Classical Music for Funerals – 10 examples 0

classical music for funerals

Music has become an important part of modern funeral services and those organising a memorial service will often spend a great deal of time deciding what songs to play. While many go with a contemporary pop song, others might have a particular hymn that seems appropriate. However, one of the most popular options is a piece of classical music. Stirring and emotive, these ten suggestions represent some of the most popular compositions of classical music for funerals.

Be sure to discuss music with your chosen funeral director.

 

The Lark Ascending – Vaughan Williams

Inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name, The Lark Ascending is a beautifully nostalgic piece of music that’s often used to say goodbye to dearly missed friends and family. Supposedly composed as Williams watched soldiers board the boats that would ferry them across to France at the outbreak of the First World War, the song is most notable for its powerful violin solo and its reputation as one of the British public’s favourite pieces of classical music.

 

Largo (Xerxes) – George Frideric Handel

Though not greeted with critical acclaim at the time of its creation, Handel’s Largo is now an increasingly popular composition that seems to have found its place amongst the greats of the genre. Part of a larger operatic series based on the story of the Persian emperor Xerxes I, the Largo aria has become a much admired piece of music centred around the theme of love and is regularly played at memorial services.

 

Song for Athene – John Tavener

Performed at the funeral of Princess Diana, this beautiful choral arrangement has found its way into the public consciousness and is now regularly sung or played at funerals around the country. Written following the death of a young Greek friend in a cycling accident, Tavener incorporated elements of the Greek Orthodox tradition into the composition to create a moving memorial to life lost.

 

Adagietto (Symphony No. 5) – Gustav Mahler

Adagietto is the fourth movement from Mahler’s most famous work, Symphony No. 5. Reportedly inspired by the composer’s love for his wife Alma, it was written after Mahler was confronted with his own mortality when he suffered from a large haemorrhage and was sent to the countryside to recuperate. This comes across in the music, and makes it especially suitable as a piece of classical music for funerals.

 

Ave maria – Franz Schubert

One of Schubert’s most renowned pieces, Ave Maria draws from Arthurian legend, a poem by Sir Walter Scott and the picturesque Austrian landscape. Though the title may suggest it’s a devotional piece of music, it actually concerns a young girl named Ellen, who is the protagonist in Scott’s poem. Its calm and melancholic composition make it a powerful choice for any funeral service. Tenor Luigi Vena performed the piece at the funeral of American President John F Kennedy, following his assassination.

 

Pavane – Gabriel Fauré

For a long time, this gentle composition has been associated with feminine grace and beauty, and consequently, it is often employed as a fitting tribute to those important women in our lives. Supposedly intended as a musical tribute to his father, who had passed away three years before work on the piece began, it is marked by some of the greatest melodies Fauré ever committed to paper, and is a popular choice of classical music for funerals.

 

Fur Elise – Ludwig van Beethoven

Instantly recognisable, this incredible piano composition is still used in funeral services across the country, despite it now being over 200 years old. Though the identity of the titular Elise remains a mystery, there is little doubt that this is a powerful piece of music that is capable of generating great emotion.

 

Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff

While its length would usually require specific segments of the song to be chosen for a funeral service, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is an extremely melancholic composition that’s famous for bringing tears to a listener’s eyes. If you want to remember a loved one with a powerful, emotive piece of classical music, this would be a good choice for any memorial service.

 

Adagio Lamentoso (Symphony No. 6) – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The final part of Tchaikovsky’s last completed symphony, this composition was first performed just nine days before the death of the composer and is now strongly associated with ideas of death and dying. Whether such interpretations of the work hold any credence is a matter of debate, but this hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular pieces of classical music for funerals.

 

Cantata No. 208, Sheep May Safely Graze – Johann Sebastian Bach

This peaceful composition gives those gathered at a funeral a moment to collect their thoughts and remember the deceased. Though actually a secular composition, its references to sheep and shepherds also have religious connotations, making it an apt choice for both religious and non-religious services.

 

While these ten pieces of music are among the best known examples of classical music for funerals, remember that there are no rules. Generally, people expect emotive and reflective pieces of music, though it’s absolutely acceptable for you to choose something that the deceased loved.

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7 Tips from Celebrants on Writing a Great Funeral Speech 0

Eulogy examples: a microphone in front of a blurred background

Giving a funeral speech can be a nerve-wracking experience. Public speaking isn’t everyone’s forte — and there’s always the question of what you should (and shouldn’t) say.

So, what makes a great speech at a funeral? We spoke to four experienced celebrants — people who write and deliver eulogies professionally — to get their top tips on writing a funeral speech that feels right.

