Other than some fitful blasting away on assorted woodwinds in high school, my musical training has generally been informal. I’m unable to accurately assign the proper technical terms to a tune beyond the basics. I suspect most mainstream music critics also lack extensive formal instruction except for the hard core classical types. Analysis of anything involving an orchestra is well beyond the scope of my lessons from the campfire songbook. Deeply memorable classic songs almost always come from people who are willing to throw the sonic or lyric rulebooks out. O Canada is not one of these songs, except in this rendition:
In any high school band, one is invariably called upon to bash through the anthem at some point. I used to dread the task and still feel a bit of anxiety when called upon to “please rise”. I’m willing to risk the wrath of the true patriot love gang to say that our nation’s official song is lacking a bit of oomph. O Canada is just too darn nice and is likely a very accurate reflection of who we are and how we are perceived around the world. The more powerful historic nationalist pieces will generally tick off the boxes of battle, blood and/or the boys. Consider:
America “And the rockets red glare! The bombs bursting in air!”
France “They’re coming right into your arms to cut the throats of your sons and women”
Germany “When, for protection and defence, it always stands brotherly together”
(for the 1933-1945 Nazi version, google “The Horst Wessel Song” which I will not link to or quote here or ever. It alone wins the argument as to why it can be necessary to make wholesale changes to an anthem)
East Germany “In fraternity united, we shall crush the people’s foe”
UK “May he sedition hush, and like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush”
Admittedly, the sixth verse of the UK’s “God Save the King/Queen” has fallen out of favour but it is still technically on the books. A decade ago the Blair/Brown government was toying with the idea of erasing it but didn’t follow through with it’s elimination and it fell off the radar. I don’t actually mind being preserved on the official record as “rebellious”. Any nation should absolutely reserve the right to change it up as the times dictate, even if some old boy in a cellar in Leipzig will insist that they should have kept “Risen From The Ruins” and the Berlin Wall.
Those who are up in arms about the recent subtle alteration of O Canada may be unaware that “in all thy son’s command” was spliced in at the onset of the First World War. The grammatically archaic original “thou dost in us command” is, in fact, gender neutral. Those who like to portray any tinkering with the tired and dusty as political correctness gone amok are incorrect in this instance. The recent makeover is in essence a realignment with the first version. No such measure has been taken to alter the French lyrics however, which manage to maintain all of the patriotic talking points of God, imperialism and gore:
“Sacred love of the throne and the altar, Fill our hearts with your immortal breath!
Among the foreign races, Our guide is the law”
“Let us know how to be a people of brothers, Under the yoke of faith.
And repeat, like our fathers, The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”
You can bet that not one Anglo upset by the newest switch is remotely aware of these lyrics or would give a mon dieu if the French version was rewritten to better suit our secular and far less bloody modern times. History is nowhere near as tidy as the memes making the rounds – that O Canada was fine as it was and did not need to be changed and that I should share if I agree. Try this little troll test: see what reaction you get from a Defender of the Anthem when you mention that Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians has announced his retirement or that the Cornwallis statue in Halifax has been pulled down. Their answer will reveal all.
It has been painfully obvious for years that the original Hockey Night in Canada theme is the anthem best suited for this nation. It is bold, brassy, universally loved and happens to have been written by a woman. I might have survived a few more years in high school band if it was a bit more like this: