Out Loud and A Cappella

When I started kindergarten at age six, I didn’t know the words to O Canada.  Every morning the entire school would assemble in the cramped hallway of the four-classroom school, arranged according to grade, and Mrs. Macdonald would play an introduction on the old piano that was tucked just inside the door of the nearest room.  Then we’d start to sing, hands rigid at our sides.  The national anthem was followed by announcements, at which point we were sent back to our classrooms.  This routine happened every single day, even when trips or track meets were planned; O Canada came first, setting the tone for the day, then we could get on with things.

At first, this entire ordeal was overwhelming but, as most young children do, I absorbed the lyrics and music of O Canada simply by hearing it so often.  Within weeks, I was singing it with confidence and volume.  The anthem, as sacrilegious as this may sound, actually became a game for me.  Every day, I tried to make it more on tune and say more of the words flawlessly, without a single slip.  On particularly silly days, I’d try to minimize the number of breaths it took to get through the entire song (always hiding this from the teachers, of course).  In grade four, we learned the anthem in French and proudly sang it without understanding a word, though my favourite part was that great, popping-sounding word “épopée.”

I left the public school system for several years and eventually returned for my final year of high school.  Much to my surprise, the students simply stood up each morning as a poor-quality version of O Canada was piped through the PA system.  No one sang a word.  No one hummed.  The room was silent, except for the fidgeting that occurred while impatient teenagers waited for the song to be over.  I quickly realized that O Canada was viewed as a nuisance, preventing students from getting on with their day.

So it was with great interest that I came across an article last night called “O Canada in Schools: Students Pushed to Sing O Canada by Themselves.”  My immediate reaction?  Oh, poor things, being pushed to sing the national anthem by themselves!  (Please add sarcastic tone, if you haven’t already.)  Apparently a Toronto school board trustee is pushing for kids to have to sing aloud and without accompaniment, in an attempt to make them more patriotic.  This is causing quite a bit of controversy, because apparently students are shy about singing in public.

I am all in favour of this.  First, some background info for you American readers out there: Canadians are not particularly patriotic, from my experience.  Sure, we’re proud to be Canadian, but we also do way too much self-flagellation most of the time.

Second, an attitude of patriotism is something that must be taught; one is not born that way.  By allowing kids to stand by passively as they listen to a recording of their anthem – which, I might add, is not conducive to memorizing lyrics one bit – we’re essentially telling them that it doesn’t matter whether they know it or not.  Does it?

That’s my third point.  The anthem, albeit just a song, is a unifying force that can get an entire crowd on the same wavelength, that can stop conversations instantaneously, that can create a burning sense of pride in the hearts of the most apathetic bystander.

Fourth, I don’t believe that kids are naturally shy about singing so much as they’re self-conscious about doing it when nobody else does.  Toddlers and pre-schoolers sing all the time.  It’s when they start school and realize that singing isn’t cool that the urge to do so is squashed.  Kids have a strong pack mentality, and if educators can teach them that the anthem is an awesome way to show pride in one’s country, I’m sure they’ll be singing their hearts out in the hallways and playgrounds.

There’s a reason national anthems exist – to be sung!  And that must be enforced, whether in school or at home.  If not, then what’s the point of even having one?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  How did you learn the anthem?  Do you think it should be ‘forced’ on students in schools?


6 thoughts on “Out Loud and A Cappella

  1. I’m with you on this subject. Teaching kids to sing is giving them a gift that will be invaluable throughout their lives, Might as well start with the national anthem.

  2. Hey Katherine, Interesting subject!

    I can remember my own days of awkwardly standing up in Highschool for all the weird version of Oh Canada they used to play (Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba Oh Canada! ba ba ba ba ba ba ba). I remember heading back to highschool as a teacher and thinking that I hadn’t heard the anthem since my own days in highschool years before. I remember singing it in French purely phonetically as a kid, and only figuring out what I was saying (in french… the words ARE different fromt he English version) when I was 18 or so.

    One of the reasons I remember it feeling weird is that it feels like one of those arbitrary things that seems to be a remnant of older days that doesn’t quite make sense in our society, sort of like the feeling I would get if someone tried to teach me that a king is divine, infallible and that I must ‘stand on guard’ for him.

    I don’t think the anthem should be done away with, and sometimes it is nice to have something that is ours, that is historical, and that reminds of our nation, but at least for me the anthem did not ‘make’ me feel more patriotic. They used to play Canadian heritage adds on TV about early feminists, political leaders etc which were much more informative and pride-inspiring.

    If kids are unpatriotic, I don’t think the root cause of the problem is the fact that kids aren’t singing the anthem. I say nay.

  3. I think kids do what their parents do. And parents in Canada are not particularly patriotic or aware of how lucky are to be Canadians. On the other hand loving your country is a very serious matter. Patriotism (that comes from the Greek word “patrida”) can help a nation and can destroyed it as well. Greeks are very patriotic (because they are aware of their greek history) that is why we never stayed for long under an oppressive resime and we preserved our language from the prehistoric time up to now. Germans are also very patriotic but in the name of patriotism killed so many people around the world under the power of crazy Hilter. Tunisians, Lybians, Egyptians, while oppressed for many centuries and striped from any patriotic feelings, had enough of this bad treatment (and torture really in all aspects of life) and reinvented, in some miraculous way, their patriotism with the arab spring.
    Patriotism means setting boarders but boarders should be used wisely as they can become prison and oppression.
    I believe that kids should not be pushed to sing the national anthem but they should learn history and decide for themselves.

  4. Having done it a large part of my school life, I know what it’s like to do it daily and being from 2 different schools (I switched partway) I also saw a place where you didn’t.

    Honestly? I agree with your idea that patriotism has to be taught and isn’t in-built. However I think this is something that first and foremost the family has to inculcate in their kids and to answer questions and keep interest alive – school is school and in part is always a chore and annoyance when you’re a kid, even when you have fun while there.
    When really little, yes you don’t think of it much, but the older you get the less you “like” school if you know what I mean. Surly teenage years are a problem for this.

    That said, if you have it in you and inculcated properly from a young age, even if you don’t sing that much, you should clearly have it.

    Listening to a recording – well thats boring and most kids are too apprehensive to be the first one to do the ‘goody-goody’ expected thing and even if someone starts and others follow, the “cool” or different ones will always pointedly either not sing or mouth or sing gibberish if berated or pushed.

    What I remember being a good way was that in school we used to have morning assembly for the entire school (and we had some HUGE classes, I kid you not – 200 kids to a batch give or take), split into 2 bits: senior and junior which basically split it into 2 equal halves. You had all kinds of little things here, by rotation a student had to give a thought for the day, some sang a song, maybe read some news headlines, etc but it always ended with the national anthem.
    That system, for me makes more sense and feels more disciplined.

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