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Lists of Memorial Music by Genre


Apollo with lyre - image by Tony Smith

Photo by Tony Smith: Apollo with lyre, Anglesey Abbey

The esteemed neurologist Oliver Sacks passed away last year. He is well known for his research on the healing power of music. In his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Sacks says, “The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain...Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.” 

Music heals, music celebrates, music explores. And it embodies a universal language. Throughout time, music has been an essential element in saying a final farewell. From the ancient Greek lyre harp to the drumming of the Native American Indians, music heals the soul. It connects people, even to those who have passed.

4 Questions: How to Create a Memorial Music Playlist

Choosing musical arrangements for a memorial service is as important as selecting a memorial keepsake or a cremation urn for ashes. Memories of the deceased are rekindled through music. When words can’t be found, music fills and overflows the gaps. When words aren’t quite enough, music enlivens and expands perception and emotions.

To create your memorial service playlist, consider the following four questions.

  1. Did the deceased leave any requests as to preferred music for the service?
  2. What song or songs come to mind immediately when thinking of the deceased? If no specific song comes to mind, what genre of music seems fitting?
  3. Are you choosing songs for a religious service? For a secular memorial service? A graveside service? Or for an ash scattering ceremony on land or sea?
  4. Will a soloist perform? If so, will they provide suggestions?

Religious services can be intermingled with religious and secular music depending on the denomination. The popular spiritual hymn "The Lord Is My Shepherd" can be sung at the memorial service. The hymn's title can also be engraved on an ash urn or memorial keepsake. It is recommended to review song selections with clergy if the services are at a place of worship.

For a secular service, there are many musical selections without religious lyrics. Louis Armstrong's classic "What a Wonderful World" is frequently played at memorial services. The lyrics are uplifting and appealing irrespective of one's personal beliefs.

The lyrics to Bobby Darren's "Beyond the Sea" can set a lighter tone for sending a loved one's ashes out to sea. Biodegradable urns can be used for sea burial without making an environmental imprint.

The well recognized classical piece "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi provides soothing melodies that penetrate the soul. It is popular for an ash scattering ceremony as cremains in scattering urns are scattered over a meaningful landscape.

New Age or ethereal music with its tranquil and healing sounds can remind us of unseen realms on such life changing occasions.

Below are popular titles by genre played at memorial services.


  • “Ave Maria” (Bach/Gounod)                                                                              
  • “Amazing Grace” (John Newton)                                                                             
  • “How Great Thou Art” (Stuart K. Hine and based on original poem by Carl G. Boberg)


  • “Angels Among Us” (Alabama)                                                              
  • “The Baby” (Blake Shelton)                                                                
  • “The Dance” (Garth Brooks)


  • “Ubi caritas” (composed by Maurice Durufle)
  • “The Lark Ascending” (Ralph Vaughan Williams)
  • “Adagio For Strings” (Samuel Barber)


  • “You Can Close Your Eyes” (James Taylor)
  • “Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton)
  • “Hero” (Mariah Carey)
New Age
  • “May It Be” (Enya)                                                                                
  • Compositions by Hilary Stagg
  • Compositions by David Young

Sinatra's "My Way"

I recently attended the funeral of my friend's father, Terrance. At the conclusion of the service a digital recording of Frank Sinatra's hit song "My Way" was played to a multi-media presentation of Terrance's life, spanning from his childhood to the present. This musical selection was his favorite "Old Blue Eyes" tune. By doing life "his way" Terrance left a positive legacy. 

Memorial music

A memorial service is intended to be a unique expression of the life it celebrates. Making musical selections for these treasured occasions can be as personal as deciding where to place or scatter the ash remains. The memorial music may well continue to resonate long after the service.