When she goes, she wants it simple. "A graveside service and forget it. And not at Gawler's. I don't want the boys to see my body," says Marguerite Brice.
Brice, 77, has played the organ for Joseph Gawler's Sons Inc. for 35 years.
"I've had every kind of funeral you can think of -- low, medium and high," she says. "The strangest was a Southern man who had left instructions he wanted 'The Gambler' sung. The soloist had a hard time keeping a straight face."
Then there was the 1976 funeral for longtime local TV weatherman Louie Allen. It drew quite a crowd to the Wisconsin Avenue funeral home. "It was a like a cocktail party . . . I played weather songs -- 'Stormy Weather,' 'Raindrops' -- for three hours.
"I've done Dixieland, and I had to learn jazz and rock because I was getting requests. The atheists like classical -- Bach and Mozart -- and everybody's favorite hymn is 'Amazing Grace.' "
Sometimes she doesn't know what she'll be playing until the family arrives for the funeral. No problem: Brice sight-reads any music.
"Only one letter of complaint 20 years ago from an old man who didn't like my version of 'The Lost Chord,' " she says. "I learned to use discretion about choosing music, and keep my mouth shut about politics and religion. It's a challenge to please people."
She started playing in church at 13, and has taught uncounted students and played at hundreds of church services, weddings and concerts since. She played in a classical ragtime group in the '60s. She was dean of the American Guild of Organists. She played for the Friday Morning Music Club and for President Dwight Eisenhower when he attended services at the old National Presbyterian Church. Overlapping her career at Gawler's, she was the choir organist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for 30 years. She still plays at the McLean Church of Christ Scientist -- "not my church, but it's close to home" -- and, of course, at Gawler's.
Cloistered in a tiny room, Brice can see and hear the proceedings through a louvered opening in the wall. She's too loyal to Gawler's to mention names, but she will share an observation born of a lifetime at funerals: "Some people are fakes, you know. Someone can be carrying on, weeping, and it doesn't mean a thing."