Music at a Funeral
What is the best Music during a Funeral?
Music is typically an important part of just about any funeral service, but often it is added to the memorial program as, basically, an afterthought. While it does not spell disaster, this can be an unfortunate oversight. Music, when well planned as part of a complete memorial tribute to a loved one's life well-lived, can add immense meaning to a service – meaning that will last for decades. If a family chooses just the right song – one that, say, will be heard on the radio or during church services for many decades to come – it will serve as a constant, loving reminder of the legacy the memorialized person left behind. That should be the goal of picking the musical program for any funeral anyway - to help memoralize a loved one in a truly unforgettable manor. In this article, we offer you some expert advice on making sure the music your family chooses for a funeral of a beloved family member's funeral adds just the right memorial touch for the occasion.
Making Music a Priority in the Funeral Planning
As most any professional musician will tell you, music is about as under appreciate in our modern society as any art can be. This is, generally speaking, the reason why it becomes an afterthought in the planning and organizing of many memorial services. Music, for many people, it simply background noise for an office work or retail sales environment. And, in that context, lyrics – or even beats that are too unique – are irrelevant – often even dismissed entirely as an annoying distraction. It is no wonder that, since this appears to be quickly becoming the prevailing modern attitude toward music in our culture, selecting great music is not a top priority for many families who are faced with organizing a funeral. (An important note from the world of radio programming: songs that are too interesting, too funny, or even too emotional are often considered dismissed as “novelty” songs by radio broadcasters. These songs can typically be assured of airplay on radio stations, but it will be limited. “Our listeners mostly want music that will be soothing in the background while they're working, but they don't want much that distract them from whatever they're doing. If we give them too much of that, they'll find a station that plays more dull stuff.” In the case of funerals, it will certainly be okay to avoid the dull stuff in favor of novelty songs.)
This is the first obstacle that must be overcome if music is to play an important role in a funeral service: the organizers must be willing to accept that music is, indeed, an important part of the occasion. And it need not be accompanied by flashy video or even dancers. Music, all by itself, is sufficient for memorializing a loved one in a very special way. This idea must be recognized by those charged with carrying out the plans for the funeral. Only then will it be properly acted upon.
Absent this attitude toward music for a funeral, anyone arranging a service is in danger of missing a great chance for assuring his or her loved one's memorial legacy is a lasting one. A funeral director's last minute suggestion – “just because a funeral has to have some music,” is simply not a good substitute for a thoroughly-considered musical selection.
Copyright Issues with Funeral Music
Armed with the aforementioned attitude, a family will have no trouble with this next bit of advice we have for selecting music for a funeral. In fact, the attitudes toward the issue of copyright royalties due to musicians and song writers for music used at a funeral, will go a long way to helping determine whether a family of funeral planners is properly grounded in its appreciation of the importance of music for a service.
If, for example, the family's prevailing opinion is that checking on a funeral home's music license is not an important issue that is a strong sign that high quality appreciation for music is lacking.
On the other hand, a family that has taken great pains to select the perfect song or songs for a memorial service it is planning for a beloved, department member, will naturally be concerned that the musicians are fairly compensated for their work in creating the tune. Just as a family would likely never dream of asking a flower arranger to provide her services for free, the same should be true for musicians – if proper attention is being paid to the music that is being selected.
The fact is many funeral homes and churches that host funerals do not subscribe to the proper royalty licensing services – or their licenses have lapsed. This is often the case even when, say, a funeral home's main building proudly displays window stickers proudly indicating they are members of “BMI” or “ASCAP,” the largest, most prominent, music licensing agencies in the United States. These agencies have strict requirements of all their clients requiring accurate reporting of songs that are played as part of their course of business. The licensees are then billed for all songs played by the business, and revenue is shared with the musicians and song writers. Any song that is played by an establishment that is not licensed – or by a licensed establishment that does not properly report the song as being played – is being played illegally. This means, of course, that the musician and song writers are being cheated out of money that the establishment is legally required to pay (unless that payment has been formally waived by the musician).
Any family that is not concerned that its song selections may be, in fact, unwittingly cheating the very creators of the music, is obviously not sufficiently concerned with the music that has been selected. They likely could very well be satisfied with no music being played at the funeral – the music that they have selected is, in other words, just an afterthought. Such a state is best avoided as one plans a funeral – as we point out in the section above.
For best results, families should ask their funeral director for verifiable proof that its licenses are up-to-date and that they do, indeed, have sufficient permission to play the music that has been selected. In one recent anonymous case a funeral director assured a family who inquired about a music license, “Oh, you can play whatever you'd like to play. We definitely have the licenses.” But a brief inquiry into the matter by the family revealed that the funeral home did not have permission to play a particular song done by an international recording artist who was not registered with either BMI or ASCAP. This discovery was made after the funeral had already been conducted, and the recording had been publicly played. The family immediately sent a payment to the international studio that held the musician and song writing copyrights for the song. The payment – which also included a note of apology and appreciation – was cordially received, and a portion was even donated to a charity that, the studio managers discovered, had been very important to the deceased. (This was done mostly because the family well overpaid for what the regular royalty charge would have been.) We believe this spirit by which music should be selected, shared, and paid for by those who are organizing appropriate, meaningful tributes to their loved ones to be in keeping with creating a lasting, permanent memorial through a funeral service.
