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Sharon Hunter - September 2021

It’s My Funeral. Please Sing And Dance.

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In a recent article for the New York Times, contributor Adam Grant introduced us to something called collective effervescence. I loved this phrase the moment I read it. Describing a recent Foo Fighters concert at the re-opening of Madison Square Garden, Grant recounted how it felt when 15000 vaccinated people packed in for an event that was impossible the previous 18 months. With a heightened sense of joy at simply being able to gather together, the arena pulsed with good time vibes.

In his article Grant explains “collective effervescence is a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose”. It’s no surprise that Grant found the feeling at Madison Square Gardens on that June evening – concerts are a great place to bring it on. People sway in rhythm with complete strangers as they belt out the vocals to favorite songs. When the lead singer points the microphone, and the crowd takes on the song as their own, there is a moment of shared elation. That’s collective effervescence.

But what of funerals? This is also a place where people gather together around a shared purpose. Amidst the sorrow and grief, is this a place where a sense of harmony and connection can be found? While nobody would anticipate effervescence exactly, there is certainly a lot to be said for enjoying a feeling of bonded togetherness when we need it the most.

I’m a big fan of using music as a vehicle to create these moments. Something special happens when we sing together, our voices raised, giving it our all. If you strive for something akin to collective effervescence at a memorial or funeral service, best not leave it to chance. Here are my tips for ensuring the music lift things from ordinary to exceptional.

What to avoid:

  1. Songs that are hard to sing in a key that people can’t manage. It robs people of confidence and their effort becomes tentative.
  2. Songs that only a handful of people will know. Too few voices mean you end up with something thin and weak, the opposite of what you’re striving for.

How to make it work:

  1. Select a song that isn’t too tricky that lots of people will know, particularly once they have the words to guide them.
  2. Have someone with a great voice take the lead, ideally with a microphone. The reason we sing loud and proud at concerts is we are singing along with someone else. Alternatively, have the original coming through a speaker somewhere.

"Something special happens when we sing together, our voices raised, giving it our all."

Great Goodbyes co-founder Jude Mannion is aiming for full on collective effervescence at her funeral. She will settle for nothing less.

When eventually the time comes, as it does to us all, Jude wants people to dance. Irreverent and with little regard for how things ought to be done, you’d be foolish to think this is idle musing on Jude’s part; there is a detailed plan in place.

Jude will have ensured people enjoy good whiskey and wine to loosen up any reluctant legs, and we will have laughed and cried at many crazy stories. We’ll be well primed. When the call to dance comes, addictive music video the The Git Up by Blanco Brown will play on a big screen. We will link arms, and with no small degree of awkwardness endeavor to follow the dance being demonstrated.

Before long, our inhibitions will drop away and we will find our groove with the catchy two step. With sorrow for our loss, gratitude for our memories and lifted by being joined together, we will be dancing for our friend. Collective effervescence – exactly what Jude is planning for.

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