You want to unite people across borders? Play patriotic music!

The recent decision (later revised) of the BBC to eliminate the lyrics of the patriotic songs "Rule, Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" from the 2020 Proms provoked a real outcry.  The Proms is short for Promenade Concerts, and the BBC organizes and broadcasts this classical music festival, held predominantly at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  People were canceling their subscriptions to the BBC, feeling that authorities were intent on crushing legitimate pride in a country's achievements and its musical genius by redefining the expression of love of country as subversive and oppressive.

Patriotic music and national anthems are songs of praise and devotion to a country's history and struggles, its glory and rich heritage.  Such a song's form is often a march or hymn as it brings up the memory of fighting to protect the nation against its enemies.  Patriotic songs are designed to boost our morale in times of crisis, strengthen our resolve in eras of uncertainty, and rekindle pride in who we are and what we represent as a great nation.  In musical culture, they have come to mean music specifically to extol the beauty and virtue of a country.

People from a variety of countries who love "Land of Hope and Glory" or "Rule, Britannica!"  brag that listening to it makes them proud to be British, sometimes adding, "And I'm not even British!"  You get the same comments with Smetana's Moldau — listeners affirming their pride in being Czech, followed by "and I'm not even Czech!"  Alternately, putting aside their longstanding enmity, Scots suddenly proclaim an everlasting love for the English, while the French call the Brits their brothers — sentiments that, in the intensity of the moment, are warmly welcomed and reciprocated.

Who wouldn't feel that way — a wannabe Russian when listening to the military song "Meadowlands" or Borodin's symphonic poem "In the Steppes of Central Asia"?  Who wouldn't want to be American or British when listening to "God Save the Queen" (the U.K. national anthem) or "America" (My Country, 'Tis of Thee), two patriotic songs with the same melody but different lyrics, or Finnish when listening to Sibelius's "Finlandia," Polish with Elgar's "Polonia" (who of course was not Polish), and Turkish when listening to Beethoven's or Mozart's "Turkish Marches," who as everyone knows weren't Turkish...?  The list is endless, the point being that when a country or nation finds an excellent interpreter, with all the fanfare, cannons, trumpets, and ringing bells that might accompany the musical representation of a country, it is easy to slip into a new nationality.

Isn't there some irony in how patriotic music makes listeners ready to embrace another nation with all their heart?  We think of patriotic compositions as designed to strengthen the bond between one united and unified people with a definite identity, precisely in opposition to other nationalities, other people, potential enemies if not now, in the past, and possibly in the future.  Indeed, there were times when, if patriotic music played, the drums of war were not far.

People have been trained for decades to distrust and suppress sentimental feelings toward their homeland, yet music-lovers can remain impervious to the propaganda of contempt for patriotism.  The degree of sophistication classical music achieved forces us to contemplate the past with admiration and gratitude.  Before cultural appropriation, people were eager to learn and draw inspiration from each other in all things cultural, an appetite that fostered imitation as a premise to innovation, with intensive travel and mobility as composers and artists moved from court to court.  More than nation-building, it was the build-up of an international culture, creating an audience ripe for the appreciation of patriotic music, not only one's own, but any patriotic music, bolstered by a collective feeling of indebtedness toward the combined fatherlands of this Western culture.  How could there not be a commitment to continuity, the upholding of traditions that had led to one masterpiece after another?  As we know, these values are now under attack as being eurocentric, colonial, or repressive of minorities.

Patriotic music appeals to attachment to land, to earth, as the solid material basis for a nation.  Land often trumps country, as people who share in the culture of two separate entities, for example France and Germany in the region of Alsace-Lorraine, well know.  It is not the German or the French loyalty that prevails; it is the land of Alsace-Lorraine.  Like children who found their own families when they grow up without repudiating their original families, we can switch allegiance from one fatherland to another.  We know that deep down, it is Mother Earth we are rooted in, and Fatherland is wrapped around Mother Earth.  When we listen to Moldau, what we hear is a hymn to our earth at large.

