Music for Funerals – Saying Goodbye with a Song

Saying goodbye with a song

Music is an essential aspect of most cultures and societies. It has the power to bring people together and helps us to express ourselves.  Music can be calming, uplifting, rousing, moving, joyful and sorrowful.  Finding the right music for a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life can be hard.  Where to start?

The lovely thing is, there are lots of options.  The right song can bring to mind people and moments in time.  So here is a small taste of what is possible.

Where is the service going to be held?

The location and type of funeral will have a bearing on the choice of music.  If it is being held in a place of worship, the faith leader will need to approve your selection.  The same applies if the service is being taken by a member of the clergy in another location, such as a crematorium, although often there is more flexibility here.

If it is a civil ceremony with a celebrant leading the service, then almost anything is possible, so long as it is respectful and appropriate.

Did the person who has died make their wishes known?

Is there a funeral plan, letter of funeral wishes or information elsewhere that indicates their choice of music?  Most people, if they have a list, leave it as guidance and are happy for their loved ones to edit or add to their suggestions.

Toni Nunn of Singers for Funerals reminds us that “funerals are as much as for those left behind as those who have passed on.  There is no point in including lots of hymns if neither you nor your family or those at the service are going to know (or sing) them”.  There may be a special song that the whole family loves or a music genre that was a particularly important to them.

Singers for Funerals

Toni and Kirsty from Singers for Funerals

The drama and impact of a live performance or a pre-recorded favourite?

You can have a mixture of both recorded and live music.  If you have a favourite version of a song by a particular artist, it can be great to play the original version.  Or you can choose to have professional singers, a choir, musicians, or just family and friends.

Get the congregation involved 

Singing together helps people to feel a part of the service and is bonding and cathartic.  Be it a gentle hymn or a modern classic, it helps to choose songs that are well known or popular so that people feel comfortable joining in.

Professional voices to move and inspire you 

Whether it’s a soloist, someone to lead the hymns or a service full of music, professional funeral singers add dignity and beauty to a service.

Briony Rawle of The London Funeral Singers has observed first hand many times the real impact of live music.  She says, “We see congregations suddenly stir and break out of a torpor of sadness as we begin to sing; family members smiling through tears; vast emotional distances being closed; even laughter as familiar songs dredge up beloved old memories”. 

London Funeral Singers

The London Funeral Singers

The range of choice is vast; have the drama and passion of opera; the warm and uplifting sound of choral music; or get people swaying in the aisles or at the graveside with the soulful harmonies and complex rhythms of a gospel choir.  Rooted in the rich traditions of the African-American church, gospel music brings a sense of joy and community to a service.

Gail Windrass, founder of Big Gospel Choir explains “it doesn’t have to be a religious service or have religious music, but hymns like ‘Abide With Me’ are always really popular.  They are beautiful, calming and comforting at a difficult time.  Also, we are increasingly seeing requests for songs not traditionally associated with funerals, such as ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘I Vow to Thee my Country’”.

However, Gail says that often people want to end with something uplifting like ‘Oh Happy Day’.  “They don’t want people to leave the service sad, but joyful that they have known that person”. 

The power of music is indeed great.  And having a professional singer, musician or choir can ease the worry that people will be too emotional to sing and can also help to give mourners the confidence to participate.

Get a little help from a string, wind or brass friend

The organ is the traditional instrument of choice for many funerals, but how about a violinist, lutist or accordion player?  And what could be more evocative than ‘The Last Post’ played live on a bugle, or the distinctive wail and hum of bagpipes?

For a feeling of utter calm and serenity, choose the tranquil sound of a harp.  Dignified and elegant, it is perfect for contemplation and remembering.  Whether it is a classical piece, a song from a favourite film or show, a traditional folk tune or a hymn, talented musicians like Sheila Watts can perform them live, inside or out (weather permitting), at all sorts of venues.

This type of music can provide a wonderful backdrop to images and videos too.  Sheila can accompany this part of the ceremony playing live, choosing classical pieces with a gentle ambience, such as Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ or Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D’.

Shelia Watts Harpist

Sheila Watts

Refelcting their life and loves

Now that services and ceremonies can be held just about anywhere, the choice of music is endless.  Belt out a favourite pop song, or something from the TV show they loved. Does the theme tune from Match of the Day bring back memories of a dearly loved football fanatic?  These days, anything goes.  It just needs to bring a tear to the eye or a smile to the lips.  Music evokes memories and memories are what keep people alive in our hearts and minds.

Whatever you choose, let the music speak and provide a space for you to think about your special person.

Listen to audio clips and find a singer or musician

Listen to audio clips on whiteballoon’s Inspiration pages for HymnsClassical and Contemporary music and find and connect to professional musicians on our Singers & Musician Providers and Inspiration pages. And you can start to create your own list by saving information in a whiteballoon Letter of Funeral Wishes or Ideas folder.

The funeral singers and musicians listed on whiteballoon have a wealth of experience and knowledge and will be happy to talk through your music ideas and make suggestions, so do give them a call.

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