Posts Tagged ‘funeral songs’

Anything Goes rather than My Way for Cooperative Funeralcare

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

In its annual attempt to get publicity and show itself as moving with the times, Cooperative Funeral Care has issued the results of its latest funeral music survey.

It’s an interesting and commendable exercise, based on over 30,000 funerals in the UK conducted in 12 months up to September 2012.

The survey confirms the continuing demise of hymns and rising popularity of secular songs. Both types of music are still played at very many funerals, confirming the popularity of the modern British funeral, which is a mix of secular and religious elements, readily agreed by most CoE and other low church denominations.

As it has been for many years now, Frank Sinatra’s My Way heads the list of secular songs. Given the Cooperative Funeralcare’s attitude to funerals, exposed on Channel 4’s Dispatches, some might think Sinatra’s cover of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes more suitable.

The release of this year’s survey fuelled the interest of NME, pop music’s must read source of news and views, and its readers and writers have risen to the challenge of selecting their last songs with gusto.  Those under the age of 30 should read and enjoy and then if inspired, send in their fave five funeral songs to My Last Song, so far lacking more modern music.

During his excellent talk on funeral desert island discs,  Paul Gambaccini revealed that the original lyricist of My Way electrocuted himself  standing in his bath changing a lightbulb shortly before the release of Sinatra’s version, thus losing the huge royalties that would have boosted his bank account.

Gambaccini also made the case for two other brilliant farewell songs from Sinatra, Always…a poignant  reminiscence of a love affair,  and  It Was A Very Good Year, in which the singer, now in the autumn of his years, looks back on a lifetime of romantic attachments. There are a number of My Last Song aficionados  of Frank Sinatra, and other tracks recommended are We’ll Be Together Again, Goodbye (a particular favourite of this writer) and I Thought About You.

So when thinking of a Sinatra song for the farewell ceremony, there are many alternatives to My Way, which Paul Anka re-wrote to be an emotional but now rather hackneyed mass seller.

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Before Their Time

Friday, August 10th, 2012

My thanks to Gail Rubin, author of The Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning For Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, and the Family Plot blog for bringing to my attention Before Their Time, an inspirational organisation in the USA.

Before Their Time is a musical resource, a series of CDs, dedicated to the memory of people who died young to help loved ones recover from the emotional trauma and extended grief that follows a premature death.

The variety of music included in Before Their Time appeals to a broad audience, and although people will be familiar with some of the songs and performers, many will be new to most listeners. Executive Producer Michael Whitman hopes that listeners will discover a universality in the songs’ messages, and that these memorial songs, about the spirit of life as well as the poignancy of loss, will be remembered for their beauty even more than for the grief they express.

Besides offering musical comfort, this project raises money and visibility for organisations helping individuals and families going through end-of-life experiences with revenue from sales going to hospice and suicide prevention programmes in the US.

We wish it well, and hope that visitors to My Last Song and readers of this blog purchase some or all of these powerful, moving and beautiful pieces of music.

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Funeral films soundtracks

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

I was very encouraged to read this excellent blog by Gail Ruben.

Gail runs A Good Goodbye out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Its strapline, which appeals hugely to the My Last Song team, is ‘Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die’. We have two straplines which benefit from greater brevity but lack the clever humour. They are: ‘Plan Your Exit Strategy’ and ‘A Good Life Deserves A Good Ending’.

Gail’s blog looked at what she loosely titles funeral films, and then describes the great music played in the soundtracks.  Quite a few have been chosen by visitors to Family Bhive in their fave five – the five songs they want to be remembered by, or played at their funeral, or send off party. Several haven’t yet been chosen but should be listened to because they are  excellent farewell songs.

What was encouraging was the confirmation that there is  a growing interest in the importance of getting the right music played at your farewell, rather than clichéd hymns (and I recognise how important hymns are for those of the Christian faith) and even clichéd secular songs.

My Way comes top of those songs that show little imagination. There are better Frank Sinatra tracks, even though Paul Anka’s lyrics are very apt for the final review of a life about to end.

