It's The Perfect Music For A Funeral

Play associated audio

Musician David Young is a new-age artist who records the sort of atmospheric music you'd hear in spas or doctor's offices.

For 25 years, he's made a decent living at it. Young says he's sold over a million CDs.

And while you might hear his music getting a massage or in your doctor's waiting room, there's one place you might not expect to hear it. Young tells this story:

"So there was this lady, who, for like six months, was calling my office," he says. "And she only wanted to talk to me."

But the woman would call on weekends, and Young was often on the road.

"Finally, after six months, she called on a day when I happened to be there. She was all excited. She said, 'The reason why I'm calling is I want to make sure I have proper licensing to use one of your songs at a funeral.'"

The song? Young's recorder- and reverb-laced interpretation of Amazing Grace. He said, sure, she could use it. If she wanted to fax something over, he could sign it.

"When is the funeral?" he asked.

"I'm not really sure," said the woman.

"Well," Young said, "Do you know who the funeral's for?"

"Yes," the woman said. "It's for my funeral."

Unconventional Distribution

The woman was actually an anomaly. Most of the time, when Young's music winds up in funeral homes, it's because a funeral director has purchased it from Dodge Company, one of the largest funeral supply companies in the world.

Craig Caldwell, a vice president at the company, first heard Young's music at a convention in Chicago six years ago.

"As we were leaving for the day, we came across a small stand that was actually selling a lot of new-age type of products," he says. "And they were playing some of David's music."

Something about the sound of Young's music made Caldwell think it would lend itself well to a funeral home.

"It really has a softness to it that can evoke a variety of different memories," he says. "[It can] make somebody remember a particular time and point that they shared with the person that's passed away."

So Caldwell got in touch with Young.

"And he wanted to make my music available for the funeral homes that they were selling all products to," Young says.

Soon he was attending funeral home conventions, selling his CDs alongside more typical vendors.

"Oh, gosh, like embalming tools," Young remembers. "Caskets. There were caskets everywhere. Things that you don't really want to have to look at all."

Music Or Muzak?

But the music was selling.

A few years later, writer Nicole Pasulka noticed an ad for David Young's music in a funeral trade magazine. The tagline? "Set the right tone for your funeral."

"It automatically caught my eye," she says. "I think it would anyone's."

It struck Pasulka, who wrote about David Young for The Morning News, that many of David Young's songs were popular ones that an older audience might know, like "Scarborough Fair" or "Con Te Partiro" — but put through a kind of filter.

"Softened, even. Even more reassuring. Less complex," she says. "But I think what he's selling is this filter."

And he's still selling it. Young says sales fluctuate, but they make a nice supplement he usually does with massage parlors and doctor's offices.

"I think that the reason they want to have music in a funeral home is that the silence lets our mind just be free to run around with whatever thoughts that we have," he says. "And if somebody's in a funeral home, they're very likely to be having sad thoughts."

Does that mean Young is selling music? Or Muzak?

"There's that quote, 'Muzak fills the deadly silence,'" Pasulka says. "I think there's a thing about it being quiet. And we don't even notice it anymore. And in a funeral home, if silence does equal death, then silence is the last thing we want."

Young bristles at the comparison to Muzak. He says he feels lucky to provide background music for such an occasion. And the job takes him interesting places.

"People ask, 'What is it like playing at a funeral convention?'" he says. "I'll just say, it was a really dead show."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Colson Whitehead On The Importance Of Historical Fiction In Tumultuous Times

Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.

NPR

'Cup Noodles' Turns 45: A Closer Look At The Revolutionary Ramen Creation

Today instant ramen is consumed in at least 80 countries — with culturally specific adaptations. The U.S., for instance, gets shorter noodles, because Americans don't slurp them up like the Japanese.
WAMU 88.5

Rating The United States On Child Care

A majority of parents in the U.S. work outside the home. That means about 12 million children across the country require care. A new report ranks states on cost, quality and availability of child care - and says nobody is getting it right.

NPR

Phone Emergency Alerts Will Begin Including Links, Phone Numbers

Regulators have voted to expand cellphone alerts to 360 characters from the previous cutoff at 90, and to begin including clickable URLs and phone numbers over the next year or so. But no photos, yet.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.