Society makes its mark on final farewells

16 April 2009

The influence of popular culture on the country’s funeral ceremonies is evident in a new and authoritative study on the subject published today (16 April).

The Co-operative Funeralcare, the UK's largest funeral director, surveyed music arranged at almost 250 homes carrying out more than 30,000 funerals annually across the UK in 2008 and noted the particular impact of television, not just on our lives but on our deaths.

Findings confirm that, four years on from the last such study, tastes are changing slowly but surely.  Despite, for example, Frank Sinatra's classic “My Way”, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary, holding onto its number one position as the most played contemporary funeral anthem, X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke has made a small but significant first appearance in the charts.

Key findings from the study - last carried out in 2005 - include:

  • Hymns at funerals continue to decline in popularity*  - down six per cent in four years - at the expense of contemporary melodies, which now account for over half of songs played.
  • Westlife’s You Raise Me Up makes its appearance in the Top Ten contemporary songs for the first time.
  • Over a quarter of funeral homes surveyed received unusual requests during the year, including television themes from Emmerdale, Top Gear and Only Fools and Horses; Doctor and the Medics’ Spirit in the Sky, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell and even So Long, Farewell, from The Sound of Music.
  • Just over one in every 10 requests for particular pieces of music have been rejected, usually because clergy conducting the funeral feel the choice is inappropriate.
  • Alexandra Burke’s number one hit, Hallelujah appears at number 26 in the popularity charts, only two months after its first television airing.
  • Tastes in hymns and classical music remain unchanged with The Lord is my Shepherd and Elgar’s Nimrod in first and second place respectively.
  • Pipers remain the most popular choice of live music, featuring at just under half of all funerals in this category.

The Co-operative Funeralcare’s Lorinda Sheasby said the study reaffirmed that trends in funerals were changing – albeit at a much slower rate than in other areas of social custom.

“Today’s tear-jerking chart topper is extremely unlikely to be tomorrow’s funeral classic but it’s quite possible it will figure highly in the months or even years to come,” she explained.

“As more people choose non-religious funerals, so they incline towards contemporary songs with which they closely identify,” she added.  “Our aim is to make more people aware of the options and choices open to them, so that ultimately the funeral service reflects the life of the individual, which is of great benefit to the bereaved.”

Live music can also be a powerful choice at funeral ceremonies, as The Co-operative Funeralcare employee, Garry Cavender knows only too well.  A professional bugler from Gravesend, he is sometimes called upon to play during the service.

“Live music can be so expressive and emotive,” he explained. “So I am more than happy to oblige, whenever a family specifically requests a bugler. It can be much more moving than a recording.”

Top ten popular songs

2009  2005  Song and artist
1 1 My Way Frank Sinatra/Shirley Bassey
2 2 Wind Beneath My Wings Bette Midler/Celine Dion
3 9 Time To Say Goodbye Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli
4 3 Angels Robbie Williams
5 8 Over The Rainbow Eva Cassidy
6 - You Raise Me Up Westlife/Boyzone/Josh Grobin
7 4 My Heart Will Go On Celine Dion
8 6 I Will Always Love You Whitney Houston
9 7 You’ll Never Walk Alone Gerry and the Pacemakers
10 - Unforgettable Nat King Cole

Top ten hymns

2009 2005 Hymn
1 1 The Lord Is My Shepherd
2 2 Abide With Me
3 3 All Things Bright And Beautiful
4 4 Old Rugged Cross
5 5 Amazing Grace
6 7 How Great Thou Art
7 6 The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended
8 8 Jerusalem
9 - Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace
10 9 Morning Has Broken