At a children’s concert performed by the Yale Concert Band on Sunday, in front of rows of strollers and restless youngsters, Music Director Thomas C. Duffy chose to begin the performance with a piece he called both “unsettling” and “chilling.”
The piece is called “Model Anthem” and is a hybrid of almost 200 existing national anthems. The anthem includes lines such as, “Forever the battle against fear! Against the future generations, praise be our country wonderful the cause, and in peace you will be this homeland.”
Rachel Mason ART ’04, who came up with the original idea, said her political views helped shape the project.
“This year in particular for me has been so overwrought with concerns about politics,” Mason said. “I don’t think I have ever been so concerned with American politics and the American style of doing things as I have been this year.”
Mason said she began thinking about the hybrid anthem after she put up a map of the world in her studio. She also created a sculpture depicting world leaders singing in a choir.
“I just started wondering what all the different anthems would sound like if they were put together,” she said. “I was interested in what themes were prevalent.”
She made the piece by first translating the anthems into English, and then using computer software to calculate the frequency of certain words. The various words were then arranged according to the probability of each word being next to another. Mason chose the countries, interestingly enough, from the CIA directory.
“The final anthem is based on the most likely words,” said Eric Jensen, the computer scientist who created the software. “The final anthem starts with the word ‘oh,’ because that was the most common word.”
Mason said she understands that the whole idea seems somewhat absurd but that she welcomes this idea in her work and feels it is important.
“That the whole thing would have the look of the absurd; to me that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Anthems themselves create an absurd musical structure to create a feeling of nationalism in a group of people. Anthems are horrific and scary, and nationalism is worth criticizing.”
Although she said she did have political views in mind when she came up with the idea, Mason said she does not want her creation to be seen only for its political symbolism.
“I don’t want to send one single didactic message. Everyone living in a country has been influenced by its propaganda,” she said. “But I haven’t seen very much art that’s political recently. I wanted to see what would happen, especially during this time.”
Lainie Fefferman ’04 wrote the music for the piece and then Thomas C. Duffy, director of bands and deputy dean of the Yale School of Music, arranged it. Seven members of the Yale Glee Club then performed the piece at the concert.
At the concert, the piece opened the performance without introduction, giving the hybrid anthem a kind of legitimacy, Mason said.
“It was a really great idea,” she said. “It infiltrated the whole concert.”
Mason said she has received interest from other colleges to perform the anthem, as well as from a record label interested in recording it.
“It was both humorous and unsettling to see how nationalistic and gender-related the words in the anthems are,” Duffy said. “Incorrect syntax aside, the piece is humorous at best and at worst, chilling.”
Duffy said he enjoyed the project so much that he plans to repeat it next year with school fight songs.