 

How to write a funeral speech, according to real celebrants

We spoke to Clive, Melanie, Kate and Adrienne for their tips on writing a brilliant funeral speech.

 

  1. writing a funeral speechWork out the length

“A five-minute speech would typically be 600 to 650 words,” says Clive Pashley, from Premier Celebrants. Most people talk at a rate of about 125 words a minute, he explains. But the more nervous you are, the faster you’ll speak.

If you get to choose how long your speech will be, ask for only as much time as you can manage. “Remember: you’re grieving, and the longer you’re up there, the harder it gets,” says Melanie Sopp, celebrant and interfaith minister. “Even two minutes can feel like an eternity.”

 

  1. Choose a topic

“Start by sorting out what the theme is,” says Adrienne Hodgson-Hoy, a celebrant from East Yorkshire. “What do you actually want to get people to understand, what is the whole basis of the speech?”

  • Eulogies are where you tell the life story of the person who has died, from beginning to end.
  • Tributes are typically shorter — 5-minute speeches on a treasured memory, anecdote, or theme from the person’s life.

“When you’re talking about somebody’s life, you talk about their passions: follow what they loved and what their strengths were,” says Kate Mitchell, who leads ceremonies in the South East. Eulogies follow a certain pattern (from birth to death), so it’s simply a case of pulling out those key moments that really reveal something.

For tributes, Melanie recommends writing about “things that mean something to you — whether it’s a personal memory, an anecdote, gratitude, or acknowledging somebody’s courage in the face of a long illness.” Family gatherings, holidays and first meetings are all good starting points for a funeral speech.

The most important thing is to tell the truth as you see it,”

  1. Follow your instincts

Not sure what to say in a funeral speech? Go with your gut.

“Just sit down and write what’s in your head, even if it’s a jumbled mess,” says Melanie. “Then go back through it to revise it and pick out what needs to be said on the day.”

Clive adds: “Don’t second guess yourself. If you think of a memory and it feels right, it’s important to you and it’s something that you shared — and if you think your friend or loved one would like you to share it — then I would go ahead and include it.”

 

  1. Be even-handed

Eulogy examples: a microphone in front of a blurred background

“Make sure your speech is as unbiased as possible,” says Adrienne. “Gather information from different parts of the family, so you actually get an accurate picture of what happened and what [the person who has died] was like.”

To get the information you need for your funeral speech, you may have to put your own opinions to one side. “Don’t be argumentative when you are taking the information, and don’t put your viewpoint first,” Adrienne stresses.

Clive agrees. “Some people use their time at the microphone to try and settle a score or get one up on someone. That’s obviously a real no-no,” he says, adding that such funeral speeches can be “excruciatingly embarrassing.”

 

  1. Be honest — even about the difficult bits

Talking about someone with a complicated or difficult history? All our celebrants agreed on one thing: not to flinch away from talking about it.

Person leaning against a fence by a lakeThe most important thing is to tell the truth as you see it,” says Kate. “To honour the person who has died, you need to talk about who they are, and not what people might want to hear about.”

“That doesn’t mean a litany of things that they did wrong — and it doesn’t have to be the gory details. It’s about telling the truth but being kind.”

“Acknowledge that they did have issues,” says Adrienne. “I lead a funeral service once for someone who was an alcoholic, and the family said that yes, he had issues with alcohol, and he tried to turn away from it, but unfortunately the issue was too big a problem for him to overcome. There are tactful ways of saying these things.”

Honesty can be cathartic. Melanie gave a difficult eulogy for her father and says that the experience was “Liberating. It was an honest account of that relationship. I don’t regret it.”

 

  1. Remember, it’s not all about you

Man and woman at a funeralIf you’re writing a funeral speech after losing a friend or family member, you’re understandably going to be in a lot of emotional pain. But while you should feel open to expressing how you feel, it’s important not to make the speech all about you.

“Just be careful not to make it too centred on yourself, and make sure it really does focus on the person who’s passed away,” says Clive.

When talking about others, specific names also are important, he stresses. “Try to avoid saying ‘we’ or ‘they’ unless it’s obvious who you’re referring to. Otherwise, it can be a little ambiguous and hard to follow.”

 

  1. Don’t be flowery, be specific

A lot of people feel that since a funeral is a serious occasion, funeral speeches should use serious, impressive language. Not so, say our celebrants.

“If their name was David, but they were known as Dave, call them Dave! Keep it personal,” says Adrienne.

