THE BLOG

Best Music for One's Own Funeral

05/24/2013 04:34 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2013

Every so often one reads about someone staging their own funeral, sometimes so they could hear themselves being eulogized, sometimes for more illicit reasons.

The phenomenon seems to be fairly universal. One recent case, which made headlines worldwide, happened in March in China when a student, Zeng Jia, hired a team of cosmetic artists to make her look dead and lay in a coffin for an hour while mourners walked past paying their tributes,

"I feel so good after coming out of the coffin," Zeng told China Daily.

While I have no wish to stage my funeral, I do think from time to time about what it will be like. As a controlling type, and also a lover of music, I sometimes consider leaving a detailed plan of which selections I would like played at my own memorial service.

It turns out there is a rich vein of resources for the bereaved on the Internet offering advice on what to choose. At YourTribute.com, which says it exists to "provide friends and family with a safe and secure online environment to connect and share memories," we're told: "Happy funeral songs will uplift friends and family at the funeral and celebrate the life of your loved one. Happy funeral songs can also summarize what we are feeling when we are having difficulty putting our emotions into words."

Its top five suggestions are:
1. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by Monty Python
2. "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan
3. "Fly" by Celine Dion
4. "Hero" by Mariah Carey
5. "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac.

The first of these offers an agreeably nihilistic way to bid farewell, especially the stanza that goes:

Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it,
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

For fans of country music, Yahoo Voices helpfully offers "25 Great Country Music Songs for Funerals." Here, the tone is more maudlin, as exemplified by the top choice, "I Believe," by Diamond Rio.

Now when you die, your life goes on
It doesn't end here when you're gone
Every soul is filled with light, it never ends if I'm right
Our love can even reach across eternity
I believe, oh, I believe.

In Melbourne, Australia, Candlepipes, which describes itself as "undertakers of distinction," offers its list of the top 25 funeral songs of any genre. Number one is "Wind Beneath my Wings" by Bette Middler, which starts as follows:

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

But that song only placed fourth in a survey of 5,000 Britons carried out in 2006 on behalf of The Bereavements Register of their fave funeral songs. Topping that chart was "Goodbye My Lover" by James Blunt which opens with these words:

Did I disappoint you or let you down?
Should I be feeling guilty or let the judges frown?
'Cause I saw the end before we'd begun,
Yes I saw you were blinded and I knew I had won.
So I took what's mine by eternal right.
Took your soul out into the night.
It may be over but it won't stop there,
I am here for you if you'd only care.

None of this will do for me. I'm a lover primarily, though not exclusively, of classical music, and I don't necessarily want people feeling cheery at my interment. I don't agree that we need to be happy all the time, even when we're not. So here are my five selections, to be played during the service. (Since my funeral will presumably be held in a synagogue, out of respect I have excluded some of the most profoundly gorgeous Bach arias which unfortunately are Christian themed, including the Agnus Dei from the B minor mass (but feel free to have a listen anyway.

1) Henry Purcell, Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary. Nice ghoulish march to play while people stream into the sanctuary followed by a text from the Book of Psalms which will remind people that though it is me being buries today, their turn will also eventually come.
2) Schubert, Death and the Maiden Quartet, second movement cause I really love this music and it might remind people of my unjustly neglected novel "The Nazi Hunter" the plot of which involves Schubert Lieder.
3) Chopin piano sonata #2, not the funeral march in the 3rd movement which is long and lugubrious even for me, but the weird, ethereal fourth movement which is over in a minute but leaves an eerie feeling of disquiet.
4) "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen" (How Lovely are thy Dwelling Places) from the Brahms German Requiem which should please the rabbi presiding because the text is based on Psalm 84 and is part of regular Jewish worship, while the theme is gorgeous.
5) "Im Abdendrot" (At Sunset) the last of Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" which always moves me profoundly whenever I hear it, perhaps the most beautiful final word yet spoken by a composer. (Please check out Renee Fleming's performance).

We have gone through sorrow and joy hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering above the quiet land.
Around us, the valleys bow; the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards dreamily into the fragrant air.
Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way in this solitude.
O vast, tranquil peace, so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering -- Is this perhaps death?

That's a preliminary list. Hopefully I still have many years of life in which to hone it. Next week I may opt instead for
"Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it..."

Then again, I may not.