Funeral or Memorial Service Bagpiper Tips
Funerals and Memorial Services are special occasions for the rememberances of a loved one and the
celebration of their life. A bagpiper can add greatly to the emotional needs and ceremonial
requirments of these kinds of services. Equipped with the right selection of tunes, a piper can
assist in easing the pain and sorrow felt with the loss of a loved one. The popular gospel air,
"Amazing Grace", for example, will undoubtedly evoke loving memories.
It has been a cultural tradition for many centuries, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, to have
a bagpiper play 'laments' in honor of the departed. This tradition is continued here today in North
America among Scots and Irish immigrants and their decendents, and has also become somewhat the norm
for honoring the dedication of duty of all persons of public service, particularly members and former members of
the military, fire and police services.
You will find suggestions here on how to use a piper to greatest effect, and what to expect.
When Should the Piper Play?
Some of my clients already know what they want, the rest decide after I talk them through the options.
I'm typically asked for one or more from the following list:
At the church or memorial hall:
- Play outside the church or hall as mourners arrive.
- If there is a casket, meet the hearse and pipe the pall-bearers and casket into the church.
- Play a special selection at some point during the service.
- Again, if there is a casket, at the end of the service, pipe the pall-bearers and casket out
of the church and back to the hearse.
- Play outside the church or hall as the mourners leave.
At the cemetary:
- Play near the gravesite, or outside the moseleum or chapel as the mourners arrive.
- If there is a casket, meet the hearse and pipe the poll-bearers and casket to the grave
- Play a special selection at some point during the service.
- If flowers are provided to the mourners, the piper often plays while the flowers are being
- Play during the lowering of the casket or placing of the urn.
- Play at the end of the service as the mourners leave.
Playing At The Church or Hall
Before the Service - This is actually a very good time to have the piper play. If the majority
of the mourners are expected to arrive within a short period of time, say 15-20 minutes before the service
starts, then a piper can be used quite effectively to greet them. If there is a casket, the piper will
meet the hearse and start playing a processional air as the pall-bearers take the casket from the hearse.
The piper will then lead-off, playing to the front door of the church. After the initial blessing, the
piper will again proceed playing, and lead the the pall-bearers and casket up the aisle to the alter.
During the Service - I am sometimes requested to play a special selection, such as "Amazing Grace" or
"Danny Boy" at an appropriate time during the service. I have played my pipes a number of times ensemble
with a church's pipe-organ, and/or as a prelude to a choral; this combination is quite outstanding in effect.
At the end of the Service - Again, if a casket is present, the piper will again lead the pall-bearers
and casket back down the aisle while playing, and out the door of the church to the waiting hearse.
The piper will continue playing as the casket is being loaded. If there is no casket, the piper usually just
plays near the door as the mourners leave. If a reception follows the service in a nearby hall, the piper
can stand outside near the entrance and play as everyone proceeds to it.
Playing At The Cemetary
Before the Service Begins - is a very good time to have the piper play. Again, as at a church
service, the piper can used to greet the mourners as they arrive. The amount of time that the piper
plays before a service usually depends on whether the service takes place at a chapel or moseleum, or
just at the gravesite. The piper will generally play for a longer period (usually for 15-20 minutes)
before the start of a service at a cemetary chapel or moseleum. At a gravesite service (which
often follows a church or chapel service), the playing time before the service begins is much shorter
(usually about 5-6 minutes) because the mouners generally arrive together.
At the Gravesite: If there is a casket, the piper will meet the
hearse and start playing a processional air as the pall-bearers take the casket from the hearse. The
piper will then lead the procession to the gravesite.
During the Service - I may be requested to play a special selection, such as "Amazing Grace",
"Danny Boy", or "Going Home" at an appropriate time during the service, usually while flowers are
being placed on the casket and/or it is being lowered.
After the Service - When the service concludes, the piper will again play as the mourners
leave the chapel, moseleum, or gravesite.
Quite often I am asked to play specific tunes that are often associated with funerals (such as
"Amazing Grace"), or that were a favorite of the deceased and/or family. Usually I will ask (or be
told) if there is a particular style or genre of music that is preferred, such as traditional Scottish
or Irish. In such cases, I will already have several sets of tunes of each style that I know well
and intend to play. You can view a list of the more well-known tunes that Alan plays on his Scottish
HIghland pipes by clicking on this link - Alan's European
& American Music Repertoire Page.
|Informal Scottish Attire|
The Piper's Dress
I usually wear my day-wear (informal) Scottish outfit (see photo) unless requested otherwise. If the
gathering is totally casual (usually just a memorial or 'celebration of life' gathering - often held
in a natural outdoor setting such as the beach or woods), on such occasions (especially during hot
weather), a simple muslin 'peasant-style' shirt, or a short sleeve dress shirt along with the kilt
and daywear accessories suffices.
Help for the Piper
On hot days, it is essential that there be water or other liquid refreshment avaiable to the piper.
I try to remember to bring water with me, but sometimes in the rush of leaving for the event I forget.
Providing liquid refreshment insures that the client will get a better and certainly more continuous
performance. Shade on warm-to-hot sunny days, and shelter on inclimate days is a must for any performance
lasting more than a few minutes. Extremes in temperature (hot or cold) may necessitate a shorter
performance, with the possibility of no adjustment in the musician's fee.
When in doubt about any of the above, or in the event of unforseen conditions and/or situations, the client's
sensitivity to the musician's comfort and needs, will nearly always insure a cheerful demeanor and best
The fee charged for playing for a funeral, memorial service, or 'celebration of life' gathereing
will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- My having to travel some distance, or at certain (increased traffic) hours to play at the
event. In such cases, a trip fee is assessed in relation to the travel time involved, and
will be included in the total amount quoted. Parking fees and/or other travel expenses such as
bridge tolls will also be included.
- The total amount of time 'on-site' or 'on-call'. For example, when requested to play for
both church and burial services, I may be needed for several hours. I have a one-hour minimum
charge for the first hour (this covers many shorter church, chapel, or burial-only services),
but please note that the second and subsequent hours are charged at a much reduced rate.
- Services taking place on some major holidays and holiday weekends may be charged at a higher
Comments, Questions, or Booking Information? Send Alan an e-mail (use the 'Contact' button on the
navigation table below, or go to Alan's 'Home' Page for address),
Telephone Alan at (650) 391-5546 normal hours U.S. P.T.
last update: 12/7/12