Bespoke music for funerals

Charles Cowling


Somewhen, we talked here on the blog about how good it would be if living composers wrote music for funerals, especially for processions and committals. I even wrote to a composer with the suggestion, and he said he’d think about it. Can’t remember who he was, now. Don’t know if he’s accepted the challenge. We’ll see.

In the meantime, others have been busy.

First, Scottish singer-songwriter Nemo Shaw has set WH Auden’s famous poem to music. It comes in separate ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ versions. Here it is: 



Next up for you is Paul Alexander, who has recorded all sorts of funeral music, including original material by himself.

Particularly striking is Light a Candle, which would go very well with a candle-lighting ceremony. I can’t embed it because Paul has sensibly stopped people doing that. But here’s the YouTube link:


Where music’s concerned it’s horses for courses, ain’t it? What’s here is not to everyone’s taste — but I can see that candle song going down very well with some grievers. What do you make of Nemo?


Find Nemo Shaw’s website here.

Find Paul Alexander’s website here

3 thoughts on “Bespoke music for funerals

  1. Charles Cowling

    I do like the Nemo Shaw song. It really lifted me up. It was sung very sensitively and it actually moved me to tears.
    Paul Alexanders’ candle song didn’t work for me. Overly sentimental and filled with cliches.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    As people who remember first seeing the funeral scene in “Four Weddings”etc might agree, the poem is tough, and pure in its expression of grief. (The listener will have to find consolation elsewhere; this poem hurts, because it is honest.) Good on Nemo Shaw for trying, but he has the sort of pleading yearning voice we often hear from contemporary singer-songriters, and it just doesn’t work for me. The tune also is gently plangent. In really good songs, tunes and words are literally meant for each other. I’m with Jenny – it just doesn’t work. I’d say, if you (a mourner) can’t hack the poem (perfectly understandable) choose something else, please don’t dilute it into song.

    Light a Candle isn’t for me either, but the poignant comments below the YouTube clip make it plain that it works for others very well. Such a personal thing, isn’t it? See, I don’t think candlelight could possibly “shatter” darkness, that isn’t how I see it working at all – it is its gentleness, with dark all around, that makes it so expressive, so he lost me from then on.

    But thanks to Charles and both artists for letting us feel and think through such things.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    ‘Light a Candle’…I have to say not my sort of thing but it would work very well for the right person.

    I’m not at all sure about ‘Stop all the Clocks’ to me, setting it to music destroyes the stark power of the poem. But of course that’s just me.

    Charles Cowling

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