Changing the tune at UK funerals

Modern funerals are becoming less about long-followed traditions and more about individual tastes. The traditional sombre service – sorrowful mourners shrouded in black listening to weighty readings - is becoming less and less common. And as social conventions surrounding funerals relax, one of the biggest changes has been the range of music now heard at services.

Not so long ago, the only music played at a funeral would have been familiar hymns or organ music. Traditional musical choices still hold a strong place in today’s funeral services – ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and ‘Abide with me’ are very popular hymns and Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ is a classical favourite.

However, the focus of funerals is shifting from the sad acknowledgment of a loved one’s passing to the more joyful celebration of a life well lived. This has resulted in the musical tastes of the deceased coming to play a part in modern funerals, especially at the beginning and at the end of services.

A 2015 BBC report on ‘Happy Funerals’ says that rather than looking to the afterlife, British funerals are increasingly about rejoicing in memories of the departed’s ‘triumphs, relationships and their favourite songs’.

The BBC reports that you are more likely to hear Monty Python’s ‘Always look on the bright side of Life’ as Verdi’s ‘Requiem’, with the intention to raise a laugh from the congregation becoming more acceptable. The BBC recounts actress Lynda Bellingham's "all-singing, all-dancing knees-up" funeral; the appearance of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus at Joan Rivers' funeral; and 200 mourners singing along to the Sid Vicious version of ‘My way’ at Sex Pistol Manager Malcolm McLaren's send off.

Although it has been said the original ‘My way’, by Frank Sinatra is the UK’s most popular funeral song, an incredible range of artists and musical genres such as Country & Western, R’n’B, Jazz and Indie pop are common at UK funerals. The 100-year old Vera Lyn sings ‘We’ll meet again’ at some ceremonies while AC/DC belt out ‘Highway to hell‘ at others. Personal music selections, however quirky, can help friends and family remember the deceased for who they were. Wayne Hector, who has written songs for JLS and Susan Boyle, also penned the funeral favourite ‘Flying without wings’ for Westlife. The Telegraph quotes him as saying, “At a funeral you want a certain amount of joy, a song about hope rather than a sad song. As much as you’re lamenting someone’s passing, you’re celebrating their life.”

As funerals become less formal affairs, and the individual interests of the deceased take centre stage, people planning their own funerals are leaving behind playlist CDs and funeral directors are increasingly tailoring their services to provide a truly personal send off. Have you heard any of the aforementioned songs at a funeral recently? Let us know over on our Facebook page.

At Golden Charter, we provide pre-paid funeral plans on behalf of a network of over 3,000 independent funeral directors that will work hard to accommodate your musical requests, whatever they may be.