Thursday, February 23, 2012

Brass for a Funeral

In the United States, brass musicians are commonly associated with two types of funerals, the New Orleans jazz funeral and military funerals.

The jazz funeral is an interesting part of New Orleans culture that developed from traditions in Africa.  At a funeral, all of the guests will parade with the coffin to the graveyard.  On the way to the gravesite, a brass band will play somber music or a spiritual.  Following the funeral, the brass band leads the parade in celebration of life.  As part of the jazz funeral, brass musicians use music to mourn the dead, celebrate life, accompany the procession and parade, and guide the deceased to their eternal rest.

Here is a video from from a jazz funeral as the coffin is being transported from the church to the gravesite. The band is playing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

This next video is of a funeral procession that is more solemn.  The video is supposedly the Tongan Brass Band who I assume are from Tonga. Thus, they obviously don't represent a New Orleans tradition. Still, the video can give us insight into cultural practices around the world and interesting uses of brass instruments.

The link below will connect you to a video of the group the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Formed in New Orleans in 1977, this band has helped define and celebrate New Orleans culture for over 30 years.  In this video, the group is leading the joyful parade after a funeral.

Military funerals are very solemn ceremonies.  Most often, a solo trumpet or bugle will play Taps.  For funerals at the national cemeteries, an entire band will often play.  The music mostly consists of hymns or sacred tunes and patriotic music. The music at a military funeral can accompany a procession or march to the gravesite but mostly serves to honor the deceased as they are being interred. Here are two videos which demonstrate the type of brass music played for military funerals.

Here is a version of Taps with two trumpets echoing each other.

Here is a full band playing for a military funeral.

On a personal note....
A few weeks ago, I played for a funeral for the first time and it was an incredibly emotional experience for me, even though I did not personally know the deceased or any of the guests. It got me thinking about how music can affect people.  Funerals require music that will bring comfort and sympathy.  The musician can either remain distant and disconnected or they can be emotionally involved. I personally strive for emotional connection because musicians are then capable of significantly impacting people. It is a great opportunity to go beyond bringing art and talent to the listener but to bring comfort, peace, or even just a momentary distraction from grief. Perhaps the music even serves as an outlet for the pain. Playing for a funeral really changed my perspective on how I can use music and what I want my goals to be.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the NOLA brass bands at a funeral are a long standing tradition in that city. It's actually kind of neat when you think about it. A musical send off. If you check out the show Treme on HBO it has a couple episodes where there is a funeral going on and one of the main characters is either walking along with the band or playing in it. It's definitely a part of history that shouldn't be forgotten or ignored. Good post, Megan!