Music has long been associated with emotional expression; joy, sadness, celebration and ritual. And, in grief, when words often fail us and the sheer enormity of mortality leaves us unable to express ourselves, music can often fill that void. Historically, in this country, traditional classical music and hymns used to focus on the mourning aspect of funerals: requiem masses expressed the solemnity of the occasion and the chant-like qualities of the music accompanied prayer and reflection. However, countries such as Jamaica or Ireland are famous for their mix of both sombre and celebratory rituals in their funerals.
Normally, in a standard service in a crematorium, you can choose three pieces of music: the first to enter the chapel, second, a piece for reflection which is usually after the eulogy and before the committal and finally, a piece of music with which to leave. For an interment (burial) or memorial service, you are not so constrained by time so more than three pieces are perfectly acceptable.
Because each of these pieces of music serves a slightly different purpose in the context of the ceremony it is fine for them to be different or to evoke a different mood. There is nothing wrong with having happy, upbeat tunes – often these reflect a person’s energy, positivity and the good things in their life. You can also choose music that reflects a certain time or event in the person’s life; the song they loved as a teenager, the first song at their wedding or a favourite family piece of music that recalls happy times.
In the UK, over the last twenty years, there has been a massive increase in people choosing a secular funeral; this has led to people wanting the ceremony to be a celebration of life as well as a true reflection of their identity. Having a soundtrack to their life can achieve this in a way that words alone can’t.
So basically, you can have whatever music you like now with a few provisos. There are some issues around taste/suitability. Though in my experience, funeral professionals will try to allow you to have whatever you want to be played, songs using the N-word, or expletives, might not be allowed in certain crematoria.
For example, they might object to playing “Smack my Bitch Up” by The Prodigy as you enter the chapel… However, as a general rule, even though the professionals involved might personally find something offensive the family generally has the right to choose the music that they want.
And then there is the use of humour, something which would have previously been avoided at funerals. I often have families saying things like “he would have wanted everyone to leave with a smile on their faces”. Not just the ever-popular “Always look on the bright side of life” from Monty Python, but also lots of songs for cremations involving Fire; Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, Billy Joel’s “We Didn't Start The Fire” and even, on one memorable occasion, The Prodigy’s “Firestarter”. In the context of the ceremony as a whole, these songs often add a much-needed sense of humour and light relief. To conclude, I personally think that reflecting the deceased’s personality honestly can often provide the family with a sense of closure that they need.