Ten ways to use music at a funeral

Close up of person playing guitar, credit: Jefferson Santos

Four minute read

“I have to admit that when I became a funeral director I hadn't considered how much good music I'd be treated to as part of my job,” says Hannah, who’s been working at Poppy’s since 2018.

“I consider it a real privilege to be introduced to other people's music tastes. Almost inevitably people choose really great music. It may not always be my choice, but I've definitely discovered new favourites which I've been introduced to at funerals.”

Music evokes so many emotions and memories that it forms a natural part of most funeral services. It can be the most personal part of the ceremony as it's always chosen with a reaction in mind or meaning behind it.

There are lots of different ways to use music as part of a funeral ceremony. Here are ten of our suggestions.

1. Use music to set the mood.

Music is a great, instant way to set the tone for a funeral. Recently, we arranged a funeral that family and friends wanted to be upbeat, so they decided to bring the coffin in to the 'Ying Tong Song' by the Goons. It was impossible for the attendees not to smile.

Other funerals are filled with so much sadness and grief that words can't express it, but music can do so eloquently. Many find that classical pieces, like Elgar's ‘Nimrod’, are a perfect channel for strong emotions.

2. Get everyone singing.

Communal hymn singing can be a powerful and inclusive way for attendees to join together in love, support and shared hope. Read more about choosing hymns for a funeral.

At non-religious funerals, picking the right song for communal singing is harder. We’ve found that people often go with ‘Jerusalem’ or select a song by someone well-known and well-loved like the Beatles.

Communal singing is even possible over Zoom. At the height of the pandemic we helped an Austrian family arrange a funeral for their mum. No family members could travel from Europe and only six people could attend the service in person.

Singing had been incredibly important to her family when she was growing up, so her husband used Zoom to involve her siblings in the ceremony. They sang over Zoom to her whilst her coffin was on the catafalque.

3. Let music move you.

We often use music on a journey, for instance when walking from Poppy’s to the crematorium, or walking from the service location to the burial site. You can even request specific music to be played in the hearse if you would like.

4. Connect to your roots.

Working in London means that we are honoured to stand alongside people from many different nationalities, religions and backgrounds, which means we’ve encountered a huge diversity of musical influences.

We’ve helped source a whole range of digital music from Armenian traditional chants to Austrian folk songs, bagpipe music to Pagan drumming.

5. Use music throughout the ceremony.

Typically people will pick a song for the arrival at the service location, one for reflection during the service, and one for the way out.

However, there’s no rule that says a funeral ceremony has to include any spoken words. The music can say it all. We can help you arrange a long playlist or album to be played while attendees listen, reflect quietly or share photos and memories.

6. Choose a singing celebrant.

At Poppy’s, we can suggest celebrants who would be the right fit for you and the kind of funeral you’d like. This includes celebrants who are particularly musical or happy to sing themselves as part of the ceremony.

Read more about how to choose a funeral celebrant.

7. Book a live performer

You can have professional or amateur musicians at a funeral. These can be talented friends or family members or they can be professionals who are hired for the occasion.

We remember one especially moving funeral involving a professional oud player whose contribution was beautifully integrated with the family’s own chosen readings.

8. Get up and dance.

Some families and friends want to celebrate a person’s individuality, their favourite music or their love of life, by encouraging attendees to dance at the funeral.

It’s not always easy to get people up on their feet, but we always try to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable joining in. And we certainly know of one family who did the conga around the catafalque before leaving the chapel at the end of the funeral service.

9. Sing it yourself.

A capella singing or an informal singalong can be a very personal and moving part of a funeral ceremony.

Standout moments for us include two young children singing 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' a capella at their mum’s funeral and hundreds of people at the funeral of a woman who had died in her '30s all joining in with a ditty that her friends had made up for her one birthday.

10. Find your theme song.

If a piece of music is meaningful to you, then you can choose it for a funeral. There are very few limits.

We’ve heard everything from the 'Home and Away' and the 'Strictly Come Dancing' theme tunes, to incidental music from 'Call the Midwife', to the Wimbledon theme music in honour of someone who had been a member of the All England Tennis Club.

Find more ideas and guidance on our blog — how to choose flowers for a funeral and what to do if you don’t want a black hearse.

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