Why are Patriotic Songs All the Same? (W/ 12tone & TheLingSpace!)


Thanks to Google for supporting PBS Digital
Studios. The lyrics to the patriotic song “My Country
Tis Of Thee” are hammered into the heads of school children from sea to shining sea. But it turns out the song, also known as “America,”
has origins that are something of a historical mystery. The verses to the song were penned by Reverend
Samuel Francis Smith in 1831, but the tune itself predates his musical reworking by almost
a century. And before it was an ode to American patriotism,
it was the tune to “God Save the King” in 1744. The song has also popped up around the globe
as the patriotic anthems of at least 6 countries according to the Library of Congress. That includes the Denmark in the 1790s, and
the anthems of Liechtenstein and Prussia. So this week I’m teaming up with my friends
from 12tone and TheLingSpace to figure out how this tune without a clear origin ended
up one of the most remixed patriotic songs. So while patriotic tunes have a history stretching
back hundreds of years, the practice of state sanctioned and recognized national anthems
originates with, you guessed it, “God Save the King.” And although the lyrics and title shift slightly
depending on whether it’s a king or queen perched on the throne, the song has remained
relatively consistent through the ages. After first appearing in 1745, and being performed
at a number of British patriotic ceremonies, the song was first described as the country’s
official national anthem. And that made, the Brits the first to have
a uniformly recognized “national anthem” in history, although plenty of patriotic odes
and songs predate this event. In the 19th and 20th centuries many countries
followed suit by either elevating already popular songs to anthem status or having songs
expressly penned for the purpose. But patriotic music and anthems serve a couple
of functions: The first is to express an individual country’s
national identity during occasions when a bit of pomp and circumstance is required. And the second is to give us amusing blooper
reels of celebrities flubbing the lyrics to the National Anthem at sporting events. But “America”, both the song and the location,
evolved out of a couple of different impulses, namely: a desire to express a cultural and
national identity separate from our cousins across the pond and a bit of cultural remixing. Oh and there was also some funky translation
stuff that got thrown into the mix. But to trace the history of how this tune
kept popping up with different lyrical dubs, I’m going to have to peel the two components
(music and lyrics) apart and trace them on parallel timelines. So the tune is the true mystery. It was first printed in Thesaurus Musicus
in 1744 without a clearly attributed author. There are debates about whether it’s derived
from 18th c military and religious hymns, an Englishman named Henry Carey in 1740, English
composer John Bull or French Composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. But we do know that the tune has always been
heavily associated with the political realm, from bawdy celebrations to national pride. And when it first appeared as “God Save
the King” in 1744, likely in support for the Jacobites, who opposed the Hanoverians. But by 1745 the lyrics were directly written
in support for Hanoverian King George II. It first appeared stateside (or at that point
in history it’s more accurate to say “British colony-side”) in 1761. And during George Washington’s 1789 inauguration
the lyrics to “God Save the King” were converted to hail the new nation. So when a seminary student in Massachusetts
got his hands on the song in 1831, it was already carrying a huge amount of historical
baggage…that he may have known nothing about. Samuel Francis Smith found it in a German
songbook, when composer Lowell Mason asked him to translate some of the songs into English. He decided to set a Christian themed patriotic
song about America to the tune. So while the themes of a Christian God defending
a country remained consistent, he replaced the figure of the monarch with the symbol
of the nation, and wrote a song that is often referred to as the country’s “unofficial
national anthem” today. But the tune hasn’t risen to the heights
of patriotic popularity without controversy. As we all know choosing to sing alter, or
abstain from participating in patriotic songs or national anthems is also an intrinsic part
of their history. For example, in 1939 opera African American
opera singer Marian Anderson sang “My Country Tis of Thee” for a crowd of an estimated
75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The moment became iconic and celebrated in
American history because Anderson, an internationally renowned opera singer, sang the song during
the waning years of the Great Depression and the onset of WW2. However some of the backstory of Anderson’s
