A prize to die for, and jolly funeral music.


I read a few years ago, that a 60-year-old Texas woman entered a competition at a minor league baseball game and won first prize which was a slap-up funeral and a burial plot to the value of $10,000.  She was understandably relieved to find that she didn’t have to claim the prize immediately, as it fortunately wouldn’t expire until after she died. The competition included taking part in a pall-bearer race, a mummy wrap and a eulogy delivery.

“Come up and collect your prize: The Funeral Of Your Dreams.”

On the cheerful subject of funerals, I happen to be quite an expert, having played the organ or piano for hundreds at various churches when I lived in Johannesburg. The music and hymns were usually left for me to choose, as most people didn’t have a clue on this subject. I always picked songs that I imagined most people were vaguely familiar with, like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, in the vain hope that the congregation would be able to sing them, but I usually ended up singing a duet with the vicar, and he was certainly no Pavarotti.

The most amusing funeral I played for, if there can be such a thing, was for that of a  white hospital matron.  Her mostly black staff had come along to honour her memory, and were very keen to sing a song for her. They told me that they didn’t want any accompaniment on the organ, so I had absolutely no idea what they were going to sing, and neither had the vicar. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they launched into a very spirited rendition of that old wartime song, ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’, accompanied by the swaying and dancing that African choirs do so well and with such gusto.  It was actually rather jolly and quite uplifting and refreshing. No-one could possibly be miserable after their enthusiastic performance. I spoke to one of the ladies afterwards, who informed me that at the last funeral they sang for, their song of choice was, ‘We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day’.  A very apt song, don’t you think? 😕

Now, on much the same subject, I once read that a Church of England vicar had to apologise for his rant about the rise of secular funerals, characterised by “ear-splitting  songs and bad poetry.”

He lamented the decline of Christian farewells centred on a “beautiful requiem mass” and said that he actually felt “spiritually unwanted.” He announced that he was absolutely fed up, and “felt like a lemon” presiding at a funeral where the casket was brought in to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the best’, and with Frank Sinatra singing in the background, ‘I did it my way’, as the bodies of people with “no hope of the resurrection are popped in the oven.” Of course his outburst caused a bit of an outrage, and dozens of people accused him of being arrogant and insensitive. In his apology, he did an about turn, and said that said he was “delighted if music of any type was a comfort to mourners.” I think one of his superiors must have had a few words with him. I personally think that vicars must learn to adjust to the times we’re living in. What do you think?

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97 comments on “A prize to die for, and jolly funeral music.

  1. This is the most uplifting posts or articles about funerals I have ever read! I have sung in a few, and my mother used to answer the phone for a funeral home, and for the privilege got to live in a 1200 foot apartment over the garage. Those folks had great funeral stories, or actually body retrieval stories – such as the 300 pound man in the 3rd story apartment with narrow doors. Great post. I’m glad the lady didn’t have to collect on her prize right away. 🙂

  2. I hope I am brave enough to plan my own funeral at some point. Haven’t gotten there yet. I also think the funeral/memorial should mean something to those left behind, so I think these things should be pretty open to interpretation.

    • Yes, me too. I have a couple of pieces of music in mind, but as I won’t be there to listen to them, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. 🙂

  3. Personally, I wish people would adjust to the time the Vicar was living in. The modern way definitely does cheapen everything, and moves away from the point of it all. Solemn, dignified and beautiful seems right to me.
    The wake – ah, that is a different matter!

  4. Not interested in a funeral myself, but I’d like everyone to enjoy some good food, good music, and have a drink on me. It’s always sad to lose someone you love, but maybe that’s actually when we might need our most cheering up. As was said in the movie, Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis!”

      • Tears are a given. Then smile and celebrate a life that touched your heart. 🙂 Tough, I know but even 17 years later I smile at the thought of my late ex and his antics. I learned a lot from that loss.

  5. Hey, great post! As you know my step dad just died. He was a huge Geelong ( AFL- football) fan. They played the Geelong Anthem and people went from crying to smiling. Why? Because it brought back happy and wonderful memories. We are devastated enough without all the sad music. Its about honouring them in life and what they loved.
    I would love that choir to sing and dance at my funeral. I tell my family I will be sitting on my casket watching them all. They best be smiling and having a great time at my wake! That includes drinking alcohol. Lol hey, that’s me and I make a point of enjoying life to the best of my ability! Alcohol is a part of that! LMAO. Hope you had a great weekend. Hugs Paula xxx

  6. I totally agree. It must be up to people themselves and those who grief what music they can find comfort in.

  7. The Jazz of New Orleans has got to be the best send off
    Although if this bloke was presiding over my funeral I’d want Jimmy Durante singing ‘Should I stay or should I go. Just to tee him off !
    Nice one.

