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Settling a Score

It was a case of too much pomp, given the circumstances.

Sponsors of a national student concert in Britain worried that the words of "Land of Hope and Glory" were a tad too jingoistic, in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the resulting U.S.-British military action in Afghanistan.

Set to the familiar music of "Pomp and Circumstance," the song extols the United Kingdom with such lyrics as: "Wider still and wider, shall thy bounds be set; God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet." The words were written for King Edward VII's coronation in 1902.

Traditionally, the composition is played in a singalong at the close of the annual Schools Prom concert, a three-day event in which student musicians from across the country showcase their talent at London's Royal Albert Hall.

But this year, planners drafted new lyrics that stress the theme of unity, including: "Deeper still and deeper, shall our bonds be set; Bring our world together, make us closer yet."

"I was very seriously affected by what happened [Sept. 11], because I happen to love New York," said Larry Westland, the executive director of Music for Youth, the group that organizes the event. "So I thought maybe this year would be time to choose some different words."

That wasn't enough, however, for the country's largest group of education employees, the National Union of Teachers, or NUT. The union argued that the music is so associated with imperial "triumphalism" that it shouldn't be played at all at the concert.

Union leaders noted that the song has been dropped from the playlist of other events since Sept. 11, including an annual concert of adult musicians sponsored by the BBC.

Moreover, the union's leaders said, audience members were still likely to sing the old words because of their familiarity. Union spokeswoman Olive Forsythe described the singalong as a "big, flag-waving, jumping up and down, lunatic kind of thing."

"The [old] words seem inappropriate for a time when people are being killed, our own troops might be killed, the people in America have suffered, and we have suffered," she said. "It just felt entirely wrong."

But organizers of the Schools Prom vowed to have the musicians play the song when the event wrapped up late last week, and to give the audience copies of the new lyrics.

"We can't tell people what to sing, and we can't tell people what not to sing," Mr. Westland said. "But we're certainly not going to tell people not to play a piece of music."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 21, Issue 11, Page 6

Published in Print: November 14, 2001, as International

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