In the past few months there have been increasing number of online forums, mainly in the US, Canada and UK, discussing funeral songs. The range of suggestions has been vast, covering most modern music genres, as well as arias and classical pieces.

Anything which makes people think about their mortality and plan to make it as positive and successful a goodbye as possible should be encouraged. That’s why we are part of the Dying Matters coalition here in the UK and want to share information and ideas with people like Gail Ruben in the US.

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Liz Taylor might have visited My Last Song

Friday, March 25th, 2011

I’m pleased Liz Taylor died the way she did.  Not only was it a fairly quick exit, without too much pain and the indignity of her last days covered by the media, but she also had a great funeral.

Although she wasn’t a member of My Last Song, she may as well have been. And she would have appreciated the Lifebox facility.

She had planned her funeral to the last detail. She wanted to be late for it, so this was an instruction. She wanted it to be interdenominational, so this too was an instruction.

The service included a recital of the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo and a trumpet solo of Amazing Grace, played by Taylor’s grandson Rhys.

She had the final performance she wanted, but only because she (and her family) had planned it beforehand.

Which is the reason she would have enjoyed visiting My Last Song, which helps and encourages people to plan their funerals as well as other end of life decisions.

Liz Taylor would also have taken advantage of the Lifebox and used it to store specially recorded videos – and one can imagine how good these would have been; readings – similarly dramatic; her life story; and even her secrets – and I bet there are still some she’s taken to the grave with her.

So if you know of anyone who would like to follow in her footsteps, go out in style and be remembered for years to come, you know where to point them.

And who knows, Liz Taylor might have visited My Last Song…we have been getting lots of traffic from California recently.

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Neil Diamond’s wonderful songs are ideal to say goodbye

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

A few months ago, during a dreary long November evening, I turned to the solace of music, in particular the music of Neil Diamond.

After listening to some of my favourite numbers, I realised just how appropriate many of his songs were to mark the end of someone’s life. So I spent most of the night playing his songs, listing them, re-ordering them, adding to and amending my choices and when finalised, writing cameo descriptions of their unique appeal and qualities as farewell songs.

The next morning, hardly a word had to be changed when I added the article to My Last Song – called simply Farewell Songs From Neil Diamond.

Now, four months later, I have played every track in the list, and I want you to enjoy the beauty and power of some of these songs. Self indulgent, yes, but please share this indulgence with me by listening to the following by clicking the YouTube clips in the article.

A haunting, poetic song of recalled love and yearning made more beautiful by the sumptuous arrangement.  Stones marked Diamond’s arrival as a writer of original, complex and exceptionally moving songs, using metaphor and imagery with a confidence that would make him one of the outstanding artists of his generation.

If You Go Away
Originally by Jacques Brel, this is one of the most endearing love songs ever written. Diamond clearly recognised its emotional power and delivers an unforgettably touching, sensitive version.

Play Me
In the most lovely, sensitive couplets Diamond reveals to his lover the extent to which he depends on her for his very existence. ‘You are the sun, I am the moon, You are the words, I am the tune…Play me.’ And if ever a melody was written that matched a song’s sentiments, Diamond achieves it here.

Dear Father
Diamond wrote the score for the film Jonathan Livingstone Seagull including this heart rending tour de force. Symphonic in structure, much of it is instrumental and epic in its aural power and pastoral beauty. ‘Dear Father, we dream while we may,’ is the description of so many lives unfulfilled but no less special.

I’ve Been This Way Before
A particularly appropriate farewell song with Diamond extracting every last drop of emotion. In adding layer upon layer of sound, power and sentiment, Diamond proves he’s the master of poignant sadness. It articulates intense grief, yet also can be read as promising hope and release.

Dry Your Eyes
You get the feeling that Diamond is seeing the crowded church swaying to the swirling rhythms, tears swelling in every eye, the haunting French horns used to scintillating effect as the song comes to an end. ‘And if you can’t recall the reason, can you hear the people sing? Right through the lightening and the thunder to the dark side of the moon, To that distant falling angel that descended much too soon. And come dry your eyes.’ Dry Your Eyes is an almost shameless manipulation of our raw emotions.

