Saying farewell with karaoke

Days before he died from colorectal cancer, Mr Loh Kwee Seng, 89, had expressed his wish to have karaoke at his wake. His dying wish came true after he died in January.

At his wake, the avid karaoke fan's wife and seven children sang three of his favourite Cantonese songs to bid him farewell.

Although it is not a common practice, some people rent karaoke machines for wakes, so family and friends can say their goodbyes with songs.

At least two funeral companies here provide karaoke services at wakes and three others have encountered families seeking such services.

Since Lee Teoh Heng Undertaker started offering the service in the 2000s, it has seen about two families every year asking for it, says a director of the company, Mr Lee Kwee Meng, 55. He says: "Some families want the wake to be lively rather than sad. They want to celebrate what the deceased was passionate about in life, which is karaoke."

Depending on the time of day, the company charges $550 to $700 to rent a karaoke machine for three hours.

Life Celebrant started offering karaoke machines at wakes two years ago and about three families a year rent the machines, says the company's director, Ms Ang Jolie. Adds the 34-year-old: "For such families, the deceased typically loved karaoke or listening to family members sing.

"For the family members, singing lets them feel as if they are dedicating a song to the deceased and expressing this personal connection. After all, music is more expressive than words."

The rental of a karaoke machine starts from $688 for two days and one night, and $1,388 for four days and three nights. Chinese wakes last three to seven days.

Although the machines come with the latest pop hits, the songs sung at wakes are typically oldies, such as The Moon Represents My Heart by Teresa Teng and Hey Jude by The Beatles.

Ms Ang recalls that two years ago, one family, who had karaoke sessions at gatherings, rented a karaoke machine for the wake of a 60something man in an HDB void deck. The night before the funeral, the dead man's younger brother sang Frank Sinatra's My Way and dedicated it to him.

Ms Ang says: "The brother wanted to express that the deceased often had his own way of doing things, which made him special. It was a fitting song to celebrate who he was in life."

The late Mr Loh had frequented a Residents' Committee corner in Teck Ghee every week to listen to people sing. He lived in Toa Payoh, but had many friends who live in Teck Ghee.

His daughter, housewife Loh Woon Kheng, 57, recalls: "About two months before his death, he started losing a lot of weight. A week before he died, he completely lost his appetite and stopped eating.

"My family was prepared for the worst, so I asked him how he wanted us to handle his wake and funeral and if he wanted karaoke. He gave me a two- thumbs-up sign."

So the family rented a karaoke machine and one night during the three-day wake, his children, aged 55 to 64, and wife, 84, sang three Cantonese songs - An Ocean Apart and Tears Of Love by Teng and ballad Love And Passion by Hong Kong singer Liza Wang.

Mr Loh's wife, Madam Mak Yuet Fong, also sang a Cantonese song, Separate Flying Swallows by Hong Kong singer Paula Tsui, by herself.

Madam Loh says: "My mother stopped singing halfway because she was overwhelmed with emotion. But later, she calmed down and finished the song."

Madam Mak explains it was a special song for the couple. "I always sang it at home along with the DVD and my husband would clap his hands and say I sang well. Singing it reminded me of how much I would miss him. But it was also a good way to see him off."

This article was first published on March 15, 2015.
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