outdoor performance stems from the fact that the Daughters of the American Revolution had
denied the singer the use of Constitution Hall because of her race. But the moment of Anderson’s patriotic rendition
sparked a tradition of virtuosic black women singers belting patriotic songs during times
of international conflict and crisis that Professor Farrah Jasmine Griffin details in
her article “When Malindy Sings: A Meditation on Black Women’s Vocality.” So a song that has unclear European origins
ended up becoming Britain’s first official national anthem…even though it’s history
as a patriotic song predates the idea of a national anthem altogether. And it became a song about American patriotism
not from ripping off Britain, but because of a German songbook translation. And even though this seems about as clear
as my glasses when I come in from the cold, in some ways it kind of makes sense. Patriotic songs are pretty cookie cutter in
terms of the sentiments they express and by nature they are extremely local. The only time you ever really listen to the
national anthems and patriotic songs of another country are if you go there…or when an athlete
ascends the steps of the Olympic podium. But to get to the bottom of how the tune stayed
the same but the lyrics and translation have continued to shift I’m going to turn things
over to Cory at 12Tone and Moti at TheLingSpace to help me out. Because I’d love to know: What makes this tune so musically suitable
for patriotic tunes? And Why/how has this song gone through so many
language translations? And what goes into translating the lyrics
of a song into multiple languages/meanings? hi, Danielle, thanks for having me! so when
it comes to why this tune seems to make such a good anthem, there’s no musical smoking
gun, but there’s a lot of little things it does that, when taken together, help make
it feel so patriotic. let’s take a look.) the first thing that catches my eye is just
that it’s using the major scale. a scale is basically the collection of notes
that you’re drawing from to write your piece, and the major scale is probably the most common
and most consonant one in the Western musical tradition. you’ve heard it thousands of times, and that
familiarity means that music written with it feels like it just… kinda works. to see what I mean, here’s the same tune but
using a very different scale. not quite as inspiring, is it? another thing it’s got is simple, powerful
harmony. harmony’s just the other notes you’re playing
at the same time, and if we look at God Save The Queen.we see it starts with a simple variation
of one of the most common chord progressions ever. these days it’s known as the Doo-Wop changes
’cause of its popularity in the Doo-Wop music of the 50s and 60s, but as we can see here
we’ve actually been using it for centuries, and again that familiarity and simple structure
make it easy to appreciate. the rest of the harmony is similarly straightforward,
but to really understand why this works so well as an anthem, we have to ask what the
point of an anthem is. music can serve lots of different purposes:
it can be narrative, it can be a showcase piece for a particularly talented performer,
or it can be an experiment based on a cool musical idea, but anthems don’t really need
to do any of that. anthems are what we might call social music:
they’re designed to be sung by crowds. we don’t just listen to anthems, we participate
in them. everyone sings along but, well, not everyone’s
a great singer, so, before anything else, social music needs to be easy. that’s why most national anthems have very
small ranges and very simple melodies. there’s one… glaring exception to that, which my friend
Adam Neely talks about in his video Anthem, link in the description, but for the most
part the easier a song is for an untrained singer to sing, the more likely it is to work
as an anthem, and God Save The Queen has a very easy melody. how? well, one of the most common ways to
complicate a melody is with large leaps. it’s hard for an untrained voice to differentiate
between this and this. you’ll often wind up just going for it and
seeing where you land, but if a whole crowd does that together, you get chaos, so the
melody of God Save The Queen almost never leaps, instead just moving up and down the
scale one step at a time. in fact, there’s only 4 jumps in the entire
thing, and 3 of them are only skipping one note each. it’s not giving the audience many chances
to fail. the music also guides you through its structure
with a device called a motif. motifs are small, recognizable chunks of music
that we can repeat, rearrange, and reinterpret in order to create larger works. like, take the beginning of this tune. notice how the rhythmic pattern in the first
bit just straight-up repeats for the second? the notes are different, but the timings are
exactly the same, which means you only have to learn it once and then just copy and paste
