Some non-anthem news!

There’s been a lot of national anthem stories around lately – like the NFL announcing it’s going to fine teams if their players refuse to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner, or the “singing road” in the Netherlands that played the Friesland national anthem when you drove over it (and so annoyed locals, it had to be ripped up).

So why haven’t I written about any of it on here? As I’ve been a bit consumed with a job application. But the amazing news is I got the job. From next week, I’ll be a culture reporter at The New York Times, covering all of Europe – so anything from a crisis in Bulgaria’s theatres to, yes, a singing road in the Netherlands.

Do subscribe to the paper to read all my future stories and those of my amazing colleagues (or just keep an eye on here and read them for free)!

I’ll clearly try to get anthems in as much as possible, and if I do, I’ll post them here.

Until then, enjoy the anthem showcase that is the 2018 World Cup later this month. There will be some great lesser-heard anthems on display – the least heard of them being Panama’s, which opens with surprisingly appropriate lyrics for a football tournament: “We finally reach victory / In the happy field of union.”

If the world didn’t know the ‘black national anthem’, it does now

 

Beyonce, getting things done once again.

If you want to know how Lift Every Voice and Sing – a song originally written for schoolchildren – became the ‘black’ anthem, I wrote about it here years ago!

How do you sing a song that stirs up so much feeling?

The New York Times Magazine’s annual music issue contains a piece by rapper/singer Dessa – of Doomtree – on what it’s like singing The Star-Spangled Banner in these odd times. It’s really good.

“When you sing the line ‘rocket’s red glare,’ fireworks are going to go off. Then, when you get to ‘O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,’ an eagle named Challenger is going to take off and soar over the stadium.” Becky, my tour manager, was talking me through the mechanics of my gig on April 5. That day I am scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Minnesota Twins’ season opener in Minneapolis. “He’s a professional sports eagle,” Becky explained. “He has a website.”

Read the rest over at the Times.

The end of the Vaterland?

Over the past week, there’s been a surprising political furore in Germany about its national anthem.

A civil servant sent out her spring newsletter, which included a suggestion that the Deutschlandlied should be changed to include women as well as men. “No more Vaterland!” was the basic message. It wasn’t meant for a wide readership, but some for some reason, it caused a storm, with everyone from Angela Merkel to the far-right having their say.

You can read about it all in this piece I did for The New York Times.

That article also includes all the national anthem news that’s happened so far this year – everywhere from Spain to Bosnia – so give it a read!

Is Spain’s anthem going to finally get words? Don’t be silly!

Last Sunday, Spanish pop star Marta Sanchez caused a sensation in her country by doing something simple: singing her national anthem.

Why was it so special? Because Spain’s anthem doesn’t actually have any words so singing it is a bit hard. Marta added some she’d written herself while homesick in the US.

The performance, above, is powerful stuff, as are her lyrics. “I come home to my beloved homeland, where my heart was born,” she starts. “Today I sing to tell you all the pride I have. My love grows every time I leave.

“Red and yellow, are the colours that shine in my heart,” she went on, referring to Spain’s flag. “God I thank you for being born here… And if someday I can’t come back, save me a place to rest.”

Blimey.

The positive reaction wasn’t just seen in the concert hall. Millions watched clips of her singing it, while politicians also jumped in on the act. Here’s a tweet from the leader of Spain’s main opposition party:

So is her effort going to be adopted? Er, no. Spain’s anthem, adopted in 1770, only ever had lyrics once – under Franco’s dictatorship – and few want to be reminded of those days. The country’s also too divided – see Catalunya’s recent independence referendum – for any to be agreed (are Basques going to be happy singing a song in Castilian?).

A petition to get the anthem lyrics, for instance, has only collected a paltry 12,000 signatures since it was launched in 2015.

How are Europe’s other wordless anthems getting on? Well, San Marino’s is ticking along; Kosovo’s still doesn’t have words – the strangely titled Europe – even as the country celebrates its 10th birthday; and neither does Bosnia’s.

Some Bosnian politicians did begin an initiative this month to give their anthem words, but that looks destined to fail. It’s election year in the country, and no ethnic-Serb politician is going to endorse such a move, since many of their voters actually want their own country or to become part of Serbia.

The website Balkan Insight actually got one Serb politician to basically say just that this month:

“This initiative is nothing more than a circus,” she said. “We have already tried to reach a text for the anthem, and everything has turned into a farce. This time it will be the same.”

If you want to read more about the bizarre stories of Bosnia’s and Kosovo’s anthems, the people behind them, and their significance, then buy my book!

The women who fought for 40 years to change one word

Former Canadian Senators Nancy Ruth and Vivienne Poy – instrumental in making O Canada gender neutral. Credit: Neville Poy

This week, Canada changed the English version of its national anthem to include women as well as men.

“About bloody time!” is the correct response – people have been calling for this since 1980.

To get the full story of the women (and one man) who campaigned for the change for so long, head over to the BBC where I’ve written a *longggg* feature on it.

I’m especially pleased to have had a chance to write about Nancy Ruth (pictured above), a former senator who probably put more energy, money and effort into the campaign than anyone else.

Once on holiday I  met one of Nancy Ruth’s Conservative Party colleagues and mentioned her campaign. His reply? “She’s a lesbian, not a Conservative, and we’re never changing the anthem.”

I’ve never forgotten that, obviously, and it’s a shame I couldn’t put it in the piece (no recording) as it says everything about why it took so long.

Super articles by me you should read now!

As many of you know, I don’t just write about national anthems. Thank God, otherwise I’d be broke. So here’s a few recent articles I hope you’ll find as interesting to read as I did researching them:

  1. For The New York Times, a piece on a night I spent in one of the world’s first mental health helplines for musicians, and the music industry’s poor response to its mental health crisis.
  2. Also for The New York Times, a piece on the scientists searching for the universal characteristics of music and the controversy it’s causing. Also contains A QUIZ! Yes, A QUIZ!
  3. And for the BBC an article on the world of A.I. music and why the humans might be winning after all.

Hope you enjoy them, and if any editors stumble across this page, I am available for commissions!