cemetery I play more Gaelic airs and other heartfelt pipe tunes. Of course, I also play special requests.
Some of the tunes that are regularly asked for include:
- Amazing Grace
- Going Home from Dvorák’s “New World Symphony”
- Hector the Hero
- Flowers of the Forest
- Derry Air (also known as Londonderry Air or O! Danny Boy)
- The Mist Covered Mountains (or Chì Mi na Mòrbheanna)
I am able to suggest others besides these, and will often send sound files for review or play them into the telephone.