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May 8, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Bagpipe Funeral Songs

Piped anthems for the memorial service

Bagpipe Funeral Songs
Consider hiring a piper for your loved one's memorial music. There are several traditional songs for bagpipes to play at a funeral. (Shutterstock)

If you've ever heard bagpipes played at a funeral, you know just how stirring the sound can be. Some prefer bagpipe funeral songs because the instrument itself is a symbol of remembrance and mourning. However, others who are of Irish or Scottish heritage may opt for bagpipe funeral songs as a way to tie themselves to their heritage, as the bagpipes are a traditional instrument in that part of the world.

Why are bagpipes played at funerals?

Bagpipes have long been the primary instrument of funerals honoring firefighters and police officers. During the 1800s, the potato famine of Ireland brought hordes of Irish immigrants to North America. They faced discrimination, and were only allowed to work in dangerous professions-like police and firefighting. The death toll was high enough in the Irish-American community that their tradition of playing bagpipes at funerals became inextricably linked.

Even if it's not your favorite instrumental sound, there's no denying that bagpipes are especially affecting in the context of a funeral.

This funeral trend has spread to include memorials of all types. Though bagpipes are most often linked to funerals of military members and first responders, anyone can take advantage of this haunting and emotional tribute.

Piping songs for funerals

If the choice has been made to incorporate the bagpipes into a funeral, the next question may: Which songs should be played? There are several common funeral songs played on the bagpipes. Here are some songs that you might hear at a funeral.

Going Home

For religious services, "Going Home" is one of the most popular funeral songs. The Christian ideal of returning to God in heaven at the time of death is a theme in this adapted classic from Dvorak's Symphony No. 9.

It can be comforting to believe that, though they are gone from earth, deceased loved ones are waiting to be reunited with us in heaven. Now that the deceased person's work on earth is complete, they can finally rest. "Going Home" is a reminder that everyone will eventually pass away, but this is a natural end to a life well lived.

Going home, going home,

I'm just going home.

Quiet-like, slip away-

I'll be going home.

It's not far, just close by;

Jesus is the Door;

Work all done, laid aside,

Fear and grief no more.

Friends are there, waiting now.

He is waiting, too.

See His smile! See His hand!

He will lead me through.

Morning Star lights the way;

Restless dream all done;

Shadows gone, break of day,

Life has just begun.

Every tear wiped away,

Pain and sickness gone;

Wide awake there with Him!

Peace goes on and on!

Going home, going home,

I'll be going home.

See the Light! See the Sun!

I'm just going home.

Flowers of the Forest

"Flowers of the Forest" is a Scottish folk song that dates back to about the year 1615. This tune was written to memorialize the defeat of the Scottish army at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The melody is ancient; however, there are several versions of the lyrics, all more recent than the original composition.

It's a somber song that is generally reserved for solemn occasions, like a funeral. In fact, many pipers will only play Flowers of the Forest during funerals or when practicing for playing for funerals.

I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,

Lassies a-lilting before dawn o' day;

But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;

"The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away".

Skye Boat Song

Another Scottish funeral standard is "Skye Boat Song." This song was first played in the late 19th century, and is a meaningful song for memorializing someone who has passed, especially a Scot.

This tune recounts the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape after the Jacobite rising of 1745:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,

Onward! the sailors cry;

Carry the lad that's born to be King

Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,

Thunderclaps rend the air;

Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,

Follow they will not dare.

Many's the lad, fought in that day

Well the claymore did wield;

When the night came, silently lay

Dead on Culloden's field.

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,

Ocean's a royal bed.

Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep

Watch by your weary head.

Burned are their homes, exile and death

Scatter the loyal men;

Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath

Charlie will come again.

Pipers may choose to play "Skye Boat Song" at a funeral as the lyrics reflect a journey over sea and sky. Though the song is literally about an escape, in the aftermath of a death this song tells the story of an amazing person who is moving on into another world, which can be very meaningful to mourners at a funeral.