Listening to patriotic music, at least in the 21st century, has an effect opposite one of jingoism and love of narrow particularity.  It is spiritually uplifting and shuns expression of spiteful resentment or hatred of other countries.  For the natives of the country celebrated in the composition and for all other people who make the emotional leap of imagination, this music is soothing and empowering as it brings out humanity's sense of gratitude for the land (our native land and by extension our native earth) that nourished us, forged us, shaped our identity.  It serves as a gentle reminder that we can and need to find the unifying ties of human experience.  Our land, our elders, our teachers, our artists — we all feed one another, off each other, and we take care of each other.  This music that is our past, our present, our future, penetrates our veins, becomes our blood, the elixir of life, beauty, and spirituality.  Like the water of rivers and seas, water being the one pre-eminent feature of all patriotic music, it rejuvenates us, refreshes us, "reloads" us.

The comparison between classical music and rap in the sense of "how did we get from there to that?" is misplaced.  Folk music of old would be a more appropriate analogy.  It seems singularly incongruous indeed to put rap on the scale of evolution of classical music.  But if anything, folk music is closer to patriotic music than to rap.  Folk songs told stories reflecting the identity of a group rooted in a village or a region and brought that community together in a spirit of pleasure, comfort, humor, and strength, as well as shared sorrow, which music could express and overcome.

Rap music celebrates opposite values: the worst of it cultivates hate, anger, contempt, envy, resentment, division, greed.  It glorifies illegality, violence, predatory sex.  It pits gangs or groups against one another, certainly against the predominant culture (Western, white).  It is a music based on the belittlement of other human beings.  It is also a music that ignores the land, the earth, any feeling of connection to something higher than one's narrow life in urban surroundings.

I doubt that rap-lovers are also lovers of the patriotic music of "others," since theirs is a culture founded on a pervasive sense of alienation (whereas, as we have seen, patriotic music–lovers can impulsively, intuitively call on a sense of collective belonging), fueled by enmity between groups — the only brotherhood apparently being the brotherhood of hatred of Western culture — rather than an intuitive sense that we must cultivate our own garden (show love of country) if we want to make Earth a better place.

Rap music recalls Hobbes's war of all against all, the celebration of a life "nasty, brutish, and short," steeped in dead-end narcissism and isolation.  Does the BBC allow rap music on its waves, the rap music of the worst kind?  If so, those running the network might want to reconsider before the main culture itself becomes totally alienated, making Great Britain foreign to itself.  A yearly dose of "Rule, Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" at the Proms seems like the best remedy. 

The recent decision (later revised) of the BBC to eliminate the lyrics of the patriotic songs "Rule, Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" from the 2020 Proms provoked a real outcry.  The Proms is short for Promenade Concerts, and the BBC organizes and broadcasts this classical music festival, held predominantly at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  People were canceling their subscriptions to the BBC, feeling that authorities were intent on crushing legitimate pride in a country's achievements and its musical genius by redefining the expression of love of country as subversive and oppressive.

Patriotic music and national anthems are songs of praise and devotion to a country's history and struggles, its glory and rich heritage.  Such a song's form is often a march or hymn as it brings up the memory of fighting to protect the nation against its enemies.  Patriotic songs are designed to boost our morale in times of crisis, strengthen our resolve in eras of uncertainty, and rekindle pride in who we are and what we represent as a great nation.  In musical culture, they have come to mean music specifically to extol the beauty and virtue of a country.

People from a variety of countries who love "Land of Hope and Glory" or "Rule, Britannica!"  brag that listening to it makes them proud to be British, sometimes adding, "And I'm not even British!"  You get the same comments with Smetana's Moldau — listeners affirming their pride in being Czech, followed by "and I'm not even Czech!"  Alternately, putting aside their longstanding enmity, Scots suddenly proclaim an everlasting love for the English, while the French call the Brits their brothers — sentiments that, in the intensity of the moment, are warmly welcomed and reciprocated.

Who wouldn't feel that way — a wannabe Russian when listening to the military song "Meadowlands" or Borodin's symphonic poem "In the Steppes of Central Asia"?  Who wouldn't want to be American or British when listening to "God Save the Queen" (the U.K. national anthem) or "America" (My Country, 'Tis of Thee), two patriotic songs with the same melody but different lyrics, or Finnish when listening to Sibelius's "Finlandia," Polish with Elgar's "Polonia" (who of course was not Polish), and Turkish when listening to Beethoven's or Mozart's "Turkish Marches," who as everyone knows weren't Turkish...?  The list is endless, the point being that when a country or nation finds an excellent interpreter, with all the fanfare, cannons, trumpets, and ringing bells that might accompany the musical representation of a country, it is easy to slip into a new nationality.