it so you can focus on other parts of the tune. in fact, the whole thing is kind of just a
giant motif: it only takes about 20-30 seconds to sing, so it doesn’t take up much brain
space. many versions of the song have multiple verses,
but they tend to just use the same melody over and over, so once you know that all you
have to do is slap some new words on it and you’re good to go. which brings us to our
next question: how do you go about slapping new words on a tune, and why would you want
to? Moti, can you help us out here? Sure, Cory, so… when we look at why God
Save the Queen has gone through so many translations, the big reason appears to be that the British
royal family has ruled over places that speak a lot of different languages. So that means, for example, that you need
a version of the anthem in French if your subjects are French-Canadian, or in Afrikaans
if they’re South African. Sure, you have the English version, but making
other versions is helpful, too. But when we look at how songs get translated,
there’s a bigger challenge. Translating the words themselves isn’t a
problem. It might be tempting to say that some words
or ideas aren’t translatable, but barring the subtle stuff of culture and common ground,
any idea we can express in one language, we can get across in a different one. But that idea will take a different linguistic
shape – longer or shorter words, or more or less of them. And that can just make the translated version
not really work with the music of the song anymore. Let’s take Japanese for example. If we just take the first line, “God save
our gracious Queen”, and we translate it using the same formal, anthemic language,
we get 大神よ我らが慈悲深き女王を守りたまえ. The original line has 6 syllables in it, and
the Japanese one has 22. That’s nearly 4 times as many, which is
really hard to fit into the rhythm of the original line. But even in languages where you can find words
that both more or less match the meaning and the space, you usually still have to change
the ordering. Let’s take a look at the official French
version of God Save the Queen for Canada. Even if you don’t know French, you can probably
tell it matches the rhythm and rhyme of the English song a lot better than our Japanese
translation did. So it can actually work as a song translation,
right? But now, let’s give that a quick translation
back to English, to get this (display here). If we compare the direct French-English translation
to the regular English one, they’re a pretty good match, but there are some important differences. First, we lost some of the nuance and adjectives
about the queen in the French version. In French, she isn’t gracious or noble,
because the French words for those don’t fit the song cleanly. We also get some details about how exactly
God’s doing the saving. And now instead of the queen herself being
happy, she’s bringing happiness to her people. Which is a pretty big change, and very generous
of her. That shifting around of adjectives does something
interesting to the meaning, as well. The order we list things can adjust the way
that we interpret them. Usually, for English, as we move through a
phrase, we progress from older to newer information. It’s a way for us to highlight what we expect
you to know already, to push the conversation on towards further discussion. When we’re in a song, we’re not really
directly trying to talk with people, so the listing effect may not have the same force,
but the order we present things goes a long way. So the message we give by changing the order
from “victorious, happy, and glorious” to “glorious, long, and victorious” can
subtly adjust what the listener takes away. The bottom line is that when we translate
songs, or poetry, or anything where the rhythm and melody of the words matters, we can’t
be as precise as we’d maybe want for getting across the meaning of the original. Even in cases where we can do a pretty good
job of approximating, we can’t help but veer away in small but significant ways. But that we can do it at all is still pretty
glorious. Thanks guys! So if you Originauts out there liked this
episode then be sure to follow Origin of Everything on Facebook and Subscribe on Youtube. And how awesome are our friends at 12tone
and TheLingSpace?! If you want more of their great content then
be sure to subscribe to their channels on Youtube and follow them for more awesome stuff. As always get down into the works cited for
more nerdy goodness, get after that comments section with all of your inquiries and debates
and I’ll see you here next time! Thanks to Google for supporting PBS Digital
Studios. Their mobile app Science Journal lets you
take notes and measure scientific phenomena suck as light, sound, and motion using your
phone, tablet, or Chromebook. You can find activity ideas and additional
information on their website at g.co/sciencejournal or check out the link in the description below.

