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Sad songs say so much

Very few of us have music written specifically for our own funeral but if you happen to be royal, then the chances are you might. For example, the English composer Henry Purcell wrote a number of funeral pieces including Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, which was composed for Queen Mary II who died on 28 December 1694. Included within this score was Thou knowest, Lord which was then performed at the composer’s own funeral the following year.


For anyone wondering how Purcell had the time to compose such a piece of music in the run-up to a funeral, apparently Queen Mary’s funeral in Westminster Abbey didn’t take place until March 1695.


Nowadays the format of the funerals we organise varies much more than in the past. But they all tend to have something in common and that’s the fact that music generally plays a role. Whether a service is held in a church and includes hymns or it’s a service in a local hall with some of that person’s favourite tunes, there’s usually a time during a service when there’s music.


Music plays a number of roles in a service. Importantly, it ties people together and provides some time of reflection between the more formal aspects. It’s almost a chance to draw breath. While music has a role in society as entertainment, it can also evoke huge emotions. We all have days when we’re feeling a little down and we reach out for sad songs to match our mood, while we might have other days when we crank up the volume and feel like dancing.


Music is used as therapy in some settings, such as when working with people who have had a brain injury, while hospices for example, are increasingly seeing the power of music as therapy. Music, it seems, can reduce anxiety, pain and heart rate.


There are two types of music at a service – songs, such as hymns, where people are able to join in and music played to be listened to. It is usual to select a reflective piece of music while people find their seats and then something which is played when people are leaving. This last piece might range from a sombre offering through to a more upbeat, even funny, tune.


If our families are holding a service at one of our local crematoriums, then they will have access to thousands of different pieces of music. Of course, some families opt for some live music – perhaps played by a local musician or singer or even a family member.


When it comes to a funeral service, the music chosen often reflects that person. In a church, it might be a well-loved hymn or one that was played at their wedding. In other settings, it might be a favourite song or perhaps something which sums up the relationship between that person and the loved ones they have left behind.


We sometimes find that music brings a smile to the faces of people at the service – often because it really represents that person or a time in their lives. Recently a family chose ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ for their father who was a West Ham fan and people started to sing along.


The fashion for songs which are chosen does change over time, but ones which crop up on a regular basis include ‘My Way by Frank Sinatra, ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ by Andrea Bocelli’ ‘Over The Rainbow’ by Eva Cassidy’, ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ by Better Midler, and ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams.


When choosing the music for a service, it’s important to bear in mind that it will create the mood. Along with your celebrant, our team can help you with ideas for music and tunes which might suit type of service you are hoping for.

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