“Don’t try and be clever and write flowery phases! Everybody thinks that they need to, but someone isn’t suddenly different because they died,” Kate explains. “If you can be specific, and base your speech on real things that happened, that’s best.”

“The songs you used to listen to together, the ways he used to stir his tea — those are the sorts of details that are specific to that person, and that’s what makes a great eulogy.”

 

For more inspiration…

For more ideas on things to say in a funeral speech, you can’t go wrong with our article on funeral speech examples. It’s filled with touching and sometimes even funny eulogies from real people.

Feeling nervous about an upcoming funeral speech? We followed up with Melanie, Clive, Adrienne and Kate to find out how to overcome your jitters. Check out their tips and tricks here.

 


 Meet the celebrants

Clive Pashley started Premier Celebrants with his friend, James Greely, in 2016. They were later joined by Rachel Nussey. He and his team offer professional and bespoke funeral service planning across the Midlands.

Rev. Melanie Sopp is a celebrant and interfaith minister, working across the Midlands and the South coast. Melanie runs the excellent Celebrant Academy, which trains celebrants to create ceremonies and lead services of all kinds.

Adrienne Hodgson-Hoy was inspired to become a celebrant after losing her husband. Now, she leads unique, personal funeral services across Hull and East Yorkshire. With a friend, Adrienne runs Memories of Me, a service that allows people to plan their own funeral services.

Kate Mitchell is a creative independent celebrant working in the South East: her stomping grounds include Kent, Surrey and Sussex. As well as funerals, Kate leads thoughtful wedding and baby-naming ceremonies.

The Unexpected Rise of Cremation Jewellery 0

cremation jewellery
If you stopped someone on the street 15 years ago and asked them whether they had any human ashes on them, they would have thought you were mad.
 
Now – well, they’ll probably still think you’re mad – but you’re far more likely to get a “yes” for an answer. More and more people are carrying a loved one’s ashes with them in ‘keepsake’ jewellery. A once-tiny industry is suddenly flourishing. But why this, and why now?
 

Memorial jewellery has a history

This is not a new thing. The Victorians (ever morbid) were keen on memorial jewellery of all kinds. Often made from jet and other black materials, these pieces fit with the strict mourning dress code of the day
 
At the time, British cremation was still in its infancy. So, Victorian memorial jewellery didn’t usually contain ashes. But many pieces contained a small memento, like a lock of hair. They were a way to show the world that you treasured a loved one’s memory.
 
Eventually, memorial jewellery fell out of fashion. People were living longer, and by WWI the culture around death and mourning had shifted. But the precedent was set…
 

Attitudes towards cremation have changed

Cremation was controversial at first. The British Home Office banned the first crematorium from use shortly after its construction. It took years (and lawsuits) before cremations could regularly take place.
 
But, by the late 1960s, the number of families choosing this option had overtaken burial. And as that number grew, there was a gradual shift in what people decided to do with the ashes, as well.
 
In the 60s, around 80% of families buried or scattered ashes in the remembrance garden at the crematorium. Now, that figure is completely reversed, with 80% of families taking the ashes away with them. 
 
Preferences have also shifted away from the big-urn-on-the-mantlepiece towards scattering. People often don’t want the ashes (and there are alot of ashes) in the house. While it can be comforting to keep a loved one close by, large urns can be intimidating, and the question of where to put them equally daunting
 
By comparison, scattering the ashes on a hillside or river has real romantic appeal. It can feel like more of a final resting place. A small ceremony, somewhere that resonates with the person they love, can offer a kind of closure. In fact, 79% of people who want a cremation would like their ashes scattered.
 


A happy medium

Ashes jewellery

But scattering does have drawbacks. More than a few people who have scattered ashes have found themselves missing them. By then, it’s too late to do anything about it. So, many of us have started to wonder if there was a way to do both: put the person to rest, but also keep them close. 

 
Enter ashes jewellery. Families can scatter most of the ashes, and keep a small amount back to place in a locket or ring. And over the last few years, this way of memorialising someone seems to have blossomed. Now, there is a wide selection of ashes jewellery to choose from. From hollow pendants to clever pieces with the ashes held in glass or resin, there’s something for everyone
 
But, unlike Victorian memorial pieces, these new designs are subtle. Rather than broadcasting the owner’s loss, they allow the wearer to feel close to their loved one – without anyone the wiser.
 

Future or fad?

Only time will tell if ashes jewellery is a brief fashion or here to stay. But most people are at least aware of the option, and a number of companies have sprung up to meet this need. It’s also possible we’ll never know quite how popular ashes jewellery is. After all, with the new pieces being so discreet, who else is to know you’re wearing them – unless you tell them …