Meet the world’s newest national anthem – sort of!

Last weekend, I went to a folk music festival in the Swiss town of Aarau. In case you’re wondering, this is what a Swiss folk music festival sounds like:

Yes, that is an accordion cover of Take Me Home, Country Roads.

But amid the accordions, something else happened: the world’s newest national anthem was unveiled. Well, sort of.

For the past two years, Switzerland’s been seeking new words to its anthem, the Swiss Psalm, because the current ones sound too much like a Biblical weather forecast (“When the Alps grow bright with splendour, pray”, goes a typical line). At the folk festival, they announced the winner:

White cross on a red background
Our sign of the country
Freedom, independence, peace
Open to the world in which we live
We strive for justice
Free, those use their freedom
Strong, a country that protects its weakest
White cross on a red background
We sing together as one

I’ll let you decide if those words are an improvement, but here they are being sung for the first time on Swiss TV. I pop up at some point, worryingly!

A leading Swiss charity is now going to try and popularise the words to the point the government feels compelled to adopt them.

The lyrics were written by Werner Widmer, a 62-year-old director of a medical foundation. Here he is in front of a Swiss flag, holding my book!

Werner Widmer, new Swiss anthem contest winner

Werner seemed a really nice man. He entered the anthem contest simply because he wants to inspire people in his country to be better, he told me, before adding that he’d probably donate his 10,000 Swiss franc winnings to Syrian refugees. See, he’s really nice.

Meeting him made me really want to love his anthem, but I can’t deny that I’d have preferred it if the Swiss had gone for something more daring. The song that came third was exactly that. It was written by the people in the photo below, the most important being the woman in traditional dress: Kathrin Ammann Stäfa.

Swiss anthem contest runners up

She created a bizarre new tune that even goes into a minor chord at one point, but the more I hear it, the more I like it. Maybe next time, Switzerland!

If you want to read more of me prattling on about the Swiss contest, I suggest you head to the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading papers, which quotes me a lot including calling for a drone strike to destroy all Swiss accordionists. Lesson learned: don’t send out sarcastic tweets in the middle of music festivals!

Pick Switzerland’s new national anthem, so they don’t pick the one that sounds like a stalker shouting through a letterbox!

Yodelling

Back in 2013, Switzerland announced it was seeking a new national anthem to replace the current Swiss Psalm, which sounds too much like a “Biblical weather forecast”.

I may have submitted an entry, and I may have been quickly rejected, but that isn’t a story for now! What is, is the fact they’ve just revealed the shortlist. It’s made up of six songs: four rewrites of the current lyrics and two new compositions.

But who should you vote for (anyone can by going here until May 15)? Here’s a handy cut out and keep guide:

The one everyone outside Switzerland will misinterpret

Dogtanian!

The phrase “un pour tous, et tous pour un” was being said all over Switzerland in 1868 as a way of uniting the country after devastating floods. It became so popular it was even carved into the roof of the Swiss parliament. It should be the perfect slogan, then, to make the centrepiece of the country’s national anthem, as entry C’s done. Unfortunately, the rest of the world knows that phrase as “All for one and one for all” and associates it with a cartoon dog so, er… Next!

The one that’s too clingy

“O my Switzerland, I love you so much”, starts the chorus to entry F, making the singer sound somewhat like a stalker shouting through a letterbox. They’re quite a weird stalker as then they start shouting about “my country of freedom, ideal of equality, true cradle of peace on earth” but they’re Swiss, they might be into such things!

The one that sounds like a child’s nightmare

The person behind Entry E deserves a lot of praise as they wrote an entirely new tune. It starts well enough too with a series of staccato phrases, as if mimicking a child skipping through some woods. Unfortunately, it then drops into a minor key as if the child’s skipped into a witch’s lair and is about to be murdered. But you can’t have everything can you?

The jazzy one

Entry D is an original tune too, and actually a very nice one until you start picturing a drunk uncle singing it at Christmas while winking at your mother, and that just isn’t right!

The one that sounds like a shopping list

“White cross on a red background,” opens Entry A before apparently deciding the best approach to writing an anthem is to just list every one of Switzerland’s values in a hope no one could possibility criticise it. “Freedom, independence, peace, open to the world in which we live,” it goes. I’d prefer something more emotional and less like a shopping list, but it’s certainly the most Swiss entry, which gives me a horrid feeling it might win.

