On Anthems

I learned something from watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics last week! I realized that the tune to the unofficial English national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” is the same as that of the American hymn, “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee”. I knew the name of their anthem, but I’d never heard it sung until the choir performed it that night, in celebration of the next Olympics being in London in 2012. While I have a music degree and know that tunes have often been reused over the course of history, especially Christian hymns from the 1800s (in fact, this origins of this tune itself are uncertain), I was surprised that an American composer of that time would steal something so representative of England and its government. Then I realized that it was probably not at all an accident, but rather very much on purpose, to prove a point.

“God Save the Queen” is written from the perspective of a submissive subject petitioning God to strengthen and continue the glorious Queen’s reign over her people, in hopes of remaining in power over other nations.

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter thine enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

“America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” was written by  Samuel F. Smith in 1808, less than a generation after the signing of the United States Constitution, just long enough for Samuel to witness the way this newfangled government, run by and for the people, was working itself out in reality. The lyrics to this song, which shares the same tune with the lines above, seems to me to be about the music and poetry of freedom, about all the citizens of this land joining together to praise God, the author of True Freedom after which we model our democracy. I was taught this song as a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen all the words. I don’t mean to be cheesy or dramatic, but it’s clearly a love song!

My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died !
Land of the pilgrims’ pride
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring !
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love:
I love thy rocks and rills
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song:
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing:
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

THIS is why I (as a Christian) believe in the separation of church and state. THIS is why I can’t vote Republican at the moment, no matter how much I’d like to be able to. I love Samuel’s vision for our country: all different kinds of people coming together under one flag – not a royal ruler or a far-too-heavy-handed executive branch – who can legally claim the citizen’s right to speak and act freely, no matter their political, religious or any other beliefs.

Sorry for the soapbox. I’m done now. To sum up, with mighty respect to our parent country across the pond, I like our song better!

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One Response

  1. Please, don’t tell me that you just learned this?? What did you learn in school… elementary… middle… high school and SMU?? Your teachers get an F! 😉 OK the best anthem is Italy by the way.

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