Friday 14 December 2018

Militaristic anthems are an emotive bloody mess

U2 on stage at Croke Park . Pic Steve Humphreys
U2 on stage at Croke Park . Pic Steve Humphreys

John Masterson

Music stirs the passions. And much of the time we do not pay much attention to the words. Anthems get a crowd going, whether it is U2 being joined by 80,000 people for One, or Kodaline being joined by the entire audience on High Hopes.

I identify with Richard Dawkins when he says that despite his atheism the sound of a hymn from his teenage choirboy days still has a profound emotional effect on him. It is why many of us make the annual pilgrimage to a Christmas carol service.

The great Arthur Sullivan wrote some powerful hymns. Having been subjected to a Protestant schooling I cannot hear Onward Christian Soliders without wanting to go on a Crusade. Catholics missed out on a great tune there. If I was producing the Pope's event I would still use it as an opener as the audience would get it in two bars and it would be a piece of cake from then on.

I was in a musical state of mind during the analysis at the beginning of the World Cup matches. I googled some of the national anthems and a blood-curdling lot they turn out to be. The French have a great tune with the La Marseillaise, so named because of its popularity among the volunteer army units in Marseille. It is very anti-tyranny, which is fine, but does make a point of telling you that you must protect yourself against those who are coming to cut the throats of your sons and women. "To arms, citizens", is the chorus. A bit out of date maybe.

The UK anthem takes a fairly hard Brexit line on behalf of Her Majesty undertaking to "scatter her enemies, and make them fall, confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks". That all smacks of 'hard border' to me. There is an older version which includes the line "Rebellious Scots to crush". That might make a comeback. And for the Republicans among you there is a God Save the Guillotine version!

Japan also has a monarch/ emperor and its anthem wishes that he reign until "pebbles turn into boulders covered in moss". There is an Irish link in that it was an Irishman, John William Fenton, who in 1869 told the Japanese they needed an anthem. Kimigayo, was the result. The other Japanese symbol is the Rising Sun flag we know, Hinomaru. Controversy as to the importance of these two symbols was put to rest in 1999 with the passage of the Act on National Flag & Anthem. The passage of the law stemmed from the suicide of a school principal in Hiroshima who could not resolve a dispute between his school board and his teachers over the use of the Hinomaru and Kimigayo. Symbols are powerful.

The German anthem, written by Josef Haydn, is very big on brotherly love. Maybe that is why they went out without reaching the quarter-he finals. Note to self, check out South Korea anthem. The USA didn't even make the World Cup finals with their "rockets red glare, the bombs bursting" written in 1814 about the Defence of Fort M'Henry against the British.

Nor did Ireland get to Russia despite having The Soldiers Song and going out into the Bearna Baoil "mid cannons roar and rifles peal". though the rugby team is doing well. Sure that stuff is better than the Haka any day to get the dander up.

Sunday Indo Living

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss