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2003-10-14 Finding right music for the occasion can go very wrong

A distraught woman in the West of Ireland called her local radio station to request something upbeat to cheer her up the day after her husband Jack's funeral.

 

Clearly without putting too much thought into it, the DJ played the Number One up tempo hit at the time - "Jack in the box"! (True story) Trying to find the most suitable music for the right occasion can often go horribly wrong. There is an ongoing argument in the churches about what is liturgically correct and some churches have very strict guidelines.

 

Maybe it is time to review these rather inflexible guidelines, to decide what is suitable at `matches' and `dispatches'. The funeral of Peter Sellars was a relatively sombre affair with the usual "Abide with me" and other such funereal classics, until at the very end, as the coffin was being carried out, the organist broke into Glen Miller's "In the Mood".

 

Everyone present smiled and laughed, as this man, who had spent his life entertaining millions with his unique comic gift, fittingly got the last laugh. Those closest to him would forever remember him with a smile.

 

As well as mourning someone's death, one ought to be able to celebrate their life. Similarly, if a loved one had a piece of music that was very special to them , for whatever reason, surely it is alright for that piece of music to help send them on their way to the next life? I have been asked to sing such songs as "Fare thee well, love" and "Remember Me" at funeral masses, and on two such occasions have been forbidden to perform them as they were `unsuitable'. I would make the argument that on both occasions, these were the favourite songs of the person in question, and that this in itself was a strong enough argument for the suitability of the repertoire. Of course it is a sensitive subject. The family is upset as this was their loved one's favourite piece of music, the priest is upset as he has to adhere to strict church guidelines, and the singer is caught as principal negotiator in the middle.

 

With regard weddings, similar problems arise. It is often the bride who is the wedding planner, and so you have the church versus the bride, and the singer again in the middle, wondering if he/she will ever see the cheque. The most popular entrance music at weddings is the "Bridal Chorus" from Wagner's "Lohengrin". Yet every time I hear this, I cannot help but hear in my mind - "Here comes the bride, forty inches wide!".

 

On one occasion I tried to dissuade the bride from her choice of "When a child is born", putting forward the argument that it may have given the appearance of a `shotgun wedding'. But one doesn't argue with a lady who wants this to be her most memorable day, so I sang it, and it was indeed most memorable.

 

I have sung "Nessun Dorma" at my sister's wedding, and there are those who might question the suggestiveness of "None shall sleep" on such a day, but at least it is better than "Help me make it through the night".

 

Leaving aside the less than subtle title, the song also pleads "Lord, tonight I need a friend" and "Let the devil take tomorrow", but there was no arguing with that bride either.

 

Aside from the obligatory "Ave" and "Panis" (Why oh why?) I have been at other weddings and heard "My heart will go on" from "Titanic", but is a sinking ship really the best image for the first day of a life together?

 

At the `signing of the register' I have heard "I don't know how to love him" - well if you don't honey, you should think again and try a different one! Then there is the ever-popular `Number one patronising song of all time' - "Wind beneath my wings" - "you must have been cold there in my shadow".

 

If the above are suitable, then why not go one step even further for that special day and try "Can't buy me love", "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away", "If you think I'm sexy", "Ah shut uppa ya face" or "Bat out of hell"? Maybe on reflection some songs are best left until the reception, or even the bridal suite.