Hymns and songs and sing alongsJune 22nd, 2010 by Paul Hensby
I’m just not sure about hymns. By that I mean I have launched a website called My Last Song which encourages people to plan the funeral that best matches their beliefs, values and the individual lives they all, we all, lead.
The idea for the website came when I attended two funerals of contemporaries who were music lovers and yet their funerals where what I call ’cut and paste’ …same hymns, same eulogies, same ritual as everyone else, just the names changed.
But my friends were not ‘everyone else’, and at the very least the music played at their farewells could have reflected their musical tastes and talents.
Like the majority of the UK population, my friends didn’t go to church and had no religious views. Their funerals nevertheless featured hymns.
People inside the church knew the hymns and there was something cathartic about the mourners – family and friends of very different ages and backgrounds still shocked and grieving – singing together. We were unified in creating a shared emotion, each recognising it was part of a traditional, if anachronistic, way of saying goodbye.
At both wakes, people commented upon the paradox that they enjoyed singing the hymns while accepting they didn’t have any significance to the lives of our friends we were remembering.
Would secular, contemporary songs have had the same affect?
I have also attended humanist funerals when the contemporary secular songs selected gave very specific messages to some, but not all, of the assembled mourners.
The affect on this group was profound – some smiled, some nodded knowingly, some broke down, and most joined in the lyrics.
Others at these funerals, however, were rather left out, didn’t get ‘the message’ and must have felt less able to say goodbye properly.
Even so, on balance, I believe that choosing hymns because they are an ‘easy option’ and that all age groups and backgrounds will join in (less and less the case in our diverse society where an increasing number of people will have close friends of different faiths or none) is a less satisfactory choice than selecting music and readings that are true to our beliefs and lifestyles.
At My Last Song we are interested in what others think and have a poll on the type of music you want played at your funeral on our home page.
Please take part.