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Funeral Music – I’m Coming Up So You Better Get The Party Started!!!

Creating the right funeral service is a hugely important process.

However, this is often something that has to be arranged within just a few days, by people who are usually at their most emotionally raw, the challenge to capture their loved ones whole life and reflect that into what is generally a brief 20 minute service.

Perhaps most interesting is that we all know that one day a service will be held for us, hopefully not for some many years yet, and that it will be a ‘Celebration of our life’ but rarely, very rarely do we ever hold a discussion as to how we would like our service to be.

Thankfully, most services are lovingly and compassionately created, with music, words and poems used that honour the individual and pays tribute to a life well lived.

But not always….

Music features in almost every funeral service but the choices that people make sometimes beggar belief.

I never have, nor do I imagine I ever would say to a family that if they chose a particular piece that I would refuse to lead the service – but I know a minister who has. The song that he refuses in one of his services is perhaps THE song that I dislike the most to have played at a funeral. The song being ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon…. A few times I have proceeded into a chapel with a grieving family following behind and as we get a third of the way down the aisle ‘imagine there’s no heaven’ resounds around the chapel and inwardly I scream ‘NOOOOO!!!’

I tell families often that music is very emotive and remains with us, reminding us of situations and places. I tell them that what music they choose, when they hear it again will remind them of the funeral – this can be a good thing but can generate emotional reminders when you least expect.

I recall many many years ago that one of the first funerals I ever led was that of a close friend’s girlfriend who passed away just 21 years old. Included in the service was a song from a Disney film ‘Little Mermaid’. It was a few years later that when I took my son to a little girls birthday party, that as we started to set up the party tea and the children were calming down watching a DVD that I heard the music from Little Mermaid play again. Imagine my surprise and initial confusion when I found myself filling up with tears, defaulting back to the funeral service and emotions caught up with the death of that young lady.

So music ought to be chosen with great care.

Somewhere over the rainbow is a lovely song. Whether you like the original Judy Garland version or Eva Cassidy, perhaps even Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, this song is on the frequent play list at most crematoriums throughout the country. Now, I am pretty sure that this is an urban myth story but the idea of it actually happening makes me smile (so long as not on my watch) – that having placed the Wizard of Oz soundtrack into the CD machine, instead of getting Judy Garland’s ‘Somewhere Over the rainbow, way up high….’ the chapel was filled with the sound of ‘Ding Dong the witch is dead’. Admit it, your smiling!

Often people ask me ‘what are the most frequent songs played in the chapel?’ Well some of these will come as no surprise to many.
1 My Way – Frank Sinatra.
2 Time to say goodbye – Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
3 Unforgettable – Nat King Cole
4 We’ll Meet Again – Vera Lynn

However songs that you may not expect that people have chosen in services that I have led include
1 The Birdy Song – In fact I had this twice within a couple of weeks and on neither occasion did it make sense to me as to why it was chosen. Watching a couple of elderly grandmother types doing the actions inside the crematorium chapel was somewhat surreal.
2 ‘I’m a lumberjack and I’m Ok’ chosen to be played during a time of reflection where we can individually remember some of the times we have spent in the company of the individual.
3 YMCA to enter the chapel to is another unorthodox choice. Perhaps more so when it is for an elderly grandfather who passed away well into his 80’s. No the bearers did not do the actions as they carried him on their shoulders down the aisle to the catafalque.
4 ‘Ladies and gentleman, there is no rush from this chapel, but as we gather our thoughts and prepare to take our leave through these doors here on your right that lead us out to the floral terrace, we shall be accompanied by one last piece of music…. This is the Ma Na me Na song from The Muppets.’ – Why oh why oh why oh why????? I simply do not know why but that is how I concluded one service.

Then there are the more comedic songs that have obvious relevance. Dependent upon the career of the deceased then songs like ‘My old mans a dustman’, ‘Ernie and he drove the fastest milk cart in the west’, or ‘Now I’ve got a brand new combined harvester’ – you understand why they have been chosen and can certainly lift the mood within the service.

Eric Idol’s song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ is popular and is used often to conclude a service with families adopting to both leave with a smile and perhaps also use the sentiment of the song as a manifesto for modern living.

Comedy songs though have to be used in my opinion very carefully. Julia and I have traded comment and song ideas for each other’s life celebration. Julia says that ‘I’m coming up so you better get the party started’ by Pink seems ideal for her. We smile and laugh at the image but I know that in reality, when inside that chapel that song is not what I want played as I celebrate my wife’s life.

I still cringe when I recall this musical selection. A couple had obviously had an evening discussing what music they might choose for one another’s funeral should the need arise. I can only imagine that they may have laughed with hysterics over a few drinks at various alternatives. To this day I doubt that the husband was totally serious. Sadly, the gentleman passed away in the departure lounge of Luton Airport en route to a holiday in the Dominican Republic. The wife, a lovely lady, totally distraught at the loss of her soul mate felt somewhat obliged to go with his song request. I cautioned her that inside the chapel, the emotion of the day that this song might not be the best way for her to leave the chapel. She understood what I was saying but elected to still go with this song. The chapel was full on that day. A large family and perhaps the tragic circumstances of his death created a large congregation. After a really moving service, with the family openly emotional and after I had closed the curtains, I had to introduce the piece that we were about to exit to. ‘I pray God’s blessing will be with you and your families this and every day…. We will now leave the chapel to Another One Bites The Dust by Queen’… The familiar bass line introduction kicks in as I leave the lectern, bow to the curtains and slowly walk to the door ready to shake hands, inwardly reeling from what we were listening to.

So, choose wisely the music to represent and celebrate a loved one’s life. There are many wonderful and amazing songs. Right now Ellie Goulding’s beautiful track ‘How long will I love you’ is right up there in my idea of perfect choices. Matt Redman’s ‘Endless Hallelujah’ is another. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vny6oFHw1Sw&feature=kp )

I pray that these musical decisions will not need to be played out in your families anytime soon, but when the time comes it is important that we say farewell with words of love and dignity.

Ahhh Dignity by Deacon Blue…. Now that is a tune!