Why we use music

Throughout many important moments and settings in life, we turn to music to help set the tone and establish context. Can you imagine the holidays without music? What would a great film be without its soundtrack? And what about birthdays and weddings?

For funerals, music has long held an equally important role. Throughout human history, it has been recognised that music and funerals belong together.

At the funeral, music is one way that we let friends and family know that their normal and necessary emotions of grief, which music tends to draw forth, are welcome. Music is also a universal, unifying medium that joins mourners and speaks for them when words are inadequate.

Quiet reflection during musical interludes often stimulates acknowledgment of the reality of the death. Music often helps us move from knowing something in our heads to knowing something in our hearts. What’s more, music is often very moving to mourners and can provide effective moments in which to think about their loss.

Music can help us recall memories. Music associated with special times we shared with the person who died as well as lyrics that seem to capture him or her, elicit memories we may not even have known were there.

Have you ever noticed that during musical interludes at a funeral, the mourners gathered will often hold hands, lean on one another, or embrace? That is because music is also effective at activating empathy and support.

Though music is very individual, and people often bring their own unique meanings to any given piece, certain pieces of music speak to a body of faith or, more generally, to spirituality and often bring mourners meaning. Hymns are an obvious example, but classical music, pop songs, and other musical genres can be just as effective at helping mourners search for meaning.

Rather than considering “suitable music”, these questions may be considered: What music did the person who died love? What music reminds you of him or her? What music captures your feelings best about this unique life and death? Who in your circle of friends and family plays an instrument or sings and could be invited to participate in the ceremony? 

Without doubt, music’s healing presence is an essential and beautiful element of every funeral.

(Adapted from ‘Educating the Families You Serve about the WHY of the Funeral’ by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)