A group of musicologists from several universities have developed a system that can identify whether a singer’s performance is likely to be associated with a specific death, and why it might have happened.
Their study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that death can be associated not only with the death of a loved one, but with the music’s effect on the body.
The research, which involved using machine learning techniques to identify whether certain music played by a group of mourners at a funeral was associated with death, is the first to directly link a particular musical event to an individual’s death.
“This research opens the way for more meaningful and sensitive communication in the funeral industry,” says lead author Dr John Jager, a computational music scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It will help us understand how music and funeral music are intertwined, which will help with understanding death, for instance, or how music can help people cope with bereavement.”
The researchers looked at music played during funeral services, which can include music from opera and pop music, as well as folk, country and contemporary music.
They then used a novel approach to determine whether the music played was likely to cause death or not.
The researchers found that some music played in funeral homes and funeral homes attended by professional musicians was associated, by a significant margin, with death.
For example, when music was played during the service by a musician from the folk group The Prowlers, the researchers found a 25 per cent increase in death rates.
The authors also found that the more people who were attending funeral services by professional singers, the higher their mortality rates.
“We found that people who went to funeral services that were attended by a professional singer had higher death rates than those who went by a funeral director,” says Dr Jager.
The funeral industry’s reputation for its high death rates is well-documented, but its popularity has fallen in recent years, partly because of a growing awareness of the risks of using music in funeral services.
“The industry’s death rate has been falling for some time,” says Jager: “Now we see that it’s falling for different reasons, but it’s still rising.”
The authors suggest that funerals should consider incorporating a wider range of music into their services, including jazz, country, and even hip-hop, which may encourage more people to take up singing in the future.