‘I’ve found this guy who turns CDs into vinyl.’
I came across this sentence the other day while looking up material for my ‘gap year’ memoir. It was in an email I had sent to a friend in February 2015. I didn’t know it then, but it marked the start of my career as an occasional compiler of funeral music. Occasional as in ‘infrequent’. Funeral music is always ‘occasional’ in the other sense.
People seem to fall into one of two camps regarding their own funerals. One side holds the view that they won’t be there to see it and resist all attempts on the part of well-meaning loved ones to reveal their preferences.
I’m in the opposing camp for two reasons. Firstly, I think that knowing you’ve nailed the right music, words and type of service gives comfort to those left behind. Secondly, I’m an event planner by nature. Twenty-five years in the catering business has honed my attention to detail. Seems a shame to waste it.
My impending trip to France in April 2015 was the catalyst for my entry into the world of compilation albums.
Taking a gap (half) year at an age when you should know better takes a lot of planning. It’s one thing to leave three young adults in control of the family home with the expectation of returning to it in roughly the same condition you left it. It’s another to obtain a long stay visa in France as a non-EU citizen. We didn’t eat dinner at the dining room table for a full six months leading up to my departure. It was hidden under a pile of teacups and paperwork.
The logistics of organising housesits the length and breadth of France, setting up automatic payments and tying up all the loose ends was time-consuming enough. But I had a brilliant idea a couple of months into the planning stages, and I just couldn’t look away. Here’s another excerpt from that 2015 email:
This bit is Top Secret, W. I may need some jacket design ideas for my Funeral Selection. I want to leave each child with a copy when je vais à la France. Tu comprends? All my birthday & Xmas presents are now sorted for my vinyl loving children and their partners. No matter how hilarious you think this idea is, you mustn’t share with anyone.
Grosses bises, L
PS. Tell me when you’re over my smart-alec French
Only I may have used another four-letter word starting with ‘a’ after ‘smart’.
Selecting music for your own funeral is hard work.
You start with a list and whittle it down. Then you whittle it down again. I was aiming for a snapshot of the life I shared with my children. It was a shameless play for laughs but I did include my absolute favourite piece of music ever – Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – the most sublime three minutes of music ever written. How do I know this? Because it’s my funeral selection and it’s in the album notes. Along with The Lord is My Shepherd from The Vicar of Dibley – the only version as far as I’m concerned.
The remaining playlist is a chaotic combination of soundtracks and sentiment; full of meaning and memories for me, my children and their partners. The unveiling of the albums took place at our favourite neighbourhood restaurant on the eve of my departure. Their reactions were the most rewarding part of my travel preparations. I never tire of watching the video (reproduced here with their permission.)
I made multiple CDs to give to friends and my extended family. Maybe I imagined it, but my eclectic choices seemed to cause some of them to look at me afresh – and not always in a good way. The playlist was a snapshot of the music, films and events that had made an impact on my life. Some recipients said they understood me a whole lot better after listening to it. Yikes. One of my close friends had a relationship break up while I was away in France and she wrote that ‘playing the funeral selection was the next best thing to having you here.’
Since my return I’ve been working on The French Collection, The Heartbreak Collection and Songs of Joy. In December 2016 I put together a Christmas Collection and last Christmas I made Gran’s Favourites, a selection of Mum’s favourite (mainly oboe) concerti by the likes of Cimarosa and Righini, with a bit of Slum Sociable thrown in. I’ve helped one of my brothers make his Funeral Tracks and 15 Other Classics. He is not expecting to need it any time soon, but if I had to listen to one more Gordon Lightfoot song, he just might have.
Compiling your own funeral playlist isn’t for everyone but mine seems to have taken on a life of its own. Three years on there are a couple of tracks I’d probably change. Oh no. I can feel the Absolute Lizzie Funeral Selection Volume II coming on. Stay tuned.
EQ: I’d love to know readers’ favourites. Feel free to list them in the comments below.