85 thoughts on “Why are Patriotic Songs All the Same? (W/ 12tone & TheLingSpace!)

  • The biggest and sincerest thanks go out to 12tone and TheLingSpace for working diligently on this collab with me! Head up to the description to find links to their channels and be sure to subscribe!

    Edit: Also I will 100% shout out the best "so a historian, a music theorist, and a linguist walk into a bar…" joke on an upcoming Origin episode. Have at it people!

    -Danielle

  • I love the German text to the European anthem.
    ..and quite many "panGermany" literary works, even though some of them are overly positive of war and the rebellion that was so surprised in the 1850s

  • Great video but as far as I know did the French used it earlier to praise Louis 14 and his family in great God save the king

  • Am i the only one who thinks that the tune is just super boring? Personally, i think that the uk national anthem should be jerusalem

  • Huh, I'm Canadian but I never actually learned God Save the Queen. Maybe because I went to French schools where there's a general dislike for the monarchy? But anyway I know O Canada in French and English and I've learned the American national anthem unwillingly thanks to hockey.

  • The GSTQ national anthem has largely gone out of favor now in many of Britians ex-colonies. More recently favored is a home grown anthem relating specificaly to a particular country. GSTQ reeks of empire and would be not only inappropriate, but also mystifying to the wider population. The British GSTQ is rarely aired at all in my country, New Zealand, other than perhaps during a state visit by HRH or a social drop in by her grand children.
    I look forward to your show and always learn something new or a better understanding of matters resting comfortably in my memory banks.
    The hostess and her sidekicks give an old man hope for a better world to come. Thanks heaps. Bruce.

  • The Star – Spangled Banner spans a 2½ octave jump that is impossible for many to get properly, even those who wobble around the entire scale trying to add "ornamentation" to a song that needs none.

    The only person I have heard who could sing our National Anthem clearly, powerfully, and correctly, was Whitney Houston. Any other pales in comparison.

  • is it because Americans are so fucking simple that they cant remember more than one song? or is it their low-levels of intelligence? or the fact that its a racist, homophobic, intolerant cesspool? oh wait i know, it's all of the above!!

  • This video had me looking at the sheet music of "La Borinqueña," the anthem of Puerto Rico, and I see the climb in notes as mentioned. Now, I am looking for sheet music for the original lyrics.

  • Because they all make people feel like stone cold Steve Austin, taking a few sips of a beer and throwing the rest in the air.

  • Just found this channel today since listening to you and John Green this morning. This video is a great example of interdisciplinary research!

  • How could they forget "The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen"? Exactly the same song!!

    Our country reeks of trees
    Our yaks are really large
    And they smell like rotting beef carcasses

    And we have to clean up after them
    And our saddle sores are the best
    We proudly wear women's clothing
    And searing sand blows up our skirts

    And the buzzards, they soar overhead
    And poisonous snakes will devour us whole
    And our bones will bleach in the sun

    And we will probably go to bleep
    And that is our great reward
    For being the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen

    Our country reeks of trees
    Our yaks are really large
    And they smell like rotting beef carcasses

    And we have to clean up after them
    And our saddle sores are the best
    We proudly wear women's clothing
    And searing sand blows up our skirts

    And the buzzards, they soar overhead
    And poisonous snakes will devour us whole
    Our bones will bleach in the sun

    And we will probably go to bleep
    And that is our great reward
    For being the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen

  • Origin of Military Grooming Standards and/or origin of clean shaven short haired look as the "professional" look

  • This was interesting. Thank you. Can you do a video on why we call our parents mom and dad or grandparents by a generic term rather than by their names and/or why we don't call our children daughter or son but rather by their individual names. Thank you again for your great videos.

  • I would like to know how income tax came to be. Same with the phonetic alphabet and/or the linguistic families.

  • My British friends were shocked to hear the US graduation theme , in person, since that's their March for war music lol. They felt ready for attack.

  • In Belgium we have our anthem in three languages: Dutch, French and German because we speak three languages. But our anthem is difficult because it has a lot of leaps.

  • This tune has served in different forms as a national or royal anthem, unofficial anthem or patriotic song by the following countries: Kingdom of France; United Kingdom (plus countries of the British Empire); Kingdom of Prussia; Kingdom of Sweden; Kingdom of Hanover; Kingdom of Bavaria; Kingdom of Greece; Kingdom of Saxony; Russian Empire; United States of America; Switzerland; Rattanakosin Kingdom (Siam); Kingdom of Hawaii: German Empire; Iceland; Kingdom of Norway; and the Principality of Liechtenstein.

