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Music’s cohesive role in the London Olympics opening ceremony

Music’s cohesive role in the London Olympics opening ceremony

The heritage of the isles was on display in the London Olympics Opening Ceremony – traditional music like God Save the Queen, the unofficial national anthem Jerusalem, and Cwm Rhondda were each sung by multiracial children’s choirs. Abide with Me was sung by Emeli Sandé.

The theme from Chariots of Fire made an appearance with Mr Bean on the electronic keyboard playing the beating pitch that undergirds the strings above. To underline it was a British show Mr Bean hit the ftatulence key at the end.

A Mr Bean dream sequence spliced him into the movie’s running scene on the surf’s edge. It was striking in the clip that all the runners were white, though as you’ll remember from the plot one of them is Jewish. Chariots of Fire is set in the Paris Olympics of 1924; today’s Olympics are far more interracial. As is the UK.

The ceremonies followed the isles from pastoral times through the Industrial Revolution up to today’s society which incorporates peoples from the former colonies of the British Empire. Naturally, the scene from present day London celebrated its multi-racial condition. The montage of music over the scene reminded us that a generation’s music ties the generation together despite the ethnic diversity.

But London of the pastoral era or the Industrial Revolution did not have blacks tending sheep or working as bankers. Yet in the Opening Ceremonies that’s what you saw. The first and second generation immigrants from the British Empire are to a great degree taking on board the heritage of the isles even as they retain their own (and improve the cuisine of the nation). They, too, sing God Save the Queen.

If you watched the ceremonies on NBC you may be thinking, how did I miss Abide with Me? It was sung during the tribute to the victims of the London terrorist bombings which occurred the day after London won its bid for these Olympics. NBC cut the tribute. Today the network is saying its American audience would not have been interested.

I read the Wikipedia entry for the hymn Jerusalem today. Only its the entry for the song And did those feet in ancient time. It was composed by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916 with text from William Blake’s poem of the same title that dates from 1808. Jerusalem later became the songs popular title.

The story of the poem and song follows twists and turns of British history in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In one interpretation “satanic mills” refers to industrial mills displacing traditional mills. In another, endorsed by N. T. Wright, it’s a metaphor for the Church of England.

Parry was asked to set Blake’s poem to music for the purpose of lifting patriotism during the war, a purpose that gave him misgivings. He was delighted when the piece was adopted as the Women’s Rights Hymn.

Parry’s original version scored the first verse for solo soprano — which is how it was performed at the opening ceremonies.


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Jonathan Hagger

To understand the poem “Jerusalem” is to understand the English. What always amazes me is that so many English people (including lots of boring clergypersons) don’t get it.


Also note that Evelyn Glennie, solo percussionist from Scotland, was featured prominently in the ceremonies:

And the scene from “Chariots of Fire” with runners racing across sands was actually filmed on the West Sands of St Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland where it was originally filmed.

J Michael Povey

NBC conspiracy theories apart it fascinates me that the opening ceremonies included this explicit Christian hymn. It was written by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). Lyte was a Scotsman who was educated in Ireland, and in due course was ordained in the Church of England. He was an evangelical by conviction, perhaps even a mild Calvinist. The hymnal 1982 includes this hymn, as well as his “God of mercy, God of grace”, and the well known “Praise my soul the King of Heaven”. British folks of my generation (I am 68) knew this hymn by heart. It used to be sung at the beginning of the English Football Association’s “F.A. Cup Final” and it would make strong men weep (yes they were mostly men!”. Watching “Abide with me” (sung in its entirety, with no word changes) at the Olympic ceremonies was a stark and poignant reminder to me of a Great Britain which at one time was culturally Christian (for good or ill). Was I reading too much into the end of the dance when that young boy was lifted high? – I wondered if it was a tip of the hat towards the hope of resurrection.

Ann Fontaine

Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) was hilarious – trying to stay interested while performing one note over and over – even looking at his iPod at one point besides falling into the dream state of running the race.

Bill Moorhead

I noticed that +Rowan got a spectator’s seat right behind the Queen. Guess the Establishment is good for something. Not sure it’s worth it.

I understand that the Queen has a very sly sense of humor (e.g. the whole James-Bond-and-the-helicopter thing). She didn’t crack a smile. She’s great!

All snarkiness aside, I thought it was a brilliant and imaginative production, and I enjoyed it immensely.

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