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Traditional and Popular Songs Played at Funerals

Alice Wisler
Organ music offers comfort at a funeral.

Songs played at funerals are chosen with care. A funeral, often held at a church or gravesite, is a final tribute after the loss of a loved one. Family and friends want the music to reflect their feelings as well as the wishes of the deceased.

The Importance of Music at Funerals

Music is vital to funeral rituals. It allows a community of mourners to convey feelings that words may be unable to express. Music has the potential to uplift, encourage and console the grieving. It may evoke deep feelings and cause tears, letting the funeral attendees freely embrace their sorrow over the death. It may also provide much-needed comfort.

In the past, only sombre songs were played during a funeral in the United States. Beethoven, Bach and Chopin selections were commonly used.

Instruments Used to Play Songs

Music enhances an occasion, and when a person dies, family will often request a person to sing a solo or to play musical selections during the service. Organs and pianos are common instruments used to play these songs when the funeral is held in a church, private home, funeral home or nursing home chapel. Other instruments include:

  • Violin
  • Clarinet
  • Trumpet
  • French horn
  • Saxophone
  • Flute
  • Guitar

Bagpipes are played at a police officer or a fire fighter's funeral. Sometimes, if there is no one to play an instrument, recorded music may be used.

Traditional Songs Played at Funerals

Many of the traditional songs played and even sung at funerals include songs or hymns of the Christian faith. At times, the entire congregation may be asked to join in and sing a stanza or two of the hymn. Often choirs also sing at funerals. Some of these songs, both played and sung, are:

  • Amazing Grace
  • Jesus Loves Me
  • The Lord's My Shepherd
  • When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
  • Sweet Chariot
  • Abide in Me
  • Be Thou My Vision
  • I'll Walk With God

The Christian faith teaches that when a believer dies, it is only his earthly body that is no longer living; his spirit lives on in Heaven and his body will be resurrected when Jesus Christ returns to Earth. Embracing this faith, funerals offer sermons (preached by clergy), prayers, poems and eulogies, as well as songs of hope, resurrection and eternal life.

Recent Popular Songs

Over the years, music has changed, and instead of the more traditional songs played at funerals, people are selecting new ones to personalize the service. These are often mixed with the old favorites. Some of the more popular songs of today include:

  • I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan
  • One More Day by Diamond Rio
  • I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me

According to the United Kingdom's Co-Operative Group's Funeral Service, 68 percent of its branches have noted an increase in the number of requests for pop songs to be played. The number one choice is the song, Wind Beneath My Wings, originally sung in the movie Beaches, by Bette Midler. Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, the theme song from Titanic, is number two on this chart. I Will Always Love You, a Whitney Houston number, is the third choice. Others include Tina Turner's The Best and Robbie Williams' Angels.

Songs with humorous lyrics are even finding their places in modern funerals. Many want to pay tribute to their loved one by adding something less conventional as a way of honoring and personalizing the service. Another One Bites the Dust, by the British band, Queen, is one such song.

Those who have been ill for any length of time before death, often select songs they desire to have played at their funeral. Depending on their mood and age, they may choose something light and fun.

On Another Note

While funeral songs can be sombre or joyful, there are times when a loved one will write his own song in memory of the deceased. Sir Elton John personalized Candle in the Wind at Princess Diana of Wales' funeral in 1997, and following suit, those with musical talent have written and played songs especially designed for their loved one.

Traditional and Popular Songs Played at Funerals