  • Can we talk about the Scottish anthem Flower of Scotland and how it's about beating England 700 years ago automatically making it the best one there is.

  • By the way, the original lyrics to the US-American anthem are a sophisticated drinking song:

    To Anacreon in heaven where he sat in full glee
    A few sons of Harmony sent a petition
    That he their inspirer and patron might be
    When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
    "Voice, fiddle, and flute
    no longer be mute!
    I'll lend you my name
    And inspire you to boot!
    But first i'll instruct you like me to entwine
    The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine!"

  • 5:14 I can't be the only one who listens to other countries' national anthems just for fun and who likes the way they sound

  • I feel that a more appropriate (and aspirational) anthem for the US would be “America the Beautiful.” The tune is much easier to sing, and the aspiration to be not only strong but GOOD is what America needs. How can we sing, for example, about our “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain” without wanting to keep the skies clean and the grain wholesome, not polluted with pesticides? How can we sing “thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears” while a small minority of us profit from smudging the gleam of our cities and causing so many human tears? The Star Spangled Banner inspires us to fight to keep outsiders from harming our land, while America the Beautiful inspires us to make our land a better and happier place to live.

    Oh, one more thing that SOME of us might object to: America the Beautiful was written by an openly gay woman. For the rest of us, that’s a sign of diversity and inclusion, which is another aspirational American value.

  • God save the Queen and Oh Canada are our national anthems in Canada…Ahh, I always really liked Maple Leaf Forever as well. That said God Save the Queen is the same song sung in the states with the wrong words. LoL
    PS. The Star Spangled Banner was originally a raucous Pub song in the Commonwealth prior to you guys nabbing that one.

  • The Canadian English translation also runs into a syllable problem: "Our coun-try reeks of trees / Our yaks are real-ly large / And they smell like rottingbeefcarcasses."

  • It just occurred to me… …that globe of the earth behind her is spewing all of those books and relics of mankind. ….all this time I just thought it was a novelty shelf.

  • Speaking of different versions of songs, here's the English version of Ayaka Hirahara's "Jupiter." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2BMBkS74M0
    I came across the original while watching "Rikuoh," a drama about a Tabi (Japanese enclosed slipper) maker trying to revive his sinking company by branching out into athletic shoes. Japanese original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVt6cHfaew4

  • You do realise that everything from your "amerikan" lives came from europe? So no dont wonder how come this how come that

  • A great example of a contextual (rather than literal) translation is the secular-socialist-hymn The Internationale.

    Originally French, it's been translated into numerous languages, but the original English translation in unwieldy and borderline unsingable (a lot of multinote syllables which are not crowd friendly).
    Then, in the 80s, English musician & left-wing activist Billy Bragg rewrote the song, keeping the spirit and intent of the song, but moving/changing the actual words around so it's singable.
    And I know from personal experience that you can get an untrained crowd to belt it out – we sang it at the graveside at my Dad's funeral a few years ago (left fists raised) and that's a tradition I very much want to continue in my family (though, I'm not complaining about the lack of opportunity to put it into practice)

    But yeah, it's a beautiful song and it sums up a lot of my social-politics, without ever becoming either dogmatic or situation specific.

  • It's not hammered lol no patriotic song is has been taught for like 17 years because of political correctness and "offensiveness"

  • America The Beautiful really should be the US anthem. It’s non-political, non-violent, only mildly religious, and a fair bit of the first verse’s lyrics are already patriotic cliches.

  • The content of this channel is AMAZING. The video editing IS SO SO SO ANNOYING, did U know you are allow to use pauses?? The editing choice of cropping one sentence after the other with no puases makes the host seems like she speaks with no punctuation and puases, the video it's not a 100mts race. So next time why not try a slower pase?? just a bit

  • it's a French song Louis XIV for father very good health for his ass surgery kind of ironic his son lost his head piss off the peasants the British stolen it

  • Now I'm wondering about a French version of God Save the King, since in the Queen song they used reine (Queen) to make rhymes, so they would need to rewrite the first lines for roi (King).

  • Then there's modern patriotic songs like Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA which has the blandest melody I have ever heard. You literally need no vocal range to sing it.

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