Well chosen funeral music provides comfort, conveys a way of thinking that perhaps can’t be expressed in words and sparks happy memories of a late loved one.
But what makes for great funeral songs?
First off, there are no real rules. Your loved one may have left strict instructions about what to play or what not to play at their funeral. They may have been a huge fan of a type of music or particular song; they may have despised a genre and asked relatives steer clear of it at their funeral.
Choosing funeral music is a hugely personal choice that ranges from poignant classical masterpieces (Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor) to the hilarious (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python). It’s as much about how a person wants to be remembered and their personality as it is the choice of music. And it tends to be something traditional like a hymn, a moving piece of classical music or something modern, perhaps a current chart hit. Or a mix of all of it depending on the mood you want to convey.
But a common theme, especially as mourners are leaving the service, is they want uplifting funeral songs played. More often now people want to be celebrated not remembered in sadness.
Popular Funeral Hymns
Hymns are often a popular choice because of their association with the occasion and are especially important in Christian ceremonies. Traditional hymns offer comfort and connect mourners. They can be uplifting, sombre or inspirational too.
Traditionally there’ll be at least two funeral hymns; an opening hymn and a closing hymn. But depending on the service there may be more. And even if your loved one did not follow Christianity a hymn may still feel like the right choice for the occasion.
Popular funeral hymns include:
- Jerusalem – England’s unofficial anthem is based on a poem by William Blake and is hugely uplifting
- The Lord Is My Shepherd – based on a psalm this popular hymn offers guidance for those in grief
- Abide with Me – a Victorian hymn asking God for comfort in difficult times
- All Things Bright and Beautiful – a popular and uplifting hymn sung as a celebration rather than mourning
- I Watch the Sunrise – a hymn that reflects the passing of time. Another hymn that’s ideal for people needing support with their grief
Choices for Classical Funeral Music
Haunting, uplifting, emotion-evoking… there’s guaranteed to be a classical piece somewhere that offers exactly the mood you want to create. Some pieces, such as Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending, provide joy if you’re happy or relief from the strong emotions of grief that are common at funerals. It’s more about respecting the memory of the person and the sentiment you’re trying to create.
The list could be huge but here is some classical music that’s a good choice for funerals:
Barber – Adagio for Strings
Played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco it’s the touching but sombre sadness of this piece that makes it a fitting choice for funeral music.
Percy Grainger Irish Tune from County Derry
According to Classic FM “it’s impossible to resist the inevitable tear this piece brings to the eye.” With a tender opening score and an amazing French Horn section it’s a piece that’s stunning and full of character.
Bach/Schubert – Ave Maria
Schubert and Bach wrote the music for the two most popular versions of Ave Maria, a classic Roman Catholic prayer, but you can choose to have it actually sung at a funeral instead of played. It’s calming and uplifting.
Bach – Cantata No. 208
A calming piece of music that allows mourners time to reflect on the life of their loved one.
Fauré – Pavane
Fauré’s music was famous for being subtle and restrained and many of his compositions could be used for a funeral service. This piece, based on a French slow dance, has a solemn melody and would be perfect as the music at the funeral of a female.
Rock and Pop Funeral Music
Today traditional hymns and classical music are not the only choice when it comes to picking funeral music. A person’s musical taste and their own choices lead to most funerals now incorporating rock, pop and other modern music into the service.
Some people like to inject a little humour into their service, and we’ve already mentioned the Monty Python favourite ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ as a popular funeral song choice. Other favourites include ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams and ‘Stand by Me’ sung by Ben E King. The list could go on. Here’s a few of the ones that come up time and time again:
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
Written to commemorate the death of his son, Conor, it’s an incredibly sensitive piece with a title and lyrics that pay tribute and offer hope to those remembering a loved one.
Frank Sinatra – My Way
This classic song’s title shows why it’s often the most popular choice of funeral music. It’s simply an uplifting tribute to a happy life.
Over the Rainbow – various artists including Eva Cassidy and Judy Garland
It’s a well known song that allows mourners to reflect on the memory of a loved one. It’s a moving and emotional choice for a funeral service, but one that’s filled with inspiration too.
Westlife/Josh Groban – You Raise Me Up
A simple song, but that just adds to its power to be comforting. The words are powerful, creating a fitting tribute to parents and loved family members alike.
Bette Midler – Wind Beneath My Wings
Originally from the film ‘Beaches’, ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ has become a favourite at funerals. It’s a tender song and the lyrics are a great tribute to a loved one who has recently passed away.
Some Final Thoughts
The list of songs that are suitable for a funeral is really a list of almost every song ever written. It’s such a personal thing that only limits are what the deceased enjoyed and music that is appropriate for the occasion. Humour, being emotionally moved, or just being a huge fan of a band or genre all are perfect reasons behind the song choice for a funeral.
Most services allow for at least two song choices, usually played at the start and at the end, although some services do allow for more. There may be a reflective period during the service.
If you feel it’s appropriate a song can replace a eulogy. After all, mourners can gather strength and comfort from some funeral songs or be comforted and inspired by others. Sometimes they are sung by family members or close relatives for a particularly touching tribute.
Get in Touch
If you need any advice on planning a funeral or choosing funeral music, or even if you’re not sure where to start, we can help with all aspects of planning a funeral. We can talk you through your loved one’s requirements and help with suitable arrangements that pay tribute to their life, helping with one less thing to worry about.