Top Tips when Choosing Music for a Funeral
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which
cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo
Music – it is powerful, emotive, expressive, dream-making, inspiring and central to many of our ceremonies, including funeral ceremonies.
The music we play often tells something about that special person. What they enjoyed listening to, which artists they admired, what genre of music they followed and what decade they most related to, musically.
When it comes to a civil funeral ceremony, there are few rules when it comes to music. Limitations can include the time available for the ceremony and whether there are any licensing issues to be considered.
I have enjoyed looking back at the music chosen by families for the last 100 funeral ceremonies that I have conducted and am perhaps not surprised to find Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Patiro), Fields of Gold, and Wind Beneath my Wings claim equal billing at the top of my chart. Sailing, Somewhere over the Rainbow, What a Wonderful World and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life are close behind.
The most popular artists in joint first place on my list are: Andre Rieu, John Denver and Rod Stewart, with Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli and Eva Cassidy close on their heels.
So what things might you want to consider when choosing music for a loved one’s funeral ceremony? Assuming they have not already chosen their music, of course.
There are so many choices when it comes to music: Hymns, classical, traditional, popular music, all the different genres from folk to jazz and everything in between. Live music including with an organist or other musician playing, or recorded music. Happy, uplifting music or sad emotive music. There is no right or wrong.
How many pieces of music do we need to choose?
Generally, in a ceremony in a crematorium for example, we would have a piece of music as everyone enters the chapel, then possibly a hymn (if religious music is appropriate), a piece of music to listen to for the period of reflection (after the eulogy or tributes have been read), and finally as everyone prepares to leave the chapel (families often choose a more uplifting piece at the end, but again just whatever feels right for you). Depending on the chapel there may also be a quiet piece of instrumental music playing as the words of committal are given.
This is a standard format but by no means not the only way. You may wish to include more or less.
Your choice or their choice?
Your loved one may have enjoyed listening to music and their playlist, CD or record collection may offer good options.
Perhaps your loved one wasn’t really into music at all. But they loved watching footie (Match of the Day theme tune), or they loved steam trains (recording of a steam engine chugging along a track), or they loved nature (recorded birdsong). Is there a piece of music associated with their favourite sports team?
I would also encourage the family to think of music that theyenjoy listening to, that settles them or that makes them think of their loved one in a particular time or place.
Will it ‘spoil’ the record for me in the future?
Some people are wary of creating an association between the particular version of a favourite song with a sad time. In such cases, you can explore other versions of the song. There are instrumental versions of many popular songs available. Andre Rieu, The Piano Guys and others have covered many popular songs in this way.
Alternatively, you could consider including song lyrics (always credited) instead of poetry and including the favourite piece that way, especially if hearing the actual song played may be just too painful but the lyrics hold a lot of meaning.
“Always, she is standing by my side, She's my inspiration, and she's my battle cry, And in her arms is the only place I know,Where peaceful waters flow”.
From Where Peaceful Waters Flow by Chris De Burgh
Did your loved one enjoy films or gaming?
Music scores from films and gaming are fabulous and often overlooked. Popular film scores included in ceremonies I have conducted are John Dunbar’s themefrom Dances with Wolves, and For the Love of a Princess from Braveheart- both are beautiful, magnificent and emotive pieces. I have even had the main theme from Star Wars, and will never forget the sound of what sounded like storm troopers marching in. It was a perfect ending for a Star Wars devotee.
A real personal favourite is ‘Where the Lost Things Go’ from Mary Poppins Returns.
What did your loved one enjoy watching on TV?
As well as the theme tune from Match of the Day, I have also conducted ceremonies that included the theme tune from Coronation Streetand Emmerdale!
Are there family traditions of playing particular pieces?
Nimrod, Jerusalem, I Vow to thee my Country, Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd often fall into this category.
In summary, there is no right or wrong, only what fits for you and your loved one. Think beyond the CD collection to find a piece that is appropriate. Of course, your celebrant or funeral director will be on hand to help provide inspiration if needed.
My own list of songs to be played at my funeral (when the day comes, hopefully not too soon) increases by the day. It is going to be a long one I think, so I would suggest my loved ones bring snacks and perhaps a cushion J