“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

23 April 2015

England needs a new national anthem



St George’s Day is meant to be England’s national day, but if you were not looking out for it you would likely miss it.

That shouldn’t reflect badly on you or on anyone else. England’s national day has been long neglected in England for various reasons, not least the priority put on other identities in national – British – life.

Liberal universalists – who largely dominate our public sphere - insist that borders are redundant and should ultimately be abolished. They seek to include everyone, but they just divide in other ways. Their forms of division are international, but they are still divisions – not by territory but by identity and ideology; in their way of thinking you may not belong where you live on account of having the wrong thoughts.

This point of view needs to be resisted strongly by all of us who believe in the connection between people and the earth they stand on.

As a part of this politics, England needs to find itself again.  

The first step for England starting to find itself again is surely through a new national anthem. At the moment England shares the plodding God Save the Queen as an anthem with the United Kingdom, thereby identifying 'the UK' with England, to the exclusion of the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish. This is clearly wrong and silly; even more so given Scotland’s new-found national and separatist consciousness.

So England should have a new anthem. But how should we choose it?

The whole point of choosing an anthem is to form and define a community called England which everyone in England (the English) can gather around – a joining together of new and old Englands plus those who haven’t thought themselves English before. This is a big task which requires thought and planning. Most importantly, it requires mass participation and democracy. The people need to choose their new national anthem. This is something that needs to be done on primetime television.

How should we put together a shortlist of potential options though and compress the possible tunes into possible anthems? This means involving musical experts and orchestras, and also letting the general public submit suggestions which could be taken on and adapted if popular.

But – time to get on to possible options. I’m not going to bother with God Save the Queen because the whole point of this article is that we should get rid of it. Clearly though, it should be an option in the voting.

Here we have five possible options to provide the material for England’s new national anthem (all from what I know – not meant to be exhaustive):


Option 1


'I Vow to Thee, My Country' (instrumental version) from Gustav Holst's 'The Planets'.
(Holst was apparently a great teacher of music as well as a great composer; his name suggests an immigrant background; this was a few generations down the line).


Ralph Vaughan Williams with his cat, Foxy

Option 2


Ralph Vaughan Williams with the much-loved 'The Lark Ascending', played here by the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and the BBC Concert Orchestra at The Proms.
(There is pathos there though since larks are almost gone; also I am no expert but it would seem to be difficult to make an all-purpose tune out of it).


Option 3


'Nimrod' from Elgar's 'Enigma Variations', beautifully played with restraint here by our military bands on Remembrance Sunday in 2009:
The Grimethorpe Colliery Band has an excellent version too.


Option 4


Jerusalem by Hubert Parry; words by William Blake – the classic favourite, here played and sung at the Last Night of the Proms in 2006.
(not a favourite of mine)


Option 5


Ralph Vaughan Williams again with 'Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis' - an anthem would need to pick out moments from this, but they are there to be picked.



My personal instinct is that a new English anthem should have no words. England has changed so much in such a short space of time that I think it would be impossible to put together words that define who we are – no bad thing. The music can be left to speak for itself. 

From that music, not being too prescriptive, England may start to scope out a shared life as a nation. Then perhaps after a while we might think about choosing some words for our new English anthem - but not now.


See also blogpost on 'The English Problem'. 

2 comments:

  1. Perhaps a Vaughan Williams overload, but the third part of his Fifth Symphony is worth a listen and has distinctly English tones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGALZp1b8ec

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  2. What a thoughtful post. Personally I'm torn between ''I vow to thee'' and ''Jerusalem''. I'm all for words, by the way. Singing does so much for the spirit and is a shared experience in itself.

    Reading this blog, I think you might have a lot in common with the man who writes here. He's a personal friend and a great mind.

    http://www.golemxiv.co.uk/2012/12/on-the-death-of-certain-dreams/

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