Updated February 2023
I originally wrote this post in 2012. A decade later and having attended a couple of funerals recently musical choices become more relevant by the day.
How do you identify music for three significant phases in a funeral service:
We are talking about the beginning, the middle and the end of a funeral service. Your faith may determine how your service proceeds. Inevitably there will be a beginning, a middle and an ending and music may or may not be permissible. I associate different emotions with these three phases as we orientate, remember and depart. The following fifteen musical choices have mainly been determined by emotions the music evokes. Lyrics can play a part, but it is the power of music to orchestrate emotions which speaks most to me.
Arriving needs to be respectful, we are stepping out of one world into another world. Ideally, I want the music at this moment to sound processual with a reflective element. So not too many beats per minute (BPM) on arrival, music to convey rambling rather than running. In the middle of the service, there is an opportunity to remember the departed. Again, this is going to be reflective with not too many bpm and a meditative mood. Ideally a moment in the ceremony of the service to pause and reflect. The right music choices can encourage such focused reflection. Finally, and this is very personal, there is music for departing the service. My music choices at this stage are uplifting, even celebratory. My ideal is that my final departure and departing the service “should” be a positive experience.
In updating this post, it was interesting to revisit my 2012 musical choices for the three emotional phases. I liked my choices, but today they would be different. I have offered five different choices for each emotional phase. They are for illustrative purposes, as our musical choices are uniquely personal. I suspect that our preferences even change with the emotions of a particular day, days when the only accompaniment for departing the funeral service is Motorhead! But there comes a time when a choice has to be made. In the next three sections, the first choice is from 2012 and the last choice is my favoured preference at the time of writing.
Hopefully, I will get a little more time to review and revise these choices, but who knows?
What music do you want to accompany people entering the service as they orientate themselves?
Boy 1904 by Jonsi/Alex Somers This is an unusual track by Jonsi, more well-known for his work with Sigur Ros. I have been fortunate enough to watch Sigur Ros live on three occasions in three very different settings, once in a small church when they were just starting. What I like about Boy 1904 is its otherworldly feel, it is solemn, yet for me conjures up the esoteric. Latin, palindromes and a sample of a castrato singing, what more could you ask for?
Moments in love by The Art of Noise The slow pacing of this track works so well for entering. This is what I meant by processual, as you listen you can almost imagine a procession. Again, it is solemn, yet with an undercurrent of joy/love. It is an ambient classic, creating many moments for reminiscing.
Green is the colour by Pink Floyd This is one of their slower more meditative tracks from the trippy early days. It is a track I often listen to during my quieter moments. I like the sentiment behind Green is the Colour. It was the colour of my life and my passions and I like to imagine those gathered sharing a pastoral moment.
Falling by Julee Cruise A hypnotic vocal drifts over wonderfully slow guitar chords, as spaces open up for thoughts and emotions to ebb and flow. I do like the notion of falling into a funeral service, rather than walking in. Many people will know this track but may struggle to relate it to Twin Peaks. I like the mischief which a not fully remembered song causes. Perhaps a little distraction on arriving is no bad thing.
I love N.Y.E by Badly Drawn Boy Another track which sounds so familiar, yet I suspect the title would allude people, it certainly alluded me, when I recently heard it playing. It is from About a Boy, a book/film about growing up. How appropriate for arriving linking the beginning of a service with remembering where it all began? However, it is the gently dancing music which hits the sweet spot for me. It evokes a babbling brook in a sylvan glade, the water bounces about between the rocks successfully finding a way forward somehow. It is oh so gently seductive, as I listen on repeat and it works almost seamlessly on repeat. Hopefully, this is the Muzak that they are playing in the departure lounge of life.
What music do you want to accompany people as they pause to reflect upon a life?
Song to the siren by This mortal coil A sad celebration of life with a powerful and emotional Liz Fraser vocal. The backstory of this song originally sung by Tim Buckley is worth exploring. There are those wonderful lyrics such as ‘did I dream, you dreamed about me?’ And a wonderful ending ‘here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you.’
These days by Nico Jackson Browne has also sung this song, but it is Nico and her world-weary singing which captures the emotion for me. The lyrics are all about reflecting on life and making sense of life. Nico sounds so philosophical. She seems to live by the words and in later life, this song lyric has profoundly spoken to me. There is a message for anyone who chooses to listen, ‘these days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do’.
Autumn leaves by Stan Getz Many, many musicians have covered the instrumental Autumn leaves. I first heard this song when I took my Mum to see a big band playing. Despite the absence of lyrics, it conveys and encourages reflective autumnal emotions and memories. It is a sad tune, yet strangely contented, reminiscing on life but more substantially accepting the passage of life. You can see why it made the woodlanddecay.com playlist.
Around the bay by Department of Eagles This song has always haunted me. The tempo ebbs and flows throughout as a narrative seems to unfold. Yet, the lyrics are rather oblique ‘all my thoughts left me again, bliss me out, send me away’. It suggests a sojourn into nature at a mid-point in a service which would be grand.
Superstar by Sonic Youth A cover of the Carpenters which sounds completely different to the original, Richard Carpenter didn’t like the cover. It goes exceptionally slowly and oozes sadness. Lyrics such as, ‘loneliness is such a sad affair, and I can hardly wait to be with you again’ chime with a funeral service. Regardless of the wonderful lyrics, it is a very meditative and hypnotic track. It really is music to reflect to.
What music do you want to accompany people leaving the service?
Do you realize?? by The Flaming lips This song is so immense, so uplifting and so wise.
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes. Let them know you realize that life goes fast. It’s hard to make the good things last.
The double ?? is intentional if unorthodox. I was fortunate to see the band live in Brighton and I can confirm they don’t embrace orthodoxy. This track is such a wonderful meditation on the fleeting nature of all of our lives. As a child, it was customary to depart a party with a ‘goody’ bag. Why not leave a service with some uplifting words?
Tears dry on their own by Amy Winehouse This is a song about the loss of a relationship, rather than a loss of life. I’ve chosen it because it blends sorrow with hope. It offers me hope for tomorrow whenever I hear the song. The song is punctuated with the most wonderful surges of joy. A note of caution, it does contain explicit lyrics.
Road to nowhere by Talking Heads I like the pace of this track for departing and the lyrics which temper pessimism with optimism. It is also one of those ironic choices. My aunty had the time to choreograph her funeral service in advance. She chose Happiness by Ken Dodd, much of the service has faded from my memory, but I still remember Happiness playing as we entered the service. Today, I accept my inevitable road to nowhere.
One of these days by Neil Young This clever song captures the nature of saying goodbye. It shifts the focus away from the departed to those attending, as Neil thanks them and at times apologises for what he didn’t get right. The song moves at a happy pace and has the type of melody and lyrics, such as sit right down and write a letter to my friends which may linger after the service has concluded.
Up with people by Lambchop Six magical minutes enabling people to potentially sway out of the service in the belief that despite their sadness it is going to be ok. The song seems to take the inventory of the past, yet somehow the arrangement and melody transcend everything. There are moments when the most wonderful shafts of sunlight shine through the challenges of life. The most uplifting song, I have ever heard, what a wonderful song to sign off with – cheerio!