Poetry of the highest order, ‘Be as a page that aches for a word, Which speaks on a theme that is timeless, While the one God will make for your day. Sing as a song in search of a voice that is silent, And the one God will make for your way.’ The magnificent arrangement builds into an intense climax, before a gentle closing. The closest Diamond has come to writing a hymn.

Hello Again
Diamond here expresses the grief of parting from a loved one…it hurts so much nothing can disguise it. Unbearable sadness, perfectly expressed.

I Am I Said
Poetic, enigmatic, intense, and emotional with a brilliant arrangement and memorable melody. I Am I Said excites and disturbs in equal measure. His dramatic delivery ensures we share his vulnerability.
Well, if you have got this far, and if you have played some of these tracks I thank you and hope you share my enthusiasm for and love of Neil Diamond’s songs.

As you can gather, they mean a huge amount to me. And, in the right setting, they might mean a lot to others as well.

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People really do care what their last song will be

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

The Brighton Argus covered the story of a local church funeral at which a mobile phone went off…and the ringtone was ‘Staying Alive’, the Bee Gee’s hit.

The most interesting part of this rather amusing story is the comments on the paper’s website. Most contributors thought this was funny and many suggested suitable secular songs which they wanted for their funerals.

Earlier this month, on the west coast of the US rather than the south coast of the UK, a ‘pop culture’ journalist posted a blog on the songs he wanted played at his funeral.

At the time of writing, 105 comments had been posted with the most diverse, quirky, in some case shocking, selections of songs. And these have been ‘liked’ (and occasionally ‘disliked’) often by ten or more people.

And in my email inbox today somebody asked how they could contribute the five songs they wanted to be remembered by. When this selection comes through it will be the 74th contribution.

Google ‘funeral songs’ and you’ll find pages of websites with lists of suggested tracks, though with the same ten or so tracks often appearing.

My Last Song appears on page 2, which we hope to improve on, but you get my drift…this interest in personal choices of music to mark your ending is growing in popularity.  I’m frequently interviewed on local radio stations to discuss ‘funeral music’ presumably because the editors and presenters know funeral songs interest their audiences.

What does this prove? I rather agree with Charles Cowling, author of the Good Funeral Guide, who believes that the baby boomer generation are now addressing their mortality and are redefining death culture as they redefined youth culture in the 1960s.

Not for them the dreary, dull and depressing traditional funerals with a couple of Victorian songs expressing religious sentiments when they have few if any religious beliefs.

No, increasingly this group want to be remembered by a positive, celebratory and personal ceremony. All Things Bright and Beautiful is out, What A Wonderful World is in.

So I think the future is looking bright for the increasing number of companies, some of them joined in a loose alliance known as the Farewell Innovators, positioned to give this market what it needs, not what rather traditional and inflexible funeral directors, think is right for it.

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John Barry’s filmscores include wonderful farewell themes

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The death today of John Barry, the British filmscore composer, prompted me to select five Barry pieces suitable to be sent off to.

Just ten seconds of a John Barry score could tell you all you needed to know about the movie. The melodies and arrangements added excitement, atmosphere, mystery and interest to every film he wrote for.

Such was his ability to create aural moods and sound pictures that at times listening was more enjoyable than watching.

Commenting on his death, British film composer David Arnold said that James Bond wouldn’t have been half as cool without John Barry holding his hand, as good an epitaph as you can get.

I already had a couple of favourites, Goldfinger and Born Free. In 1964 I was a country boy visiting relatives in London when they took me to see Goldfinger in a huge and glamourous cinema. The introduction music and graphics made me tingle. It summoned up the swinging 60s and I still recall it vividly.

Born Free? Well, a lovely piece of music to go with a marvellous film. John Barry’s score suited the script so well.

But choosing the other three pieces was incredibily difficult because he had written so many wonderfully evocative, haunting, thrilling melodies, each with an emotional appeal that would be suitable for the farewell event.

