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Tunes, hymns, melodies and songs are seen as essential elements in a traditional funeral. But what’s normal? What’s appropriate (or not)? In this blog, we’ll share our top tips for choosing music for a funeral.

Throughout UK history, songs and singing have played a key part in most funerals. Whether that’s group singing, solo performances or a mix of both, choosing the right music for a loved one’s funeral can be extremely challenging.

With over five generations of experience in arranging funerals, one truth prevails at William Purves.

Music at a funeral needs to reflect the personality, or wishes, of the deceased.

For some this will be traditional hymns in a church setting; for others it’s a steel band with gospel choirs, or just a family singing chart favourites around a woodland grave with an iphone. It’s vital to respect the wishes set out by the deceased, or in the absence of anything explicit, to respect their style and tastes.

Four more tips are:

1. Consider mourner expectations

Traditionalists v modernists, religious v contemporary, formal v informal? If the participants tend towards one end of the spectrum, it’s best to avoid extreme choices that could cause offence. Personalising a funeral strikes a balance between how the deceased would want to be remembered with how the mourners remember them.

2. Solos or choirs

Mourners can find singing tough. Sometimes raw emotion gets in the way and music intended to rally spirits, can end up falling short of expectations. This is often solved by booking choirs, soloists or other performers who are independent to the funeral. We’ve had steel, jazz, pipe and rock bands to children’s, men’s or hospice choirs both live and pre-recorded.

3. Location, location, location

Cathedrals and churches lend themselves well to booming organs and large crowd singing, where hymns are popular. Graveside burials – both woodland and cemetery – are at the mercy of the elements such as wind and rain or other distractions like passers-by. Crematoria Bluetooth or CD services to provide backing music or playlists and can often display lyrics on a central screen. So your choice of venue can often help shape decisions around music.

4. Tip you over the edge emotionally

If there is one thing that will “tip you over the edge emotionally”, it’s a well chosen piece of music. So choose carefully the right time to play it.

Following the coronavirus pandemic, UK funerals faced the stringest of restrictions. Churches were closed, mourners limited to close family or friends with some venues removing choice altogether. In spite of these circumstances, families still managed to arrange send-offs that were highly personal, with a range of musical options.

Have a look at Needing Inspiration to Choose Music at a Funeral? for the most popular choices we’ve had over the last 12 months.

If you are arranging a funeral or planning ahead for yourself or someone you love, lean on our experience to help to hit the right notes.