The British national anthem has been the subject of controversy for quite a number of years now. Whether people are arguing that there should be a specific song for England, bemoaning the fact that our great nation’s sportsmen and women don’t even seem to know the words or getting in a tizzy over the inclusive nature of its lyrics (“and like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush”, anyone?), the anthem always seems to come up in conversation at least once or twice a year.
Now, we here at the Two Moors are joining the debate, since making what we consider to be a rather startling discovery this week – the fact that a seriously dwindling number of schoolchildren actually know this song, a song that has been around since 1745.
While youngsters in the US are brought up on a diet of stars and stripes and pledges of allegiance, patriotism in the UK is firmly off the curriculum, only receiving a brief, cursory mention every couple of years when something worth a party happens, like the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee.
It may be down to the fact that school assemblies in the UK are much less formal than they used to be and children do not have as great a connection with the national anthem as they used to 20 years ago. The Jubilee itself – only the second to take place in British history – also does not seem to be of much interest to youngsters, other than as a good excuse to go to a few street parties and dress up.
While the song is undoubtedly an important part of British history and a tune well used by many composers over the years (Beethoven and Handel to name just two), its relevance and interest these days is now being called into question. Similarly, so too is the monarchy, with a new YouGov poll revealing that while the majority of people believe the royals to be either fairly or very important today, a “notably outspoken group” believe the opposite, with others stating that the royal family is too expensive to maintain and helps perpetuate social inequality.
At exactly what point are we willing to forgo our nation’s cultural and social heritage? The words and tune to the British national anthem form an integral part of both of these, as well as being part of what makes Britain so special. While we may not always agree with French and American cultural values, it is doubtful that there are many children in either country that do not know the words or tune to the Marseillaise or the Star-Spangled Banner (Christina Aguilera excepted…).
That being said, while children may not appreciate the importance of the national anthem, it would seem their elders have a greater sense of historical perspective. According to the Official Charts Company, the anthem has become the first number one in the all-new classical singles chart, followed by other traditional tracks like Nessun Dorma, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Katherine Jenkins’ version of I Vow To Thee, My Country. Guess we know what the soundtrack to the UK’s street parties will be this Diamond Jubilee!
What do you think? Should UK children be made to learn the national anthem in school or does it matter if this part of our history disappears?