Music has been part of funeral proceedings for thousands of years. In Ancient Greece, a professional mourner would lead a chorus of women in a lament, or song of grief. Bagpipes have been a major part of Celtic ceremonies, including weddings and funerals, for centuries. New Orleans jazz funerals, which combine funeral processions with music and dance, have been happening since the early 19th century. And, of course, playing “Taps” is an integral part of military funeral honors.
Music has a unique power on human emotion. Where words fail, music can communicate feelings and create powerful moments of catharsis. Music can also bring people together, whether through the shared experience of hearing a song attached to fond memories or the act of singing together.
Uses for Music at a Funeral
Music can be used in many ways in a funeral service:
- During the viewing or visitation, background music can help to set the tone of the gathering and reduce any awkwardness people might feel about silent contemplation or lulls in conversation.
- A slideshow set to music can be played during the funeral service, summarizing the person’s life.
- As part of the service, guests can be led in a favorite hymn.
- A meaningful song can be played during the ceremony as a musical eulogy or reading.
- Music can be played to signal the end of the service or to act as a backdrop for the procession out of the chapel.
Live music, such as bagpipes or bugles played at a burial, can be very powerful. But pre-recorded music played over speakers can serve the same emotional purpose and cut down on the cost and complexity of the event. What matters is what helps you heal, not how elaborate the ceremony can be.
How to Choose Music for a Loved One’s Funeral
Some songs have always been popular choices at funeral services. “Amazing Grace,” originally written as a poem in 1779, was set to music in 1835 and is often sung as a funeral hymn with or without bagpipe accompaniment. Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” composed in 1825, continues to be one of the most popular funeral songs, especially among Catholics.
Other, much newer, songs have become popular choices for ceremonies. Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” are all common options.
But there is no need to limit yourself to common or popular choices when selecting music for a funeral or memorial service. Aside from the limits of good taste, there really are no rules dictating what can or cannot be a funeral song.
There are a few things you’ll want to consider before choosing music for the funeral service:
- Did your loved one have any preferences or requests?
- What were their favorite songs, bands, or styles of music?
- Are there any songs that hold special significance to you when you think of your loved one?
- Is there cultural or religious significance you wish to honor with music at the service?
- If music was a part of your loved one’s life, are there fellow musicians who might be able to perform?
- How and where do you want to incorporate music into the service?
Just the act of putting together a playlist of songs that remind you of your loved one can be a powerful tool for healing. Even if you don’t end up sharing all of them, it can be a comfort to return to this playlist throughout your journey of grief.
Bear in mind that public spaces sometimes have limitations on how music can be played. Funeral homes pay for blanket licensing rights that allow them to play music in their chapels. If you’re holding a memorial service or ash scattering ceremony at a different location, you might need to check with the venue to be sure they have no problems with music being played. If the ceremony will take place in a house of worship, you may also need to have your music selections approved by the religious leader who will be officiating.
You may also need to be careful about music selections for any event that will be live-streamed or recorded and shared online. For example, a slideshow posted on Facebook or YouTube might be flagged by the platform and deleted or have its sound muted.
Chapman Funerals & Cremations has been helping families mourn since 1862, and we understand the power of music during these times of loss and transition. If you are planning a service for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. We can help you find ways to incorporate music and other meaningful elements into the ceremony to create a personalized funeral or memorial service that honors your loved one’s memory.