Music for Funerals: what’s appropriate?

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to provide funeral services to residents of these varied communities. Funerals are, in fact, as different as lives lived and […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to provide funeral services to residents of these varied communities. Funerals are, in fact, as different as lives lived and today, Becky considers the question of what kind of music is ‘appropriate’ for a funeral service…

It’s been a while since we discussed music via the blog, and the topic has come to the fore again recently. Here at Freeman Brothers, we are seeing a greater variety of musical choices than ever before, though there continue to be perennial favourites, and I find myself increasingly wondering what the process behind some selections is.

When arranging a funeral with Freeman Brothers, creative options such as music are left for the Applicant to decide upon. We will gladly provide advice and support to an extent – for example, which coffin suppliers are of a satisfactory quality, or the variety of options for transport. But when it comes to anything relating to colour, charities, readings or music, we make no suggestions, and instead will signpost to information about the options, and suggest that you have a broader conversation with the person leading the Service (who could be a friend, family member, religious leader, or celebrant). This is because the choice isn’t ours to make, and we don’t want to influence these important decisions.

The list of frequently selected music tracks has changed during the last 20 years. Previously, we would see a list of Christian hymns, whereas this list has now narrowed, but recent additions include a variety of older pop songs or orchestral pieces of music. I sometimes wonder whether some people are influenced in their decision by what they’ve heard when attending other funerals, and wish to stick to what they believe to be convention. This is more often observed with weddings too – for example, many brides enter a ceremony to Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Whilst I agree that this is a lovely piece of music, it’s not compulsory to include it, and the same is true of funerals.

In addition to wanting to follow the crowd, there’s a clearer sentiment of desire to use pieces which are ‘appropriate’. To some, this means that songs are sombre or contemplative – such as Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’, or Gerry and the Pacemakers’ version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – to others, it might be that a track is uplifting or ironic – ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ is very popular here. It can also be that a song fits with the favoured era of a person’s life – popular choices for one generation tend to be Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ or Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’.

The trend follows for those whose lives have ended sooner. When I was a teenager, it was often remarked that wedding first dance songs later followed as popular choices for funerals, with Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’ being one of the frontrunners of the era. That theme seems to have continued, as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Supermarket Flowers’ is a frequent choice in the present day. It’ll be interesting to see how choices reflect the tastes of different generations as they age.

But it is a rare thing to see services which stray from these ‘norms’. Tracks by artists known for making metal or rock music stand out as being vastly different, and it makes me sad to think that some choices may be being made for the sake of perceived convention, rather than as a true reflection of someone’s tastes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my colleagues are less afraid to choose music which mirrors their genuine preferences. For example, Fizzy, our Mortuary Technician, has said that she would like Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and the theme from ‘The Magic Roundabout’ at her funeral. Funeral Arranger, Chrissie, meanwhile, insists that ‘O Holy Night’ will be part of her funeral service, no matter what time of year it happens to take place. And Russell has stated that there must be a double slot booked for his cremation, so that an extended tribute to Michael Bolton can be made. A clear attitude of ‘each to their own’ is present among the Freeman Brothers team!

My point here is this: ‘appropriateness’ is subjective, because it’s about individual choice, rather than convention. If your favourite tracks are genuinely among those frequently chosen, then please include those in your service, as they are right for you. If the music you enjoy isn’t on this list, please go ahead and choose it – the only wrong decision is the one which doesn’t meet your needs.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

April 10, 2024

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