On not singing the national anthem

Anthem 1

A friend in Tweetland (and Zuckerland) is wondering whether his kids, who are Christians and who are about to start school, should be encouraged or discouraged to sing the Australian National Anthem – ‘Advance Australia Fair’. I couldn’t resist a quick reply.

I’ve threatened my kids with homelessness and disinheritance if I ever learn that they’ve sung the Australian national anthem, or encouraged others to do so. Even standing during such, were I to hear about it, would be met with their pocket money being docked.

First, there’s the idiocy of singing about being ‘young and free’ among and with nations that are the most ancient continuous civilisations on Earth. Strange as it may sound, I’m really not keen on encouraging public displays of historical ignorance and blatant racism.

Then there is the matter of our religion, and the incongruity between singing a national anthem and celebrating the Eucharist. Not only is the theological disconnect as huge (in a Pythonesque kind of way) as one could imagine, but bread and wine are simply so much more interesting than any anthem, and one should set one’s mind, heart, and voice unreservedly upon the most interesting things.

Short of not singing the national anthem at all, the only reasonable alternative I can think of is to deliberately sing the anthem very badly, as out-of-tune (how appropriate!) and as out-of-time (how appropriate!) as one can muster, to do with it what Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd once did with a Colt Python .357 Magnum. To do otherwise is to put your salvation in doubt.

There is also the matter of the song being an appalling and anaemic piece of writing. That a school should torment its students with such horrid literature is tantamount to nothing short of abuse (something, to be sure, that the country is getting very good at). That a Christian – a Christian for God’s sake! – would let such a situation pass as if it were neither here nor there is probably best explained by the fact that most churchgoers have been made immune to such heresy though years of being fed a liturgical diet of equally squalid and giddy songs and prayers. Mornings of the Lord’s Day might be much better kept by reading Shakespeare or Robinson or Flanagan while listening to Springsteen on the couch in one’s pyjamas than by enduring such torment; unless of course one believes that such activity might function as a kind of training ground, a kind of school perhaps, for the purgatory that awaits the saints. Indeed, this might be among the best of reasons to go to church. But that an institution set apart to teach literature (as laughable as that sounds in today’s climate) should promote the singing of such vacuity is reason enough to have the entire school’s curriculum reviewed by a state parliamentary committee. Her majesty could not possibly expect anything less of her government.

On another note, I understand that the anthem’s election was the fruit of a plebiscite. Enough said.

Life’s Songs

One of my favourite artists is the folk musician Eric Bogle. In one of his songs, he reflects about the hump-back whale, and what it might be like to be at the sharp end of the harpoon:

The saddest sound I’ve ever heard
Is the song of the hump-back whale
His moans and sighs and his eerie cries
Sing a sad familiar tale
For he sighs and blows as if he knows
His race is nearly run
And that soon with all of his kind he’ll fall
Before the whaler’s gun

For every living thing on earth
Nature made a space
Each a living strand of a fragile plant
That can never be replaced
And not from need but from want and greed
Man’s torn down nature’s web
With greed possessed he will not rest
Till the last of the whales is dead

In my mind’s eye I can see them die
As the whaler finds his mark
Hear the muffled boom of a cruel harpoon
As it blasts their lives apart
I see the flood of the rich dark blood
As it stains the ocean red
That bloody green will not wash clean
Till the last of the whales is dead

I’ve never heard a hump-back’s song, of even seen the creature. But I have heard not a few injured dogs yelp, and it’s a song which cuts and offers no healing.

Bogle’s song reminds me that life of full of songs, and not all of them happy, or human. Sinead reminds me of that too, only her songs are mostly of joy and uncompromising playfulness which too is part of life’s symphony. She loves to sing. And the different tones and meters of her tunes reflect the different moods that she is in. To parody Bogle,

The sweetest sound I’ve ever heard
Is the song of this alluring girl
Her moans and sighs and her joyous accents
Tell of life, hope, and of a disciplined carelessness.

The sound of a river scurrying over rocks while you’re standing in the middle casting a fly is like nothing else in the world. The sound of a child singing simply for pleasure is also like nothing else in the world. Logan Pearsall Smith once said, ‘What music is more enchanting than the voices of young people, when you can’t hear what they say?’

W H Auden was on to something: ‘No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible’.