You will have to go to the article to see which three selections made up the five, and I hope you think they are good choices. I’m tempted to reallocate my time this week to listen to more of his filmscores, certain that I’ll hear melodies and arrangements that will fill me with joy and pleasure.

Paradoxical then that John Barry’s death confirmed to me the wonderful variety of music from all genres from which farewell pieces can be selected.

So, don’t put up with the limited and clichéd choices put in front of you by funeral directors, funeral planners and well meaning relatives.

Let your soul and imagination soar…recall the music that changed your life…spend time going through the My Last Song music pages…and whatever you do, make sure you go out on the right note.

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Good to be best in the world!

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Social networking is a great thing.  Thanks to social networker extrordinaire Charles Cowling, I came across lots of US websites and blogs that occupy the funeral, mourning and end of life space.

I got in touch to bring My Last Song to their attention and before long, YourFuneralGuy, had put My Last Song at the top of the list of funeral websites for 2010, with The Good Funeral Guide, author Charles Cowling, ‘in at number two’.

Someone then commented that My Last Song was the best funeral website in the world because it had the facility for people to put their wishes in the Lifebox for loved ones to fulfil (though I can’t find this comment).

Another US fellow traveller is Gail Rubin, whose Family Plot blog is excellent, as is the Modern Mourner, the website of Shirley Tatum.

Shirley has sent My Last Song her five favourite farewell tracks, and splendid songs for a funeral they are too.

There is no doubting that funeral music is of great interest…many visitors to My Last Song look for funeral hymns, secular funeral music, advice on classical music suitable for funerals and the five farewell tracks that now more than 70 people have contributed.

There is also no doubt that websites that advise people on how to get good value from their funeral director (or funeral  home as they’re called in the US), how to have the most appropriate send off, how to address their final days and then how to come to terms with the loss will get more and more traffic as the populations of the UK and the US get older.

The people within this demographic, 60 onwards, will also be increasingly those who are from the baby boomer generation, defined by the US Census Bureau as born between 1946 and 1964. These are people who will redefine aging and the end of life experience as they redefined youth culture back in the 60′s.

They are internet savvy. They use social media. They get information from websites.  Many will want to leave this world in a style that is unique and celebratory.

In the UK, a number of organisations who cater for this market have grouped together under the title of Farewell Innovators. A Facebook page has been created and a first meeting is being organised.

I would expect a similar informal association to exist, or to be set up fairly soon, in the US, and then for the farewell innovators both sides of the Atlantic to swap notes, opinions and be mutually supportive.

There’s a lot of people out there who need what we are offering them…the understanding that death is part of life, that it should be planned for, that as we are unique in life so our partings should acknowledge and celebrate our individuality, and that our parting, while a sad and mournful experience for our loved ones, should enable them to continue with their lives stronger in the knowledge that we have had the ending we wished for.

And I hope that includes playing their last songs, music that is meaningful and memorable.

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Show stoppers when the final curtain closes

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Among the favourite five farewell songs sent in by a visitor to My Last Song was the Tom Waits version of Somewhere, from West Side Story.

It made me think of just how suitable some of the numbers from the great musicals would be as funeral songs, so I asked a friend of mine who is a lover of musicals to come up with a list, and what great songs she selected.

I encourage those who are interested in the My Last Song mission of ensuring the right music is played at the end to go through the list. There are 23 in all and while there’s not enough space in this blog to comment on all of them, I want to describe what might be called the show stoppers.

And if you think I’ve not highlighted the right songs, or that there are some great musical tracks missing, please let me know.

Third on the list after Somewhere and the rightly popular You’ll Never Walk Alone is the less well known but equally appropriate If Ever I Would Leave You, from Camelot.  This is a beautiful song, with a lovely, haunting melody and the most poignant of lyrics. Lancelot is saying that it is inconceiveable that he would ever leave Guenevere.  And suitable for a farewell because the message is that love goes on forever.