What Styles of Music are Appropriate durring the Funeral
When considering what type of music to perform (or have performed) at a family member's funeral service, the question of what is appropriate for the occasion is always a valid one. But, ironically, the question can have a large of valid answers. In fact, just about any type of music can be appropriate for a funeral. The answer all depends upon the life of the deceased, and the aspects that the family members believe are that life's highlights. Many a fan of heavy metal music has earned a salute in his or her memorial service from a playing of a wild metal song. Given the general controversial nature of heavy metal music, however, such a selection should be made with extreme care and wisdom. Funeral organizers should make this choice with the full consideration that many who loved the deceased do not appreciate – and may even be said to hate – heavy metal music. If the deceased himself was open about his or her love of this type of music – despite the objections of others, then the choice might be a valid one. (But, still, it should be made with caution.) If the deceased would have been reluctant to push his or her choice of a song genre on to others during his life, then it is probably best that the organizers choose some other style of music. Chances are strong that even the most excited devotee to any type of music would likely not want to inadvertently upset family and friends in attendance at his or her funeral. So those who are in charge of planning the details of the service should not feel obligated to stick to any style of music that was known to be the deceased's favorite. A funeral, after all, is mostly about helping the living to cope with the death of a friend or relative. So it is probably important to do nothing that would purposely upset those in attendance – unless the personality of the deceased was such that he or she would be inclined not to worry about the sensitivities of others. If that is indeed the case – and it's hard to see that this could be anything more than a rare instance.
Who Will Perform the Music
Just about every person has at least one or two musicians in his or her life who would be honored to perform at a memorial service. There is no shame in asking. There is also no shame in asking him or her to perform a specific song or even inviting a performance of a special song written just for the occasion. More than one funeral has been turned into an overwhelmingly memorable affair just by the inclusion of a song that a song writer came up with on, say, the night a friend died. These are timeless moments that only music can provide and, while it is unrealistic to expect every funeral to feature an original song written and performed by a friend or family member, families will always find it well worth their effort to keep the possibility open. Musicians who knew the deceased very well should be encouraged, from the very first day or so after a death, to stay closely in tune to their muse for any inspiration that may come about for a song that would be suitable for the funeral. It has been the case on more than one occasion that a musician has found the words and music for a great song even an hour before a funeral. If a musician shows up at a church with a guitar just before a funeral and is eager to share a piece with the family, it might not be a bad idea to make some last minute adjustments to the order of service for the memorial and invite the musician to perform his or her newly crafted work of art as part of the funeral.
One final note on this topic: though we have stressed live music in this section, it is never a problem to simply rely upon recorded music (so long as, per our discussion in the previous section, proper royalty clearance has been achieved). Just be sure that the recording is playable on the audio equipment that is available in the funeral hall. Do not assume that a CD the plays on one computer will work on all audio equipment. It is best to test the recording very soon after it has been decided upon for the service. Many families have learned the hard way that it's usually wise to have an important recording available in various formats to account for any variation in equipment.
Matters of Faith to Consider at the Funeral
All funeral music arrangements are best when cleared by members of the clergy who are to be leading the event. Families should be assured that they do not have to rely solely upon music suggested by the pastor they have selected, but they should certainly be open letting the pastor approve their final selections. Either that, or being open to finding a different clergy member in the event of a disagreement.
It should be noted that many faiths have strict rules regarding the manner and type of music that may be played in a funeral. (The Church of Christ, for example, is famous for not allowing musical instruments – except the human voice – to be played in their services.) While it is important that a family not ask a pastor to forsake his or her traditions for the sake of a funeral's music, the family should be ready to move its services to a different facility and to select a different pastor to lead the services, should disagreements over music become too heated. There is no shame in doing this, of course, but families would do well to make their musical selections very early in the funeral planning process so that this can be done with a minimum amount of confusion, if it comes to that.
While the musical selections of a family may lead to disagreement amongst those who are planning and preparing for a funeral, care should definitely be taken to assure that these disagreements do not rise to a level in which they will overshadow the main purpose of the gathering: to remember the deceased and stage a respectful memorial for his or her life well lived. Of all the decisions that a family must make in planning a funeral, the choice of music probably has the most potential for becoming a heated dispute.
Popular Funeral Music Choices
The original plan for this article was to end with at least two dozen or so recommendations for songs that would be appropriate for a funeral. But that is an impractical idea at this time for two reasons: first there are hundreds of such lists available – most tailored very carefully to specific genres – for free just by typing “good funeral songs” into just about any Internet search engine.
And second, to suggest specific songs in this article goes against one of our main contentions that music should be carefully selected with the life of the deceased in mind. Our providing you a list of songs to choose from only encourages families to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to picking the music for a memorial service. And that is simply not what is called for if a funeral service is to be as memorable as its potential suggests.