When cultural icon and TV host Dick Clark enthused on American Bandstand that “music is the soundtrack of our lives”, his words struck a note with people around the world.
Why? Because it’s so true.
Music is one of the most powerful forces in how we experience the world. Wherever there are people, there’s also music. It’s an innate part of who we are as human beings and sets the tone for moments, big and small, throughout our lives.
We sing ‘happy birthday’ each year to mark our passage through life. We carefully select the perfect song for our first dance as husband and wife. We belt out our favourite tunes as we dance around our lounge room. And we appreciate the joy a great movie soundtrack can bring.
But more than just the happy moments, music also touches our hearts and minds in moments of sadness. When someone we love dies, we turn to music to help us process our feelings of grief – so it’s not surprising that music is an essential element of the funeral service.
Why funerals and music go hand in hand
Throughout history, music has played a special role in funeral services.
In pagan times, chants were sung at funerals to placate the spirits. In ancient Rome, funeral processions included musicians playing wind instruments and singers raised their voices in praise of the dead. And in the 18th and 19th centuries, classical composers including Handel and Chopin wrote funeral marches.
Fast forward to today and music continues to feature in funeral services – and for very good reason.
- Voicing feelings. Music helps us to grieve. It puts us in touch with feelings that are often too hard to put into words. In the shock of loss, it can be difficult to process your thoughts and putting words to your emotions can seem almost impossible. At a funeral service, music can act as a channel between your head and your heart, allowing you to connect with your true feelings.
- Embracing memories. We all associate special songs with particular moments in our lives. That’s why music at funeral services is often tied to specific memories of the person who has died. It allows you to reflect on the details of their life and bridge the gap between the past and the present.
- Connecting with others. Music at a funeral service is a shared experience. It’s a way for everyone to publicly acknowledge their grief, honour the life of their loved one and lean on each other for support.
- Creating ceremony. Music is a central part of our life’s rituals. Baptisms, birthdays, graduations, weddings and more. A funeral is a ritual too. It’s an important ceremony and music adds to the overall feeling of ceremonial significance.
“Where words fail, music speaks?”
– Hans Christian Andersen
Things to consider when making music choices
Music is powerful and important to many people, and the music you choose can help make a funeral service particularly meaningful and personal. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on the music to include in a funeral service:
- What is the tone of the service? It may be a solemn, traditional service. Perhaps there will be religious elements. Or it might be that the service will have a lighter, more celebratory feel. It may even be the case that different parts of the service will take on different tones. Having a sense of the service overall will help you focus on the music that will best suit throughout.
- What kind of music did they enjoy? Maybe your loved one was known to always hum a particular song. Perhaps they were a fan of musical theatre. Or there may be a ditty they sang over and over with their children or grandchildren. By choosing songs that have personal meaning to the person who has died, you can create a powerful and moving memorial to them. Music can compel us in ways that spoken words cannot and the familiarity of a well-known song can make a moving tribute even more powerful.
- What songs evoke the strongest memories? It can be helpful to talk to family and friends. Reminisce about your loved one’s life and share memories. Their insight will help you make the selections that best speak of the person who has died.
- Will anyone be performing? Perhaps your loved one was a member of the local community or church choir. You may consider having the choir sing at the service. Or if they loved going to see a good friend play guitar at local gigs, think about asking that friend to strum a few bars. Asking someone to sing a song or play a piece of music is a meaningful way for family and friends to participate in the service.
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent?”
– Victor Hugo
Suggestions to get you thinking
Free your mind! It’s all too easy to let yourself fall into the trap of thinking “you can’t play that at a funeral”. But you’d be surprised. From classical to modern and happy to sad, you’re not limited in your choices.
Of course, there are countless options. We hope some of the following suggestions will get you thinking about the world of possibilities available to choose music that will help you laugh, cry and remember that special person who has passed.
Songs that stand the test of time
- Time to say goodbye
Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli
- My way
- Wind beneath my wings
- Ave Maria
- Nessum Dorma
- Amazing Grace
- Song for Athene
Sir John Tavener
Poignant songs that bring a teat to the eye
- Over the rainbow
- I’ll see you again
- Wind beneath my wings
- Nothing compares to you
Happy songs to raise a smile
- Always looks on the bright side of life
Monte Python’s Life of Bryan
- Don’t worry. Be happy
- What a wonderful world
- You are the sunshine of my life
Songs to provide comfort
- We’ll meet again
- You are not alone
- Tears in heaven
- Right here waiting
Chart topping song choices
- Lay me down
- Bitter sweet symphony
- Good riddance (Time of your life)
- Someone like you
“Music can change the world because it can change people”
Some final tips
Music is powerful and choosing to include particular music as part of a funeral service can help make it particularly meaningful and personal. With this in mind, we have a few final tips:
- Always read the lyrics. Before you set your mind on using any song, be sure to listen to it completely and read through all the words. You should be sure your selection is suitable for the tone of the service.
- Check with the venue. If the service is religious, the church or place of worship may have rules about the music that can be played during the service. If you’re not allowed to play a particular song, don’t despair. You can always feature it as part of any after-service gathering.
- Speak to the funeral director. If you’re unsure about what music to pick, don’t hesitate to take guidance from the professionals. Remember, they’ve seen – and heard! – it all and will be able to point you in the right direction.
Planning a funeral can be a daunting task. However choosing the music is an opportunity to think back on positive memories and consider how your loved one would want to be remembered.
Want to know more?
For more information about how music can contribute to funeral service, please contact the Walter Carter Funerals team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walter Carter Funerals has permission to use copyrighted music for funeral purposes in most circumstances. Here’s a snapshot of some of our most requested songs >>>