  8. It certainly is all about persona choice isn’t it…and the hope that those left will do as the deceased wished for! To be honest it really isn’t something I’ve thought much about…my wake, funeral, burial, or cremation…someday I will… 🙂

    • I agree with you, Heather. Occasionally I hear a song or a piece of music, and think, “I’d like that played at my funeral,” but then I keep changing my mind. 😀

  9. You have truly had a very interesting and unique perspective of many people’s lives (and end of lives) playing at those funerals I suspect.
    I’m thinking of maybe something by Pink Floyd for my journey’s end. 🙂

  10. Ooh, touchy subject for me. I don’t even want to go into the behaviour of the reverend at my dad’s funeral. All I’ll say is, we should all feel free to live our lives as we see fit (providing that doesn’t infringe upon the happiness of others) . And as such, we are free to honour our passing as wee see fit. Me? My plan is to put aside enough money to supply plenty of food and drink for my nearest and dearest. I’ll write a massive list of favourite tunes and they can celebrate my passing by coming to my house, eat my food, drink my drink, listen to my tunes and have a great time. Life is to be celebrated after all!

    (As an aside I can kind of sympathise with the reverend who felt “spiritually unwanted”. People can (in many places) get humanist ceremonies now. So there’s no need to involve reverends if you don’t require the spiritual element).

  11. I think I’d quite like a solemn funeral. Grey day, black plumed horses, black carriage – people must be SAD that I’m dead damnit!!!
    That being said, I’ll be cremated, and dead, so I won’t know what tunes are playing 😉

      • That would suit admirably AD 🙂
        Tears streaming as the beautiful music sends me off into the night – very fitting indeed I’d say 😉
        It is a most magnificent piece of music though. Chopin was a master!!

      • Crying with music like that is soul cleansing AD, never a bad thing.
        Means I can still be stirred by beautiful things 🙂

  12. It’s all about a balance AD I feel .. I think you should definitely celebrate a person’s life with any type of funeral service, but personally I still feel the need to blink back a tear somehow, and that’s when there is atleast one stirring musical rendition alongside everything else . But it should be totally what the loved ones want at the end of the day …
    Interesting post indeed . You’ve certainly seen life Lol

    • …..and death. 🙂 Yes, I agree with you, Poppy. In my experience, many bereaved families are too traumatised to think at the time, what they would like at the funeral, so often need a bit of advice. I’ve lost count of the number of weddings and funerals that I’ve actually chosen the music for. 😀

  13. I love it… I want a happy send off… I want people to celebrate my passing, have fun and remember me in a happy way… we are all going to go at sometime and being all dour about it does not attract me… Sure it’s sad someone goes and you’re gonna miss them, but if they were fun when they were alive why should it change at their funeral… Me I just want everyone to have a slap up party and remember some of my antics of the past… have a laugh and enjoy… sure we will meet again if you’re gonna end up where I’m going…

  14. Lovely post. I love this upbeat look at funerals – it doesn’t have to be sad and people don’t have to be in tears the entire time – it can be about celebrating life and sharing hopes of being reunited.

  15. The story of their performance tickled my heart. How cool is that?? I love that it moved everyone in a good way.

    They played Charley Pride, “I’ll fly away” at my Dad’s funeral. I will never forget that, because Charley Pride is something we enjoyed listening to. I remember riding in his Buick Regal sitting in the back on a blue velvet seat and singing Charley Pride’s “Chapel of Love”. Such good times. Music really does soothe the soul.

    • Thanks, Angelia. I’m glad you enjoyed my story. It really was a very special occasion, and I’m sure they cheered everyone up a lot. 🙂 What a special memory you have of your Dad’s funeral. Yes, music is wonderful, and the right music at the right moment in time, is precious.

  16. I agree with newsy…..I like the idea of an uplifting celebration accompanied by great music. Interesting contest to say the least 🙂

  17. Hilarious post, AD. Vicars do need to move with the times and be sensitive to sentiment. I think that in all that sombreness if there is something to provide light relief, it can only be good.

  18. I understand that people are sad at funerals but I still think that they should celebrate the person’s life and not be all morbid as a sign of “respect”. I’d find it more respectable if you thought of all the good times you had with me and not focus on the fact that I’m gone

  19. What a fabulous subject and post! Every (classical) song you mentioned are my mother’s favourites. In fact, she refused to go to church recently because she didn’t like the music and wanted them to sing things like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ – strangely enough she’s never been a particularly religious person and just goes to church for the company and singing.

