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Concerts in Cemeteries - Disrespectful of the Dead?

— Filed under: People & Culture, Business & Finance
Cemetery IV

Image by Bête à Bon-Dieu via Flickr

From the mummification rituals of ancient Egypt to the funeral pyres of the Vikings, every culture throughout history has had their method of honoring and commemorating the dead. Ground burial has been common to many societies around the world for thousands of years. In fact, burials may provide some of the earliest evidence of religion, according to Philip Lieberman.

It's no surprise then, that people have come to regard cemeteries as sacred places where a certain amount of decorum and dignity should be observed - generally in silence. "Respect for the dead", it's called.

Cemeteries, however, are reinventing themselves.

In Denver, several cemeteries have started hosting art exhibitions, garden displays, weddings, game nights, fireworks, and yes, even music concerts. A cemetery in Toronto has recently gotten into the act, hosting a Sunday afternoon concert series. And the Hollywood Forever Cemetery projects movies on the side of a building during the summer months.

What's behind the transformation of the traditional cemetery into a place for entertainment? Is it because they want to reach out and connect with the community in a way they haven't in the past, as some of the Denver-area cemetery managers would have you believe? Marilyn Yalom, an author of a book on cemeteries, says:

"I think a closer relationship to cemeteries is a good thing."

A spokesman for the Toronto cemetery says:

"We're trying to show a different personality for what cemeteries are. They are not just for the dead; they're for the living."

Tyrone Power's grave in Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Image via Wikipedia

Or are these concerts and events simply a cynical ploy to increase profits and branch out into new revenue streams, dressed up in the guise of community involvement? On the HolyCoast blog, Rick Moore, a musician at one of these concerts, reveals that the cemetery he played at had been hoping to cash in on the sale of plots, and canceled the concerts when increased sales weren't realized.

The jokes are not difficult to make - and the puns plentiful - in a situation like this. But in all seriousness, is it right to play music in a place of reverence and commemoration for the departed? True, the music is mostly classical and jazz, and probably quite tasteful. But does that make it any better, especially if it's profit-driven? To make it more personal, how will you feel when someone swing dances on your grandmother's grave?

Or should we just lighten up and relax? After all, the dead don't care, do they? Sound off below and let me know what you think.

The_elusive_STEALTH's picture

Raving with the dead.

Would i be offended if it was my grave people were raving/moshing on. Nope I'd definitely be rocking in my box! My view is hosting art exhibitions, garden displays, weddings, game nights and fireworks is not the same as having a music concert. I have no problem with any of them in fact and it's quite an interesting idea and would add to the atmosphere of such an event. However i can see and understand a whole lot of people objecting to it for valid reasons. Maybe in my old age i might disagree with such events but for the now I'm totally into it providing respect to the dead is the number one rule and no damage is done too graves etc. Cemetery's are wonderful places i find them really peaceful and quite comforting. (I'm not goth or emo) There is something sacred and surreal to them.

Winston Smith's picture

What about the concerts?

So what about the music concerts? Because they're doing that too.

The_elusive_STEALTH's picture

only if

Only if its Death Metal! huck huck get it? (Man i'm lame)

Anonymous2's picture

response #4

I expect that today a lot of developers are looking at the huge patches of "empty space" on prime land that are put aside for "reverence of the dead" and slathering from their big caviar-chomping mouths at the prospect of building nightclubs on them. Maybe in certain areas it's the only available or usable space for the kinds of outdoor events your talking, but I think it's worth considering that in a lot of places in this day and age, the dead just simply aren't revered. Graveyards aren't visited and hence become abandoned inner city waste-grounds full of alcoholics, drug addicts or vicious marauding teenagers. I've seen enough graveyards in my time to know that the atmosphere in a lot of them usually isn't one of peace and reverence.
It seems feasible to me that by inviting the community to the graveyard for some other purpose might be an attempt by the councils to make the graveyards see more accessible, open and friendly, in order that they might be reclaimed by the community from the less savory characters that tend to gravitate towards empty or unused public spaces. While it may seem disrespectful to put on concerts or exhibit art in those kinds of spaces, think what is the alternative, and just because you don't care to see it, is at any less dignified?
Anyway, holding public events (all of which actually sound pretty wholesome) might serve to put the dead back into our consciousness and give them some kind of relevance to or position in our daily lives. Today, everything changes so fast and there's such an overwhelming wealth of information and things to do and think about that not much time gets put aside for commemoration or even remembering. In contrast to older cultures who have kept their traditions, western culture has a sad tendency to put things out of sight and mind and move on (think retirement homes/graveyards). If you (like me) are fairly cynical you might see the connection to concerts like live8 and band aid. The idea being that (generally speaking) for people in the west, in order to confront any remotely difficult or troubling issue, we need to combine it with having a really good time and go home leaded with flyers and stickers and slogans ("bollocks to poverty!!! woop!) and feel satisfied that we've all done something great to help the plights of the destitute and frankly miserable. Somber times are gone, murders and deaths and wars and suicides and genocides and famines are turned into a media circus wherever possible, and if we can't buy into it, we just won't think do it - visiting our dead loved ones equally so.

Kuncen's picture


Excellent comment. Well thought out, insightful, and intelligent - as are the other comments you've posted. Please consider registering for an account... we're actively seeking contributors like yourself.


Anonymous(2)'s picture


Hey, what happened to my paragraphs? Why can't I indent in the first place, and why have all of my carefully considered breaks in flow just disappeared, or am I just imagining things?

It makes me wonder what the world is coming to. Does no-one put no stock in paragraphs and punctuation no more?

Kuncen's picture

Fixed now

Whoops, I upgraded a part of the site and it made the comments look weird for a bit. Fixed now though. You may need to clear your browser's cache if you're still not seeing the paragraph breaks and line breaks.

There's no indentation of paragraphs, because no site does that. Indentation looks good in books, but looks weird on the Web.


Robert Goulet's picture

I think it is a bullshit idea

I think it is a bullshit idea to organize musical concerts and weddings at the cemetery places. We remember cemeteries for the dead ones. I mean i would not want anyone to perform on my grandma's cemetery place. I would not feel good about it. I think it is only a way these organizers want to use it for some more profit but i do not see that happening.

Hewy's picture

If I get buried...

... I want a pressure sensitive pad above my coffin which sets off an extremely loud blast on an air horn, like the ones you find atop of Peterbilt trucks.

As for music, I'm all for it. I want an old fashioned New Orleans style funeral, full Jazz band, tambourines and the like or at least the North East of England equivalent, namely a "Pit" band from Seaham, my home town sadly just like the mines it's long gone, the nearest local one (that's any good) is Pittington. And when family come to pay their respects I at least want some air guitar going on. I live for music. And when my body has set my spirit free I'll live on singing away through eternity!

Kuncen's picture

Music at your funeral is one

Music at your funeral is one thing, but how do you feel about concerts at your cemetery which are unrelated to any funeral?  Concerts which exist solely to generate money for the cemetery owners?