Oft in the Stilly Night

"Oft in the Stilly Night" is a poem written by Thomas Moore (1779-1852), which is also played as a song. The speaker reflects on boyhood and draws comparisons between memories of the past and the present day. Nostalgia, fear of death and taking a moment to reflect on life are all ideas explored by Moore in "Oft in the Stilly Night":

Oft, in the stilly night,

Ere slumber's chain has bound me,

Fond memory brings the light

Of other days around me;

The smiles, the tears,

Of boyhood's years,

The words of love then spoken;

The eyes that shone,

Now dimm'd and gone,

The cheerful hearts now broken!

Thus, in the stilly night,

Ere slumber's chain hath bound me,

Sad memory brings the light

Of other days around me.

When I remember all

The friends, so link'd together,

I've seen around me fall,

Like leaves in wintry weather;

I feel like one

Who treads alone

Some banquet-hall deserted,

Whose lights are fled,

Whose garlands dead,

And all but he departed!

Thus, in the stilly night,

Ere slumber's chain has bound me,

Sad memory brings the light

Of other days around me.

Moore's poem, when translated through the bag of a pipe, evokes a yearning to remember the past. It's a beautiful way to memorialize a loved one on the day they are laid to rest.

The haunting melodies of bagpipes are strongly associated with memorial services across North America. (Shutterstock)

Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace" is a traditional funeral song that holds meaning for many people. Though it was written more than 200 years ago, the lyrics and melody still resonate with folks from all over the world. This song has been reimagined in many ways, by countless artists. It remains an incredibly popular song and is often sang at traditional church services on Sunday mornings.

The timeless ditty speaks about a deep faith and love for God, which can be of special importance if the deceased was religious. Despite the slow, somber melody, the lyrics are full of hope. This emblematic hymn is a favorite across cultures, continents, generations and languages.

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

T'was blind but now I see

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear

And Grace, my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares

We have already come.

T'was grace that brought us safe thus far

And grace will lead us home,

And grace will lead us home

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost but now am found

T'was blind but now I see

Was blind, but now I see.

Danny Boy

"Danny Boy", written by Englishman Frederic Weatherly in the early 20th century, is a touching song choice for funerals, especially when piped. It is an Irish folk song set to the tune of "Londonderry Air," and has a strong connection with Irish and Scottish communities. Despite this, it is played at funerals of varying nationalities. "Danny Boy" is frequently chosen for several reasons, not least of which is its deep and emotional message. It is also a song that celebrates bagpipes, as well as laments the loss of life.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.

The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,

It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow,

Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow,

It's I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow,

Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so!

But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,

If I am dead, as dead I well may be,

You'll come and find the place where I am lying,

And kneel and say an Ave there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,

And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,

For you will bend and tell me that you love me,

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!

Scotland the Brave

This song is known as an unofficial Scottish anthem. Though it is not explicitly a funeral song, it is a beautiful addition to the musical program at a memorial service-particularly when laying to rest a person of Scottish heritage.

Hark where the night is falling

hark hear the pipes a calling

Loudly and proudly calling down thru the glen

There where the hills are sleeping

Now feel the blood a leaping

High as the spirits of the old highland men

Towering in gallant fame

Scotland my mountain hame

High may your proud standards gloriously wave

Land of my high endeavor

Land of the shining river

Land of my heart forever, Scotland the Brave

High in the misty mountains

Out by the purple highlands

Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies

Wild are the winds to meet you

Staunch are the friends that greet you

Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens eyes.

A traditional tribute

Many folks opt to include the chilling sounds of a bagpipe in funerals, and it's not all about heritage. Something about this instrument is larger than life. Keep in mind that everyone at the funeral is there to celebrate the life of the deceased. The song choice may seem important now, but what truly matters is the reason why everyone has gathered. The sheer volume and impact of this musical tribute is enough to command the attention of all mourners present.

Check out these songs and other in our Bagpipe Funeral Music playist on Youtube:

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