At any event, music sets a mood, encourages emotion and welcomes guests. A funeral is no different. During a funeral, music provides a background that invites mourners to mingle and comfort each other.
Ideally, musical selections should:
- Help mourners acknowledge the reality of the death.
- Provide an interlude to embrace the sadness.
- Be meaningful to the deceased.
- Enhance the meaning of life and death.
Today, funerals are not limited to organ music. It's not unusual for a guitar, flute, violin or other musical instrument to be selected. The deceased’s favorite songs are sometimes sung by professional singers, friends or relatives.
See Choosing a Funeral Singer for pointers on selecting someone to sing at a funeral.
Ideas for Funeral Music Selections
If you are selecting music for a loved one’s service, or your own, you may want music that reflects a particular ethnic background, religious belief or favorite artist. However, it’s smart to listen to lyrics carefully beforehand to be sure they are appropriate. The favorite song one sings in the shower or as a lullaby may carry a note of irony in the context of a funeral.
While it’s rare to play "happy" music at a funeral, it’s now common to hear a list of the deceased favorites, which may include modern or classic rock tunes, Broadway melodies, sentimental songs, or country western tunes. Creating a musical collection, which represents the individual means more to friends and family members than the standard funeral tunes.
Our suggestions for funeral music are organized by type under the tabbed sections above.
The sound of the human voice can be soothing and healing, and many find vocal performance at a funeral a fitting tribute to a departed loved one. Choosing a singer for a funeral service you are organizing, then, can be an important part of your funeral planning process. However, deciding on a singer does not have to be a stressful decision, if you can manage to keep a clear head and make logical decisions. This may not be an easy task as you must cope simultaneously with your grief, but well worth it if you can manage to push through.
Singing at a Funeral Requires Experience
In some cities and towns, simply finding a singer who has experience performing at funerals can be a challenge. Many wedding singers and vocal teachers also perform at funerals, but beware of hiring someone without experience specifically with funeral singing. This type of performance requires a particular sensitivity that is not required at happier occasions. Also beware of inexperienced singers as they may get emotionally involved in the service itself and be unable to perform. Crying and other physical manifestations of sadness and fear will greatly impact a singer’s ability to sing on pitch and with clarity. When in doubt of the abilities of the singers available to you, you are better off with no singer at all than with someone who you fear may not be up to the task.
Many funeral professionals and funeral homes have a roster of singers available for you to choose from. This will take a lot of the guesswork out of matters for you. However, be sure that your funeral professional is familiar with the recommended singer’s work. Ask how many times the singer has been employed by the funeral home, what his or her professional background is, how old he or she is, and ask for any supplemental information this singer has on file. Many singers now have websites which include samples of his/her singing, photos, and quotes from past clients. If you are ever in doubt of someone’s experience or suitability, ask for the names and phone numbers of references.
Matching the Singer and the Funeral Music
If you are able to find a singer whose reputation and credentials you are satisfied with, the plus side of working with a professional singer is that they will be familiar with how funeral services normally work, and they will have a selection of music for you to choose from. If though, your musical selection is not in their usual repertoire, you should expect to pay an additional fee, and note that many singers will not sing in languages other than English, French and Italian. If you have a piece in mind in another language, be sure to consult your chosen singer to find out if he or she is familiar with that language, or is able to learn well from a recording and the printed words.
Beware of Volunteer Singers
The most difficult person to deal with in regards to music at the service is often the resident singer of the family, who will often come forward and volunteer to sing. In theory this can be a lovely tribute, however in reality having a family member sing can cause a great deal of stress for everyone involved. Stage fright, diva-like behavior, lack of preparation and unfamiliarity with the type of performance required are all issues that no funeral organizer wants to deal with on the day of the service. If you are not entirely convinced that the singer in the family will be able to conquer their emotions and give an excellent performance, you need to gently, but firmly, tell them “thank you, but no thank you”. Explain to them that the service is a time of mourning for everyone, and that you would like them to participate as a family member, and not as part of the service itself. Tell them that their responsibilities in comforting the other members will be just as important on the day as singing in the service. If tempers flare, another alternative is to organize a separate memorial service to take place a month or a year hence and invite the family to share photos, stories, poems and songs, and invite your volunteer singer to pay his or her tribute at that time.
Ask Questions and Communicate Your Needs
Choosing a funeral singer seems like it would be an easy decision, but providing the music at such an important service requires more than just a pretty voice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out as much as you can about all available singers; including any family members that volunteer their voices. Focus on what you want, and be realistic about what can be accomplished in the time you have to plan the service. Communicate your needs clearly to both your funeral director and your singer, and all other staff and family members involved with the planning process. Try to stay calm through your grief and keep a clear head. Remember that in any of the choices you are making, they are significant only in that you are trying to provide comfort to those that loved the person that has passed away, as well as to honor this departed person’s memory. Keep this goal in mind, and look for simple ways of achieving this.