Chances are, the well-accomplished organist at your parish or church will have a large, though not a complete, selection of popular organ music for funerals. But, don’t be surprised if they ask you to bring along piano or organ-arrangement sheet music if you’ve chosen something out of their usual repertoire.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Traditional (Hymnal) Organ Music for the Funeral’s Entrance
- Classical Organ Music for the Funeral’s Procession
- Modern Organ Music for Funerals
Below, we’ve collected some options for some traditional and less conventional arrangements to use during your loved one’s funeral.
Traditional (Hymnal) Organ Music for the Funeral’s Entrance
Choosing traditional music for a loved one’s funeral is no easy task. That’s why the liturgical director is available to help. Below are just a few of the most common ones, but you may discover more suitable ones with some more guidance.
1. “I Have Loved You with an Everlasting Love” by Michael Joncas
Derived from Jeremiah 3:13 and Psalm 24:3, “I Have Loved You with an Everlasting Love” is a traditional Catholic hymn about devotion and waiting for God to bring his mission to you.
2. “Shepherd Me O God” by Marty Haugen
Catholic and Protestant masses around the world widely use Marty Haugen’s work. In this piece, the stanzas draw from Psalm 23, saying that God is merciful, loving, and healing.
3. “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace (Prayer of St. Francis)”
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” is a suitable funeral song because it asks for benedictions while living. But to be seated with God after death.
4. “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” by Carey Landry
Many of you may know this only as a prayer, but it’s also set to music. If you’re not concerned with any specific rendition, your organist likely has the music for one often played in the church.
5. “How Great Thou Art” by Carl Boberg
Chances are most attendees at a loved one’s funeral are familiar with this song, even if they aren’t a member of your congregation.
6. “Amazing Grace” by John Newton
“Amazing Grace” is a popular song that can bring everyone singing it into the same hopeful emotion.
Classical Organ Music for the Funeral’s Procession
Familiarity with music can help bring comfort to those attending the funeral. As such, check out this list of familiar and classical organ music.
7. “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber
Before deciding on this song, listen to the version from The Academy of St. Martin. All (almost) nine minutes feel like you're listening to someone's life story in three beautiful acts: Birth, Life, and Death. It's altogether captivating and suitable for a funeral.
8. “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughn Williams
Williams’s name is a bit more obscure than many of the composers listed here, but his work is brilliant. However, if you can find “The Lark Ascending” in organ sheet music, you might prefer it above the rest as it is one of his most beautiful compositions.
9. “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell
Purcell's "Dido's Lament" is a fitting piece for a funeral. It's robust, communicative, and creates a somber tone. Plus, the organ's hums and thunders set an appropriate style and intensity for the ceremony and feelings of grief.
10. “Prelude in E-flat Major” by William Henry Harris
Renown English organist William H. Harris, aka “Doc H,” famously composed for the Anglican Church. “Prelude” is often used in funeral services because of its ease and simplicity. It’s also a relatively short piece, playing for about two and a half minutes.
11. “Adagio, from Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C Major” by Johan Sebastien Bach
J.S. Bach lived for 65 years, composing multiple organ pieces throughout his career, and was often hailed as a masterful composer. Today, his name is synonymous with great classical funeral music.
12. “Intermezzo, from Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni
Mascagni is best known as an operatic composer. "Intermezzo, from Cavalleria Rusticana" is from his most popular and most acclaimed opera. Unfortunately for his music career, personal political alignments put him in ruin. Still, here's a beautiful piece to enjoy.
13. “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel
As “Canon in D” is often a celebratory song, it’s uncommon to hear at a funeral. That said, if it holds an intimate connection for you, consider adding a cello so that it has a deeper resonance, perhaps more fitting to the service.
14. “Air for the G String” by Johan Sebastien Bach
It's challenging to find a composition from Bach that you don't love. But "Air for the G String" is incredibly moving, especially for a funeral. From the beginning and throughout the piece, there's a smooth, almost anticipatory element that resolves as consolation.
Modern Organ Music for Funerals
Many congregations have limitations and rules regarding modern or secular music at a funerary mass. So check ahead with the pastor or reverend to confirm that you can substitute for a favorite song. Chances are, if it was your loved one's favorite, they'll accommodate the request.
15. “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
This Beatles song arranged for the organ is as impressive as you’d think. Because the organ can hold notes so much longer than a piano, there’s an extra resonance that will make you fall in love with this adapted version of the classic.
It’ll make the right choice if you’re looking for an uplifting song to play at the funeral.
16. “Hello” by Adele
As one of the most common funeral songs played today at funerals, it's no wonder that it's been adapted into organ music as well. Although it loses something without the vocals, the same inspiration as the original is audible when played on an organ.
17. “Emerald and Stone” by Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins, Leo Abrahams
This trio of composers and instrumentalists have developed a genuinely ethereal song, well-suited for a funeral. When arranged for an organ, you'll miss a few of the original electronic elements, but the whirs and chirps of the organ will replace them beautifully.
18. “Wild Horses” by Rolling Stones
An accomplished organist can play just about any arranged music for a piano—on an organ. What's memorable about the transfer of contemporary music to an organ is that the pivotal notes, or the ones that bring the most emotion, can be held much longer on an organ.
19. “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles
Ray Charles is one of the greats of modern music, which is precisely why you would want to choose your loved one’s favorite song as an arrangement for their funeral.
“Georgia on My Mind” also works for telling a story through pictures if you’re holding a funeral slideshow.
20. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, adaptation by Bert van den Brink
If the melody of the first minute seems a little out of place for a funeral, the final 5 ½ minutes are better suited for the ceremony. Just communicate with the organist to get a feel for how they can adapt the song if you agree.
21. “Moonlight Sonata” by Ludwig van Beethoven
"Moonlight Sonata" has been made famous enough through the film industry that it deserves mention here. Note that the whirs and chirps de-intensify some of the piano's lower chords when played on an organ. What remains is a sound that is smooth and reflective—suitable for a funeral.
Choosing the Most Suitable Funeral Organ Music
If you haven’t spoken with the organist ahead of time, bring a copy of the sheet music to give to them. This will allow the musician ample time to learn the music and prepare for your loved one’s funeral ceremony, especially if there’s only a few days’ notice.
- Hawn, M. (2015). History of Hymns: "Shepherd Me, O God.” Discipleship Ministries. www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-shepherd-me-o-god
- Lawrence, N. (2012). Accompanying Catholic Funeral Masses, A guide for musicians. Lawrence Musica. www.lawrencemusica.co.uk
- Liturgical Music Department. (n.d.). The Church St. Rocco. churchofsaintrocco.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Church-of-St.-Rocco-Funeral-Music-Selection-Guide.pdf
- Music Selections for Catholic Funerals. (2015). St. Peter Florida. www.stpeterfl.org/documents/2018/10/Music%20Selections%20for%20Catholic%20Funerals-%20Revised%20April%202015.pdf