Contrast this with the next track, The Party’s Over, from Bells Are Ringing. This describes the wistful, almost cold,  acceptance that the affair is over, “it’s time to call it a day.”  While it lasted it was fun, but in the cold light of morning, “the candles flicker and dim.” A more realistic though less positive view of life after a loved one has passed.

Similarly bleak is Who Can I Turn To, which featured in Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd. This is about the stark fear of  impending loneliness: ‘With no star to guide me and no one beside me, I’ll go my way and after the day, the darkness will hide me…maybe tomorrow I’ll find what I’m after…’  Many will understand the pathos of that lyric.

Another poignantly sad love song featured in the list is This Nearly Was Mine, a Rogers and Hammerstein classic from South Pacific. The lyric tells of the idealistic love Emile thought he would share with Nellie, but snatched away because she could not accept he had fathered children by a Pacific Islander. The melody is mesmerisingly beautiful, and the combination makes the hairs stand on end. I can see this becoming a popular and affecting farewell song.

Another standout from the list is I Have Dreamed, from the King and I. A similarly powerful combination of sentimental lyric and memorable melody, the interest here is the ambiguity. Did the love which in this song is dreamt about, ever really exist?  In the future, will the love only be in dreams because a loved one has parted?

Less ambiguous are Thank You For The Music, from Mama Mia, It’s Raining In My Heart, from Buddy and Noone But You (Only The Good Die Young) from We Will Rock You. But for fans of Abba, Buddy Holly and Queen these songs have a special message, and that’s the point.

The Lloyd Weber numbers, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, Think of Me and No Matter What all have suitable lyrics for the final call, and the first two have powerful melodies and arrangements that will stir the emotions.  No Matter What wouldn’t have been my choice, but I can see why others might choose it.

Anyway, have a listen, and bear these wonderful tracks in mind when choosing last songs, advising on last songs, or just wanting to listen to some of the finest numbers that have graced the stage and screen.

When the final curtain closes, they may well be show stoppers. They will certainly be tear jerkers.

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The importance of planning the funeral that marks your life as special

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I’m grateful to longtime friend and songster Gordon Griffiths for bringing these contrasting funerals to my attention.

From the Croydon Advertiser 13 August, 2010:

“It is always very sad when no-body attends a funeral,” said a spokesman for Rowland Brothers, undertakers.

“In this case, the 43 year-old man from Addiscombe who we buried on Monday had changed his name by deed poll to Luke Skywalker.

“The case was passed to us by Croydon Council, and we attempted to contact his family and friends.  But he didn’t seem to have any close friends locally, and because the deed poll office are not allowed to give out a person’s former name or personal details, we couldn’t track down his next of kin or relations. We did our best, but the result was a tragically lonely funeral for Luke Skywalker.”

From the Romsey Advertiser’s website 16 September, 2010:

Funeral was a celebration of Jane’s spirit

“Jane Scoones’ coffin was carried out of East Tytherley church to the sound of Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum and a huge round of applause from the 400 people who attended her funeral.

“It was exactly how Jane had planned her final exit and was the perfect conclusion to a service that was a celebration of her remarkable life, filled with heart-felt tributes from family and friends, including Precious Moments, a song that was written for her by her husband, Rob and sung by her daughter, Caroline.

“Those attending Friday’s funeral were simply asked to remember Jane with happiness rather than tears and sadness and to think of the joy she brought to life rather than the tragedy of her loss.

“Jane’s battle with cancer ended on August 28, at the age of 55.”

Jane Sconnes had the funeral she wanted. She planned it meticulously. She didn’t want tears, she wanted happiness. She wanted people to look back on the good things she had done in her life.

I think that there are thousands of people out there who’s lives are also special…indeed, aren’t all our lives special. And our end of life event should also be special. By being unique, the funeral is a much more satisfying and comforting event for the loved ones, for they will feel more positive.

Jane’s approach to her funeral and the event itself  is a validation of the My Last Song purpose. A good life deserves a good ending!

And if people use My Last Song to plan the ending they (or their loved ones) deserve, and keep those plans safe in their Lifebox, then so much the better.

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