Intended for healthcare professionals

The Quality Of Life

Music to be born to, music to die to

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 23 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1577
  1. Jeremy Anderson, director,
  2. Michael Baum, professor emeritus of surgery,
  3. Lisa A Bero, associate professor,
  4. Iain Chalmers, director,
  5. Simon Chapman, editor,
  6. Ian J Deary, professor of differential psychology,
  7. Shah Ebrahim, professor in epidemiology of ageing,
  8. Martyn Evans, editor,
  9. Michael Farrell, senior lecturer,
  10. David Greaves, editor,
  11. Irene Higginson, professor of palliative care and policy,
  12. Julia Hippisley-Cox, senior lecturer in general practice,
  13. Barbara James, assistant director,
  14. Hamish McKenzie, microbiologist and jazz musician,
  15. Ann C Macaulay, associate professor of family medicine,
  16. Michael Rabow, department of medicine,
  17. Rosalind L Smyth, Brough professor of paediatric medicine,
  18. Gregory Stores, professor of psychiatry,
  19. Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine
  1. Centre for Clinical Effectiveness, Monash University-Southern Healthcare Network, Melbourne, Australia
  2. University College London
  3. department of clinical pharmacy and Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, United States
  4. UK Cochrane Centre, Oxford
  5. Tobacco Control
  6. department of psychology, University of Edinburgh
  7. department of social medicine, University of Bristol
  8. Medical Humanities
  9. National Addiction Centre, London
  10. Medical Humanities
  11. King's College and St Christopher's Hospice, London
  12. University of Nottingham
  13. Institute for Health Sector Development, London
  14. Aberdeen
  15. McGill University, Canada
  16. University of California, San Francisco, USA
  17. University Institute of Child Health, Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool
  18. Oxford
  19. University College London

People say that birth and death are lonely events as you are the only one experiencing them at that very moment. But music can be a birth or death companion. We asked a range of contributors which music they would choose at either end of life.

Some believe that birth and death are life defining moments. Presumably, therefore, they deserve a soundtrack to match. The reality in our family has been more prosaic. My daughter, Zoe, now aged 9, arrived after a long labour. Discarded tapes of Vivaldi's Four Seasons littered the delivery suite. Unfortunately Zoe's parents were less well organised. The scramble to the hospital allowed time only for a rummage in the glove compartment of our car, which provided a battered copy of Twenty Golden Country Greats as the sole musical accompaniment to the birth. On a good day my wife acknowledges a sneaking regard for Tammy (“five husbands and 15 abdominal operations, honey”) Wynette. So it could have been worse. The lyrics seemed appropriate (“sometimes it's hard to be a woman”), but the chorus left something to be desired (“stand by your man”). At least we didn't hit “D.I.V.O.R.C.E” until mother and daughter were well into recovery.

It seems inevitable that my passing will be marked in similarly tasteful fashion—perhaps the immortal Peter Sellers' song, “They're Digging up Grandpa's Grave to Build a Sewer”? When I was a boy, my aunt, then a radio announcer, declined my request to play this tune on air. But that's another story….

To be born to? Handel's Water Music, which is full of tunes that would accompany the breaking of the waters.

To die to? “Etz chaim hi lamahazikim bah,” the beautiful melody sung by the cantor as the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark on the Sabbath. The …

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