In attending a dawn service and watching coverage of the national (New Zealand) and Gallipoli services yesterday (25 April) I was struck by the fact that attendees did not really sing during the hymns and anthems. Now I know that New Zealanders are not really a singing people, and I know that we are now a secular and multi-religious nation so knowing the words to Christian hymns isn’t going to be automatic any more, but still I was slightly shocked by the fact that not even the national anthem got people to raise their voices.
So this poses two questions: Do song sheets need to be distributed for Anzac services? Or, do organisers need to give up on crowd participation?
I admit I completely fumbled my way through ‘Abide with Me’ (to my credit I know the melody well enough, but not the lyrics), but I was a lone voice in my section of the crowd. I presume that the section for the veterans probably did much better than the mostly young families I was surrounded by, but for the most part it was just the band and the featured singers that were making music. I couldn’t help but be struck by the silence around me and wondering why people weren’t even giving it a go- was it just not knowing the hymn, or was it that rather infamous Kiwi reserve, not wanting to make a fool of ones self?
It was possibly good that in the service I attended there was just the one hymn and then national anthems of New Zealand and Australia for the attendees to sing because the lack of effort was quite noticeable. As one lady behind me commented to her friend- if this had been a rugby game people would have been belting it (the New Zealand national anthem) out…
As struck as I was by the lack of participation by the crowd I was a part of, I also noticed it in televised coverage of other services. Of course it’s harder to tell whether people are actually singing or just mouthing the words (or an approximation there of), but during the hymns and anthems it was more usual to see people standing with their mouths closed. Even our prime minister didn’t sing the anthem at the Gallipoli dawn service! Contrast this with the Australian contingent at Gallipoli who were at least mouthing the words to their anthem if not actually singing.
It seems a shame that at such a significant memorial service that people are not prepared to at least give it a go. I can understand not singing the hymns- not everyone’s Christian or necessarily knows them (or has a moral/philosophical objection to them), but the national anthem? Not even the school kids who were attending the service I was at were singing it, and I know they learn both Maori and English lyrics at school. But then, why would they sing with their elders are, by their non-participation, essentially telling them not to raise their voices.
With increased attendance to Anzac services something needs to be done to impress on people that they should raise their voices in song to honour our ancestors and those who have served our country. Whether this is done by distributing song sheets at the service, or having a screen with the lyrics, or perhaps preparatory sessions in schools and at RSA’s so people can learn what will be sung at a service- anything so that people have the confidence to sing at the services.