    On the matter of funerals, I believe that Peter Sellers had the song ‘In The Mood’ played at his funeral 😀 LOL

    • Thanks, Dianne. I’m sure many other people go to church for the singing and company too, although they wouldn’t admit it. I didn’t know that about Peter Sellers…..but I’m not at all surprised. 🙂

    • Thanks, Madhu. I can be a bit quirky at times. 🙂 I also don’t really want a funeral as such, but what would they do with the body? 😕

  20. Great post – makes you think…”How would I like to go?” church over here is getting better at this, I believe. So, my mother has always said she wants Elvis to sing when it’s time for her. Maybe now they finally will allow it…I do hope so.

  21. My personal opinion is that it’s the vicar’s job to carry out the funeral service per the wishes the deceased has stipulated beforehand or by the wishes of family and friends.

    … judgement is best left to the vicar’s Biggest Boss and not to the vicar 🙂

  22. As with all things, funerals are changing too. We need to change and those officiating the funerals need to change and adjust. The wishes of those who are departing are now being put into our living wills. The somberness of dying is beginning to change, as well. Celebrating a life well lived and loved seems to be the way most want their passing to be done.
    My hubby has always said he wants a traditional New Orleans funeral. The type with umbrellas and where you sing a jazz song that slows and sad and then changes into a “When the Saints go Marchin’ In” jazz party. All this in my living room as that is where he would like to reside after cremation. hahaha
    Ironic, isn’t it? Death is no longer taboo or something to fear. I don’t think God really cares how we approach our ending. He will be waiting and happy to see us.
    Great thought provoking post for us … thanks.

    • Good for your hubby, Issy. With all these comments, I’m beginning to think that I should specify a few things I’d like for my own departure, just in case the family get it wrong. I’ll have to give it some thought. 😀

  23. An old friend of my mother’s son is a very accomplished organist, so he offered to play the organ at her funeral. I think he wanted to show off a bit but the organ was so old that it became a real challenge for him.

    • I can fully sympathise with him. I’ve had to play some dreadful old organs for both funerals and weddings, and often you don’t find out just how awful they are until you get there on the day. 😯

  24. I fully agree with many of your comments – a funeral is definitely a time for celebration of a persons life or relief from suffering (of whoever) 😀

  25. Hilarious! I feel a bit sorry for the poor vicar, he must have been feeling increasingly redundant. Perhaps he should suggest that a humanist funeral would be more appropriate for some 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed reading, Gilly. Yes, I think you’re right. Some people may not realise that they don’t have to have a church funeral.

  26. A wonderful post – reminded me of when I was younger. Dad was the minister and I was the pianist! What fun we would have. The other day, one of my friends said to me that she had visited her lawyer to draw up her will and last testament. The lawyer said “in the event of your death.” She replied “I am a nurse so I know that I will die.” To which the lawyer said, “You would be amazed how many people think that it is merely a possibility.” Whatever the format, the venue…it is a celebration of life. A reminder for us who remain, to live a little better for the one who has passed.

    “Death tweaks my ear.”live,”he says,”I am coming.”
    – Virgil

    • Thanks so much, Rebecca. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It’s very different from my usual style. 🙂 I agree about having a celebration of a person’s life. It’s a really positive thing to do.

  27. No matter if a funeral or a memorial service, I see a fine line between the church institution, secular thoughts, and personal tributes. However, I personally see these services as a positive celebration of life, thus the dilemma.

  28. what an interesting contest!! always something new to learn out there eh? On the subject of “fun” funerals….I went to one last December that I won’t soon forget. This was for a man that we used to sing with at church. Tom (the dearly departed) loved music and especially jazz. He apparently saw this dixieland band (http://barbary-coast.com/) many times and they came to his funeral and played several tunes, ending with “when the saints go marching in”. When I greeted his widow (who I also sang with) after the funeral and commented on the great tunes by the dixieland band, she looked up at me, grinned and said “wasn’t that fun??” It was a funeral I won’t soon forget and probably the most fun funeral I’ve ever attended! Well done thou good and faithful servant.

    • That sounds really great, Tobyo. I tried to listen to their music, but unfortunately my internet is too slow. Your comment reminded me that I also was requested to play “When the saints go marching in” on the organ for one funeral. I felt a bit of a ninny, as most of the congregation weren’t aware that it wasn’t my idea. 😀

  29. A funeral is for the people who have been left behind, not for the person who has died. I feel that it should therefore embody the ways in which people want to say goodbye to their loved one. And if that includes music, then so be it.

  30. I totally agree with you ….. over here is very common that new tunes are being used … Queens, Whitney Houston, Josh Groban, Frank Sinatra … even if I’m not a believer I like the traditional ones too and I think a mixture of both is the best way to go.
    I wish that when it’s my time that a massive choir and symphonic orchestra shell preform Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” – but that will never happen … but I would love to go in big style.
    On Ireland they celebrate the life of the person and for that they had a part in the person’s life – with music, dance and drinks .. need a vacation after attended to one.
    I think that is the right away to do it … as my mom said .. smile and dance when you think of me.

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