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Pop music at funerals

Simon Allen on pop music and funerals.

The heading 'Popular and Contemporary' covers a huge range from early 20th century jazz, boogie woogie, 1920s dance crazes, the Big Bands of the 1930s and 40s through Skiffle and the emergence of Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll in the 50s, ending with chart and indie music from the 1960s onwards, including dance and gay anthems and torch songs of every variety.

All have been, and can be, played at modern funerals.

So the answer to: "What music can we have?" is "Anything you like!"

If the music chosen to reflect the life does not include any religious pieces, the person who has departed was probably not religious. In this case the choice of funeral is likely to be humanist or a civil ceremony.

Music is just as important to contemporary and alternative funerals as The English Hymnal or Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised are to Church of England church services.

Families now want to have music that is relevant to the life being concluded. If Dad liked, 'When I’m Cleanin’ Winders' then that’s what gets played because it speaks of a time and a situation in which everyone can 'place' him.

Memorable music

It is often the case that the music chosen is from the time when they were a teenager or were courting, these being among the most memorable times of a person’s life.

Can a choice of music be inappropriate or just downright wrong? Yes and No.

If the choice is completely out of the frame of reference that the mourners associate with the person, then it can jar. 

A modern song chosen for a personal reason by an old person’s children may not resonate with his or her contemporaries.

But that does not mean it is wrong and should not be played. All it needs is for the officiant/minister to place the song in context by introducing it and explaining why the choice.

Older people at the funeral might still not identify with it but they will understand the personal tribute being made by the children of their departed friend or loved one.

In a modern funeral, it is usual to choose three pieces of music.

For entrance it is often a quieter piece but might be a grand entrance to a favourite football song such as, I’m Forever Blowin’ Bubbles.

During the ceremony, there will be time for Quiet Reflection. An effective piece of contemporary music for this is Fields of Gold by Sting. Consider the beautiful cover by Eva Cassidy (who died tragically young).

When it is time to leave, the choice is usually more upbeat and anything goes. From a Regimental Tune, to the theme from a movie to the enduring My Way perhaps sung by Elvis Presley for a change?

Humour will often emerge with choices such as the theme from the film The Great Escape to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire which is a regular at the crematorium.

For some suggestions, see Funeral Songs.

Do not include too much music. Whilst it is comforting and evocative, it can take up a lot of time.

Many crems only allow half an hour appointments so it is best to keep the music short and simple...or ask the funeral director to book two consecutive slots.

Music at the reception

You can always play more music at the reception gathering (or wake) following the funeral. By preparing a Reception playlist, you can ensure the widest possible choice and not risk upsetting anyone during the funeral itself.

If modern music, indeed all sorts of music, is important to you (or the person whose funeral you are planning) you should think about having a celebratory event at which music is a central part.

The celebratory party may be a really comforting way of being remembered.

It will be literally the party of a lifetime as this will be the event at which friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, lovers, supporters and helpers will all want to attend to celebrate you and your life.

Music for the party of a lifetime 

Think about the music that you have enjoyed through the years, and create a playlist containing this music.

Add the playlist to the instructions for your celebratory party, and put it in the Lifebox.

Ensure that the person who is responsible for fulfilling your last wishes knows it is there and promises to carry out the instructions.

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