A Personal Death - The music

    In the last series of posts about my grandfathers funeral I came to a few interesting realisations.  The importance of the Order of Service.  How emotionally significant it is and how it is a piece of the funeral in many ways.  The other was the roles we play.  How being an undertaker has changed my view of funerals and how different it is from the perspective of a mourner.

    With my grandmothers funeral this was no different.  I realised a new thing and explored another in more detail.  This time my realisation was the music, how much is put into it and how trivial it actually is.

    With my grandmothers funeral a lot of effort was put into picking the music.  I realised that this was the same for my grandfathers funeral, how we had put so much into picking the "right" or "best" songs.  Yet nobody remembered them much at all.  When asked people could remember the music we carried out to and the music played during the presentation slideshow.  Nobody remembered the music we entered to.  Despite the fact that specific music was chosen to play quietly in the background as we came in nobody remembered it.

    The most easily remembered music was what we walked out to, something by the Goon Show (my grandfathers favourite song).  Everybody could recall this freely, no recognition was needed and not much effort was put into recalling it.  On the other hand the song played during the picture slideshow was more difficult to recall.  People could remember it, but it took time, sometimes it even required a hint or prompt (recognition).  But generally everyone remembered and recalled this without too much trouble.

    For my grandmothers funeral a lot of effort was being put into the right songs at the right times.  People were talking with each other, surfing YouTube and iTunes and hunting out the right songs.  Then pooling the results to find an overall consensus.  All this effort and planning, but for what?  Nobody could remember the first song from my grandfathers funeral yet they were putting just as much effort into an entry song for my grandmothers funeral.

    I have come to realise how important the songs are, well, they are not.  They have a 'perceived importance' and are part of the funeral planning and coping.  The action of picking a song is a way to have a direct part in the funeral.  To have an active role and thus it is in many ways a method for coping with the death and dealing with the funeral on an emotional level.  However, the song itself hase little relevance or impact.  Any song can be chosen, really, the process of choosing songs is not influenced by the songs themselves.  The process was pretty much the same for both my grandmothers and grandfathers funerals.  We were looking at completely different types of songs, my grandfather liked things like the Goonies while my grandmother liked traditional Greek music.  Despite this the process and emotional importance of the process remained the same.  So it was not the songs themselves that were important during this part.

    Now, you might be thinking that of course the songs are not important here.  That it is on the funeral that they become significant.  Yet this is not the case, not at all really.  Any song can be played at any point, having attended so many funerals I found that many songs can be played in the same place.  When walking out I have heard Amazing Grace, muppets songs, traditional music, opera, even rock songs and so much more.  Anything can be played at this point on any funeral.  But lets look at this another way.

    After my grandfathers funeral everyone could remember the song we walked the coffin out to.  Nobody could remember the song we entered with.  Lets compare these two songs, which were quite similar.  The songs themselves were not important, it was what was happening when they played that was important.  When we entered we were just walking into a building, nothing special really.  On the other hand when we wheeled the coffin out we were moving the coffin, a seriously significant aspect of the funeral.  Any movement of the coffin is very important and emotional, taking the coffin out to put it in the hearse is even more so.  This is why some music was remembered while other music was forgotten.

    Here I have briefly explored two reasons why the music is unimportant on the funeral.  The first is that any song can be substituted at the same points.  There is no set or required music or song on a funeral.  The second reason is that on the same funeral one song was forgotten while another was remembered even though they were similar songs.  In other words the music on a funeral is not in or of itself important.  It is the events surrounding the music that are important.

    Having said that the music on a funeral is actually very significant.  Just not in the way we would immediately think.  The act of picking music can be a great coping mechanism, and a great way to be involved in a funeral and in a death.  It is also a way to customise and personalise a funeral.  Even though funerals tend to follow the same pattern and have the same formula this is a little way to make it your own.  To make it unique and unlike the others.  Finally, the music is enjoyed by the mourners on the funeral.  To have silence would be awkward, would be strange.  To play music is a way to share the experience and to enjoy the experience.

    Sound and smell are tied physically with the emotional parts of our brain.  Sounds and smells can easily provoke emotional memories and responses in people.  Unlike the other senses such as sight or touch they are thought of as emotional.  This is a reason why music can have such an emotional pull on us, and why there is so much focus on emotions in music.  The music on a funeral adds that flare of emotion.  The music becomes a memory tool for the funeral experience.  To feel the funeral later on people can just play that certain song.  A song played during the funeral will bring up the emotional memories of those who attended.  And more so of those who had a role in choosing the song.

    On a final note I wanted to play "Zorba" as we exited, a fun well paced Greek song.  My grandmother would have liked that and it would have been fun for those at the funeral.  But another Greek song was chosen as it was "more appropriate".  This brought me to question what is appropriate at a funeral?  Or what is appropriate?  What does the idea of appropriate on a funeral tell us about our sense of right and wrong?

My Grandfathers funeral:

Arranging the funeral - the experience of his death and sorting out the funeral.

The little details - I realised just how important little things like the order of service are.

The funeral - about the funeral itself, how it went and what I thought.


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