This afternoon, I went to see SUSO (the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra) – the Southampton equivalent of CUSO (who I will be seeing next weekend). Southampton does have an equivalent of CUMS, called SUMS, but perhaps wisely this acronym has been nabbed by the Mathematics Society. I presume no-one else in Cambridge wanted CUMS so the Music Society had free rein.
The orchestra provided a very full programme of music from the Americas – well, to be more accurate the US and Mexico, but “the Americas” sounds better than “NAFTA less Canada”. Within this very enjoyable programme was Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez: described in the programme notes (which hopefully compensate in accuracy for what they lack in style) as having been embraced as the unofficial national anthem of Mexico. I have no idea what the official national anthem of Mexico sounds like, and am far too lazy to resort to Google to find out, but I seriously doubt it could hold so much as a rushlight (let alone a candle) to Danzón No. 2. Our own national anthem is positively dirge-like by comparison.
In contrast to the rather martial air lent by the march which forms the basis of so many national anthems, Danzón No. 2 takes its inspiration from dance (rather to my surprise as I was convinced that bailar was the Spanish verb “to dance” – but I guess Mexico is a long way from Castille). I would agree that the piece lacks any stirring words (or indeed, any words whatsoever) to sing along with at times of great national passion, but I feel this may be no bad thing in these days of heightened nationalism. Both Flanders and Swann and Mitch Benn (to my certain knowledge) have attempted new national anthems which disparage Johnny foreigner, but no-one has attempted a new anthem for the UK (or the mostly UK of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) based on indigenous dance. Morris is always a possibility, but I wonder if it would lack the gravitas for the international stage. Perhaps the Dashing White Sergeant (assuming we retain the Scots in the Union)? Or if that seems too military, the Gay Gordons as a celebration of equality? The UK has brought the world many a dance – some of which I was introduced to at primary school, anyone for the Circassian Circle? – and surely one of these could provide the basis for a new national anthem in the hands of a suitable young composer? The right choice could leave our international “partners” literally reeling!