The traditionalist 

For those who know a thing or two about national anthems, you may be wondering where the references to landscape are, well here they come, all two of them! “From the tops of our peaks to the heart of our cities,” this one goes, before proclaiming the singer’s love for this beautiful land. They may not be the most original words, but they are certainly the most traditionally anthemic. If I was going to go out on a limb, I’d say this entry – B – is the winner, but don’t be boring, Switzerland, go for the drunk uncle one!

Bad ways to learn you need a haircut, part one

Alex Marshall on BBC news

Watching yourself on the news!

I was on BBC World News yesterday talking about Switzerland’s ongoing national anthem contest, among other things (over 200 entries received, one oddly in Portuguese, winner to be announced next year).

You can watch it again here if the above photo isn’t enough for you.

Thanks to Philippa for the nice chat, although I wish the hair and make-up department had offered me a restyle as well as putting a lot of foundation on my face!

Hell will freeze over before I stop reporting on the Swiss national anthem contest

Hell frozen over

I know I’ve banged on about Switzerland’s search for a new anthem for what seems like eternity, but what’s one more story between friends?

Here’s a piece I just recorded for the BBC’s amazing From Our Own Correspondent programme.

If you don’t want to click that link for my dulcet tones alone, there’s also a brilliant piece in that episode by the BBC’s North American correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan about her visit to the hamlet of Hell, Michigan. Yes, Hell has literally frozen over!

A kids’ puppeteer, the most right-wing politician in Switzerland and a former head of the World Bank walk into a bar…

Swiss football team sings Swiss Psalm, the Swiss national anthem
Sorry, that headline should read, “A kids’ pupeteer, the most right-wing politician in Switzerland and a former head of the World Bank all appear in this article I wrote for the New York Times on Switzerland’s competition for a new national anthem.” But it wouldn’t have been as snappy.
It’s the only article you’ll ever read about the contest revealing the rows going on in the jury because, er, they’ve now been banned from talking to journalists. Think that’s my fault.
One thing the piece doesn’t mention is that anyone can enter the contest. Yes, even you! You don’t have to be Swiss, have lived there, or even bought an overpriced beer in a Zurich cafe. You just have to be able to speak French, German, Italian or Romansch. So good luck to you all!

What rhymes with Toblerone? Switzerland seeks new national anthem

Swiss flag flying in the Alps

Switzerland – the home of time, chocolate and knives everyone owns but never uses – has decided it needs a new national anthem.

The Swiss Psalm, the current tune, is apparently “outdated and uninspiring” and sounds too much like a Biblical weather forecast to be kept any longer.

“When the morning skies grow red…thou O Lord appeareth in the sky,” it starts, before telling everyone to pray whenever the Alps “grow bright with splendour” – quite a burden for anyone living near them.

The Swiss Society for Public Utility, a body that aims to protect national identity, is behind the move and will accept entries from 1 January 2014.

You can enter in any of the country’s four languages: German, French, Italian or Romansch, a language spoken by 60,000 people who live in a few isolated valleys in the country.

Entries are meant to be written to the existing  tune, but they’ll accept new music if you’re particularly talented.

The good news is you don’t have to be Swiss to enter, so come on aspiring song writers, get thinking of a good rhyme for Toblerone, and get entering! You do have to live in Switzerland, but it’s not hard to buy a plane ticket to Zurich is it? And if you win, you’ll get 10,000 Swiss francs so you might even get the air fare back.

The website with all the details is here. It’s not in English, so I’ve  put it through Google Translate for you. Yes, I am amazing.

God save us from God Save The Queen

This weekend, if you live in England, you’re not going to be able to escape the world’s worst anthem.

It’s the Queen’s diamond jubilee – 60 years ruling over us – which means God Save the Queen is going to be everywhere.

Why’d I dislike it? Because it’s plodding and it’s pompous and, most of all, because it was the world’s first, which meant it spread.

In the 1800s, it was used, note for note, by tens of countries for their anthem. It even made it to Hawaii. Today, dozens still seem to take inspiration from it, and so have plodding and pompous anthems too. Why can’t they use their own melodies and actually have something that sounds different, inspiring and fun?

But maybe I really just dislike it because I’ve heard it too much. I’ve just done a few Google searchers and collected these old recordings of the tune with different words and – blimey! – they don’t half sound better.

Below’s hopefully a Soundcloud player featuring God Save the King sung in 1911, plus the old Russian and Swiss anthems. Although if it’s not working, here is a link

Finally, to reward you for getting through those, a version of God Save the Queen you may actually like. The Sex Pistols, obviously

Have a good weekend