What music should I select for a funeral?

It’s a tricky question, selecting music for a funeral. There are three distinct pieces of music during the funeral service. Each piece represents a specific aspect of the service and has its job to do. The three pieces of music are:

  • Entry
  • Reflection
  • Exit

What is music?

Music plays a vital role in our lives. It affects us on a primaeval level. It starts with sound waves moving through our bodies, resonating and vibrating around our organs. Music can soothe and calm us when we are stressed. If you think of a baby going to sleep, a parent will often put music on to help the baby fall asleep. If you are angry or cross, loud or even heavy music can be played, turning the volume up so loud you can’t hear yourself think. As the music plays, the person becomes less stressed or angry.

Alternatively, if someone (possibly a speaker) wants to put energy in a room, they use upbeat, loud music. TV, films and advertisers use music to get us to feel an emotion, a connection with the visual image displayed. Indeed, if you watch an André Rieu concert, you can see members of the audience conducting the orchestra from their seats, other audience members crying, and then some just swaying to the sounds they hear. Music has a powerful effect on us.

Music and Sports?

Music for a funeral celebrant in dorset

In yoga, any session starts with the chant of Om, which is at a frequency of 432 hz, the same vibration found in nature and believed to be the frequency of the universe. The rhythmic chant prepares the body, mind, and nervous system for exercise and meditation. Other forms of exercise are performed with loud techno music. Getting participants to run, jump stretch in tune with the beat. Alternatively, have you ever had a song in your head that you can’t get stop thinking about and hum or sing it? If I mentioned the song “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, or YMCA by the Village People, who started to sing? You can’t help but sing along to the tune; this is called an earworm.

Music and Religion

Music is a significant influence on our lives. Religion uses music to ensure the congregation pays attention to the service; it keeps the congregation interested and breaks the pace of sermons and lectures. The bible has over 400 references to music. Buddhists, Hindu, Islamic and Shamanic use music to call the congregation to worship.

Once we add words to a piece of music, the entire piece takes on a new life, a new meaning, and becomes more important in our lives.

Music for a Funeral

The Entry Music

Therefore, music for a funeral is important. The music sets the scene and the tempo of the funeral service. The first piece of music is your ‘Call to Action’, your entry music. It can be a solemn piece of music that the deceased enjoyed. For example, Amazing Grace. Once this piece of music starts, it is the cue to get mourners into the chapel to tell them that the service is about to begin.

The Reflection Music

Reflection music is a piece of music that starts the process of quiet reflection. It is the time at a funeral when you, as an individual mourner, have an opportunity to think about the deceased, your time with them, and what they meant to you. The Reflection music is often more poignant, and words have a deeper meaning to the deceased and immediate family, for example, Monsters by James Blunt. 

The Exit Music

Exit music marks the end of the service and is a more upbeat piece of music that reflects the deceased’s personality. It can be the theme song or tune from their favourite football team or the title music to a film or TV show they loved. It can be a song shared with a partner. This music tells the congregation that the service is over and that it is time to move from the chapel and continue to mourn with the family, spend time, and talk about the deceased. For example – I did it my way by Frank Sinatra, or If I could turn back time by Cher or Revelles Bolero, or Queen Bohemian Rhapsody.

Often the family would like the mourners to sing a song during the service. From my experience, this has always been a favourite hymn, but it doesn’t have to be. The crematorium will play an audio version of the song by a choir during the service, for example, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and the congregation can sing along. The words should be in your Order of Service.

Selecting the Music for a Funeral

It is challenging to know which music to select during a service. So try not to put too much pressure on yourself. I had one service where the exit music requested was Led Zeppelin, and another the theme tune to Heartbeat. Think about the deceased and their taste in music and the atmosphere you would like to create on leaving the chapel.