Preparing for a Memorial Service

photo of singers

Your choir may be asked to sing at a memorial gathering, such as a hospice service of remembrance or a funeral service. Our repertoire has appropriate selections for a variety of memorial services, and it is an honor to be able to serve in this way. Some of the tips provided here apply to planning any type of memorial service, while other advice is more specialized.

           Advance planning for a memorial service
           Tips for funeral services
           Songs for the service
           The day of the service

Advance planning for a memorial service

  • Identify one choir member to make early, focused, and direct contact with the person in charge of organizing the service. Ideally, this choir member would lead the singing at the service.
  • Make sure you have at least 3 or 4 strong singers who can commit to singing at the service. If the venue is large, having 6-8 singers is even better.
  • Find out what parts of the service will include music. Services typically have music at the beginning and the end. Services of remembrance often have a ceremony in which attendees can participate, such as placing a flower in a vase or tying a ribbon to a wreath. Sometimes a service of remembrance has a specific theme or a set of themes, such as "light", "peace", or "gratitude". We are blessed with many songs that speak to these common themes.
  • Suggest to the organizer several songs that are appropriate for the occasion (more on choosing songs below). You may want to start by sending lyrics by email to the organizer and allow her/him to select songs that best address the important themes. Final choices may require singing over the phone or in person.
  • Scope out the venue, if possible. Decide where the choir will stand. Some choirs have been successful singing from the back or the side to reduce the appearance of a performance. Minimize "travel time" between your seats and where you will sing.
  • Once song selections have been made, provide information about the songwriters (words and music), and ensure that the information is included in the printed program. The program excerpt below gives an example of typical program information.
  • Suggest that your ensemble be credited as "Members of <your choir name>", rather than as individuals, to allow flexibility in the exact singers attending, as well as to indicate that your choir can provide this type of service regardless of the specific individuals who may be singing that day. Provide a short statement about the choir, such as "The Threshold Choir offers comforting song at the bedsides of people who are dying" or "Members of the Threshold Choir offer 'kindness made audible' at many thresholds of life".


text describing Threshold Choir and identifying the songwriters

Identifying the choir and crediting the songwriters

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Tips for funeral services

You may be asked to participate in a memorial service for an individual, such as a client or a friend of the choir. Here are some additional considerations for planning for an individual memorial service:

  • You will want to work closely with the person's family. They may request favorite songs, especially if the person was a client or they are otherwise familiar with our repertoire. They may also want a favorite hymn or other song included in the service.
  • It is likely that you will have much less lead time in planning for an individual's memorial service than you would for a service of remembrance. It is generally not advisable to try learning new, complex music under pressure.
  • You may need to coordinate with a church music minister or presider to ensure that they are comfortable with your song choices. If you are unfamiliar with the faith tradition, and especially if there is no printed program, make sure to ask for cues for your turn to sing.
  • Be clear in your understanding of how you are participating. If you are singing in the service but have not been asked to sing at the burial, for example, you do not need to attend the burial unless you feel a personal call to do that.

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Songs for the service

We have many songs that are wonderfully suited to memorial events. Here are some suggestions:

Gone from My Sight (perfect words, tricky harmony)
Remember Me (perfect words, tricky rhythm)
Eternal Light
A Place for You
Open My Heart
I Am Sending You Light
To Thy Loving Heart
Beautiful Gate
Love Transcends
Toward the Stars
May Only Love Surround You
May Peace Be With You
Walking Each Other Home
Arms of Grace
So Many Angels (because it is often a favorite of clients and families)
Thank You
Dear One
Go in Peace

If there is a part of the service where your music will be supporting another activity, such as the reading of a list of names or the placing of stones on the altar, use a song that is relatively short so you can end gracefully when the procession is over. "Love Transcends", "May Only Love Surround You", and "Toward the Stars" are good choices. Always start in unison and add parts one at a time; you can then move to "oo-ing" for as long as necessary. If the line is very long, you may want to use a couple of songs, but remember that the duration of each song probably seems much longer to you than to the audience.

When you are rehearsing the songs, choose starting pitches and write them down. It's much easier to figure them out ahead of time than in the stillness and focus of the service. Use a pitch pipe or pitch-pipe app on your smart phone. (Pitch Pro for the iPhone allows you to turn off both the ringer and vibrate mode and still play the pitch.)

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The day of the service

  • Choirs often decide that jewel-toned tops with black skirts or trousers are an easy way to achieve a professional, coordinated look without insisting on uniformity.
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes early. You may choose to arrive an hour early if singers are coming from more than one choir and have not had a chance to practice together.
  • If you haven't already, locate where you will sit and where you will sing. Plan to stand in a curved line so you can hear each other. It works best to have the director stand in front unless the group is very small.
  • Be aware of any live microphones near where you will sing. Avoid them, turn them off, or rearrange yourselves to ensure that the microphone "hears" only blended sound.
  • Breathe. Relax. Set an intention of providing comfort to the people attending the service.
  • Do not rush away at the end of the service. Be gracious. Carry business cards or other ways of providing contact information. People sometimes attend from other contexts and like to know about Threshold Choir.
  • Be open if you are offered an honorarium. We do not charge to sing at memorials, AND we gratefully accept donations.

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This information was developed from discussions among Kate Munger, directors, and other members of Threshold Choir. If you would like to further the discussion, please add your comments below.


  1. memorial service for 2/3/13
    This write-up has been most helpful and informative, esp. cuz I am a “newbie.” Thanks so much. Will take the suggestions above and apply them! 🙂

  2. Responding to Memorial Service Requests
    Our chapter is receiving requests to sing at memorial services and we are curious as to how other choirs are responding to these requests. Do you view this as part of our mission at Threshold Choir? How do you set boundaries so that requests for memorials do not overwhelm bedside sing requests? How do we say yes to some and no to others? I appreciate any guidance from your experiences and wisdom. Anke, Bakersfield Threshold Choir, [email protected]

    1. Responding…

      Anke, we take them on a case-by-case basis. There are 3 types of services we receive requests for: from clients' families (occasional), from staff at one of the VA facilities (several times a year), and from hospice agencies for an annual or semi-annual service of remembrance for their clients. 

      We always consider them, but we can't always do them. Sometimes we can't field enough singers to do them justice, or sometimes it's just a busy time and it doesn't work out. We like to do the VA services when we can because we sing there regularly, they are kind of homegrown affairs, and we often know the people being honored. Plus it's pretty easy for us (a short service with a couple of familiar songs from 3-4 of us).

      We turned down a service of remembrance this month because we really didn't have enough singers to be comfortable about it and didn't want to spend rehearsal time on it.

      You can make a policy of never doing them or you can consider each as they come up. I would think your relationship to the people requesting would influence your decision, too.

      Does that help?

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