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Tips to choose music for memorial events

By Erica Lamberg
While grieving the loss of your loved one, music can be a comforting celebratory backdrop for honoring and remembering your friend or family member. Gabriel Gurrola / Unsplash

While grieving the loss of your loved one, music can be a comforting celebratory backdrop for honoring and remembering your friend or family member - whether as part of a formal funeral, a less-formal celebration of life or other type of event. Here are some tips on choosing:

Tip 1:  Realize the power of music

Music has been part of social rites for countless generations because of its power to shape emotions. The more well-known the piece, the more likely it is that mourners will connect with it, says Joy Symonds, owner and director of community engagement at Symonds-Madison Funeral Home outside Chicago. “Music is more powerful than words alone, and it can set the tone for your entire service,” she continues. “There is something to be said for the sense of peace you find when you hear a familiar, hope-filled song. Your world may be turned upside down by loss, but the right lyrics can give you the confidence to know you will get through this challenging time.”

Tip 2: Incorporate religious selections when appropriate

If the funeral has religious elements or a service, hymns or religious songs will be a fine complement. Mourners can connect with the words about the loved one through the power or prayer and reflection. “Here in the Midwest, old standards are the most popular -- How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace,” says Symonds. “These beautiful hymns have familiar, soaring melodies and hopeful lyrics.” 

Music can be a bridge-builder between emotions and feelings of sympathy. “Many times when someone dies, we don’t know what to say. We encourage family members planning a funeral service to choose music that is meaningful to them,” adds Symonds.

Tip 3: It’s appropriate to lighten the mood a bit, too

Not all the music selections need to be of a religious or emotional tone, especially at less-formal events. “It’s also OK to choose something less serious,” says Symonds, adding sometimes a bit of levity can be a welcome respite to mourners burdened by grief.  “So don’t hesitate to include his alma mater’s fight song or that upbeat single by her favorite pop star,” she says.

But be aware of music restrictions if you're livestreaming the funeral. Commercially recorded songs require licensing agreements and payments to the performers. Most livestreaming companies handle this as part of their service. But free streaming services like Facebook Live don't include music licensing - and those services have automated systems that shut off audio if they detect licensed music being used as part of the service being streamed.

Tip 4:  Welcome mourners to play a part

Music touches hearts and it is a wonderful feature of a memorial.  And, if a mourner is a musician this can be a special tribute.

Another idea to get loved ones involved: invite suggestions for music selections. There may be a particular song or hymn that the organizer may not know about.  By reaching out for suggestions this brings together friends and family during a difficult time.

Tip 5: Use the Internet for song suggestions

A simple Internet search of Google can yield song suggestions. Websites recommend song choices based on genres like country music or pop and can be a valuable resource. There are also sites for military services and elderly funerals. Here are a few links: 

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