Presidential Funeral Music

John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's casket as it leaves St. Matthew's Cathedral.

John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's casket as it leaves St. Matthew's Cathedral.

If the weather holds against Hurricane Danny, Senator Ted Kennedy’s burial is slated for this evening at Arlington Cemetery. While the news has been filled with information regarding the Senator’s death, honorary tributes to his life, interviews to gather various perspectives on political, friendly and family relationships and even information about where, exactly, the Senator is to be buried, little if anything has been said about the music that might be played during the funeral procession, during the Requiem Mass, or at Arlington Cemetery.

But, one might look at previous funerals – especially one of another Kennedy – to learn more about music that might be played at a funeral that is both Catholic and that belongs to the nation. When President John F. Kennedy was buried on 25 November 1963, a Washington Star music critic writer made note of the music he heard on that day. Irving Lowens wrote:

Last Monday, millions watched the solemn procession of the caisson from the Capitol to the White House, from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, from the cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery and as they watched, heartsick, they listened.

What music did they hear?

Every momentous event breeds legends, and already the legends about the music that accompanied the  dead march proliferate. Some are entirely wrong.

From that point, Lowens proceeded to list the events that occurred during the entire funeral that day and the music that underscored those events. While you can learn more from Lowen’s article posted at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Web site, the list below can provide you with the music that accompanied President Kennedy’s casket that day, who played, sang or directed the music, and the order in which each piece was played.

Whether or not any piece listed below might be played during Senator Kennedy’s funeral proceedings is unknown. After all, the causes of death between the two brothers were different, as were the standings of the brothers politically. For instance, “Hail to the Chief” would never be played during any funeral other than a president’s funeral. But, other musical choices may show a tie between the brothers. As one author noted, “Ave Maria” was sung at President Kennedy’s funeral, at his wife Jackie’s funeral in 1994, and at the 1998 funeral for Michael Kennedy, President Kennedy’s nephew and the son of John’s brother, the late Senator Robert Kennedy.

Capital Plaza (lying In State): The Coast Guard Academy Band played: “Ruffles and Flourishes” four times, “Hail to the Chief,” and the hymn, “O God of Loveliness”

Funeral Procession to White House:
Three service bands marched in the following order in the funeral procession: the Marine Band; the Navy Band; the Air Force Band. Each organization had an approved repertory of three pieces which were played during the 35-minute march as seemed appropriate. Marine Band selections were: “Our Fallen Heroes,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “The Vanished Army”; Navy Band selections were the Beethoven “Funeral March,” the R. B. Hall “Funeral March,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers”; Air Force Band selections were the Chopin “Funeral March,” the hymn, “Vigor in Arduis” (Hymn to the Holy Name), and “America the Beautiful.”

White House: The Naval Academy Catholic Choir sang three selections at the north portico: “Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming” (Londonderry Air) “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and “Dona Nobis Pacem.”

Funeral Procession to St. Matthew’s Cathedral: Music was provided by nine pipers from the Black Watch of the Royal Highlanders Regiment, who played “The Brown Haired Maiden,” “The Badge of Scotland,” “The 51st Highland Division,” and “The Barren Rocks of Aden.”

Arrival at Cathedral: The Army Band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” four times, “Hail to the Chief” and the hymn “Pray for the Dead.” (satellite television coverage ended when the Cathedral doors were shut, and resumed again when the doors reopened after the Requiem Mass)

Requiem Mass: The choral music during the mass was sung by the St. Matthew’s Choir, Eugene Stewart, organist and choirmaster, the tenor soloist was Luigi Vena (who had sung at John and Jackie Kennedy’s wedding). The program was as follows: “Subvenite” (choir); “Pie Jesu,” Leybach (tenor solo), “Ave Maria,” Schubert (tenor solo); “In Manus Tuus,”  Novello (tenor solo); “Sanctus and Benedictus,” Perosi (choir). Mr. Stewart conducted the Perosi “Sanctus and Benedictus;” the Gregorian “Subvenite” and the “In Paradisum” were led by James Walsh.

Conclusion of Mass: The Army Band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” four times, “Hail to the Chief,” and the hymn “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”

Funeral Procession to Arlington National Cemetery: The music used was the same as that for the march from the Capitol to the White House, with the service bands proceeding in the same order.

At the Cemetery: The Marine Band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” four times and then “The Star Spangled Banner.” As the coffin was moved from the caisson to the burial site, the Air Force Pipers played “Mist Covered Mountain.” Following the 21-gun salute and the three artillery volleys, “Taps” was played by Army bugler Sgt. Keith Clark. During  the closing flag-folding ceremony the Marine Band played the hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

To learn more about President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, visit Wikipedia, Arlington National Cemetery Web site or Fifties Web.

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