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From Dirges To Ding Dong

July 4, 2008

Once upon a time, people -- at least the rich ones who lived in England -- journeyed into the Great Hereafter to the divine music of Henry Purcell and William Byrd. These days, it seems that Celine Dion and Queen are the favored choice for bidding the world adieu.

According to an interesting item in the Melbourne, Australia-based Herald Sun "The funeral industry has reported a growing movement away from traditional hymns and sombre songs towards more joyful - even humorous - music, such as 'Another One Bites The Dust', 'Highway to Hell' and even 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.'"

I'm all for injecting a sense of humour into the somber business of death. But I'd personally come back to haunt, mercilessly, anyone who saw fit to play the simpering Andrea Bocelli/Sarah Brightman 'Time to Say Goodbye' or Dion's equally asinine theme song from Titanic, 'My Heart Will Go On,' at my funeral.

Having recently made a recording of 16th - 18th century dirges by some of England's great funeral music composers of the period -- Purcell, Byrd, Tallis, Parsons etc. -- with my vocal ensemble San Francisco Renaissance Voices, I think that I'd personally enjoy some of that gorgeous, heavy old stuff when I go. Those Jacobeans and Carolines: They did death with a flourish. They understood it in a way that we don't anymore.

What I like best about this largely homophonic music, besides its moss-covered tranquility and chilly stateliness, are the words. All those wonderfully creepy lines about worms devouring human flesh. I'm not a religious person, but I'm still moved by the idea of "seeing God" even after the body disintegrates.

My favorite piece from the dirge pack, however, has little to do with religion, really. It's Byrd's lament at the death of his great mentor Tallis. It's a beautiful, bitter-sweet homage with a rapturous refrain: "Tallis is Dead! Tallis is Dead! And Music Dies." I'd be very happy to have that piece sung as they fling my ashes to the four winds, because it's so damn ardent.

What songs would you want played at your funeral?


  • Radiohead's: The Pyramid Song

    Sung by Anthony (of Anthony and The Johnsons)

    By a river. With lots of trees.

    With interpretive fairies dancing and singing backup.

    With Chloe Veltman reading my obituary,

    And then singing a solo from one of those old dirges.

    My corpse buring up in a tree whilst pieces fall into the water, and get carried away.

    Mr. Stick

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 4, 2008 at 6:17 PM  

  • I have to admit, I would love to have a New Orleans musical ending to my life.

    "When the Saints" played slowly and somberly as they carry me to and lower me into the ground. Once I'm in and the kind words have been said, throw some dirt on me, strike up the band and kick into the liveliest rendition of "When the Saints" ever played.

    Everybody in attendance follow's the band out and to the party where everybody sings and dances and tells each other what a great guy I was.... =)

    By Blogger Christian Cagigal, At July 7, 2008 at 11:48 PM  

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