Charles Cowling

Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem about them. Novelist Amy Tan’s mother was serenaded by them as she lay in state. Muckraker Jessica Mitford’s memorial procession was led by them. And more than 300 Chinese families a year hire the Green Street Mortuary Band to give their loved ones a proper and musical send-off through the streets of Chinatown.

The band traces its roots back to 1911 and the Cathay Chinese Boys Band, the first marching group in Chinatown. For more than 50 years, this amateur band performed for its community at nearly every big event: Chinese New Year’s, the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, Confucius’ Birthday, the 1939 World’s Fair and many elaborate funeral processions. [Source]

If you enjoyed the brass band in Saturday’s film of a Catholic funeral in Tonga here, you’ll love the Green Street Mortuary Band. It plays for Chinese funerals in San Francisco. The repertoire is Christian hymns accompanied by strong percussion and sporadic outbreaks of gong-smiting to frighten off evil spirits. 

What, Christian hymns at a Chinese funeral?

Yes. Years ago the Chinese heard British military bands in Hong Kong. They liked the sound. Enough said. A marvellous, mildly crazy custom was born. 

We last featured the Green Street Mortuary Band back in 2008, when our readership probably didn’t include you. 

Ain’t it brilliant?! 

 

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