Isn't there some irony in how patriotic music makes listeners ready to embrace another nation with all their heart?  We think of patriotic compositions as designed to strengthen the bond between one united and unified people with a definite identity, precisely in opposition to other nationalities, other people, potential enemies if not now, in the past, and possibly in the future.  Indeed, there were times when, if patriotic music played, the drums of war were not far.

People have been trained for decades to distrust and suppress sentimental feelings toward their homeland, yet music-lovers can remain impervious to the propaganda of contempt for patriotism.  The degree of sophistication classical music achieved forces us to contemplate the past with admiration and gratitude.  Before cultural appropriation, people were eager to learn and draw inspiration from each other in all things cultural, an appetite that fostered imitation as a premise to innovation, with intensive travel and mobility as composers and artists moved from court to court.  More than nation-building, it was the build-up of an international culture, creating an audience ripe for the appreciation of patriotic music, not only one's own, but any patriotic music, bolstered by a collective feeling of indebtedness toward the combined fatherlands of this Western culture.  How could there not be a commitment to continuity, the upholding of traditions that had led to one masterpiece after another?  As we know, these values are now under attack as being eurocentric, colonial, or repressive of minorities.

Patriotic music appeals to attachment to land, to earth, as the solid material basis for a nation.  Land often trumps country, as people who share in the culture of two separate entities, for example France and Germany in the region of Alsace-Lorraine, well know.  It is not the German or the French loyalty that prevails; it is the land of Alsace-Lorraine.  Like children who found their own families when they grow up without repudiating their original families, we can switch allegiance from one fatherland to another.  We know that deep down, it is Mother Earth we are rooted in, and Fatherland is wrapped around Mother Earth.  When we listen to Moldau, what we hear is a hymn to our earth at large.

Listening to patriotic music, at least in the 21st century, has an effect opposite one of jingoism and love of narrow particularity.  It is spiritually uplifting and shuns expression of spiteful resentment or hatred of other countries.  For the natives of the country celebrated in the composition and for all other people who make the emotional leap of imagination, this music is soothing and empowering as it brings out humanity's sense of gratitude for the land (our native land and by extension our native earth) that nourished us, forged us, shaped our identity.  It serves as a gentle reminder that we can and need to find the unifying ties of human experience.  Our land, our elders, our teachers, our artists — we all feed one another, off each other, and we take care of each other.  This music that is our past, our present, our future, penetrates our veins, becomes our blood, the elixir of life, beauty, and spirituality.  Like the water of rivers and seas, water being the one pre-eminent feature of all patriotic music, it rejuvenates us, refreshes us, "reloads" us.

The comparison between classical music and rap in the sense of "how did we get from there to that?" is misplaced.  Folk music of old would be a more appropriate analogy.  It seems singularly incongruous indeed to put rap on the scale of evolution of classical music.  But if anything, folk music is closer to patriotic music than to rap.  Folk songs told stories reflecting the identity of a group rooted in a village or a region and brought that community together in a spirit of pleasure, comfort, humor, and strength, as well as shared sorrow, which music could express and overcome.

Rap music celebrates opposite values: the worst of it cultivates hate, anger, contempt, envy, resentment, division, greed.  It glorifies illegality, violence, predatory sex.  It pits gangs or groups against one another, certainly against the predominant culture (Western, white).  It is a music based on the belittlement of other human beings.  It is also a music that ignores the land, the earth, any feeling of connection to something higher than one's narrow life in urban surroundings.

I doubt that rap-lovers are also lovers of the patriotic music of "others," since theirs is a culture founded on a pervasive sense of alienation (whereas, as we have seen, patriotic music–lovers can impulsively, intuitively call on a sense of collective belonging), fueled by enmity between groups — the only brotherhood apparently being the brotherhood of hatred of Western culture — rather than an intuitive sense that we must cultivate our own garden (show love of country) if we want to make Earth a better place.

Rap music recalls Hobbes's war of all against all, the celebration of a life "nasty, brutish, and short," steeped in dead-end narcissism and isolation.  Does the BBC allow rap music on its waves, the rap music of the worst kind?  If so, those running the network might want to reconsider before the main culture itself becomes totally alienated, making Great Britain foreign to itself.  A yearly dose of "Rule, Britannia!" and "Land of Hope and Glory" at the Proms seems like the best remedy.