Thursday, 20 May 2010

Island Home

Island Home by Gerard Le Feuvre

Ours is an Island home
Firm on rock and strong by sea
Loyal and proud in history
Our thankful hearts are raised to God for Jersey

The beauty of our land
Long inspired both eye and mind
Ours the privilege to guard its shore
So help we God that Jersey might through grace endure

This is the "National Anthem", and there has been a concerted campaign to get school children to sing it in schools. Why? The main reason is probably that while it was selected as the nominated anthem at a competition in 2008, it was done so by a panel of judges, and is not the public's own choice.

When you hear children singing it, their voices are nice, but the tune sounds like a pastiche of the worst Victorian hymnody (of the sort beloved by school assemblies in the 1960s and 1970s), with a touch of Handel in the gap between verses. And it just doesn't have much spark or liveliness to it.

It is a slow moving ponderous song, and even the words have ugly phrases - "So help we God that Jersey might through grace endure" sounds as if the words were twisted round to help the rhyming; we are into the same kind of territory "there is a green hills without a city wall", where archaisms help to patch up a bad rhyme..

For Jersey, I'd expect something with a French feel to it but this sounds English and stodgy. The Bergerac theme tune has more French riffs to it, and feels as if it comes from an Island where the French influence is still apparent, as in place names.

It is interesting that the Isle of Man anthem "Arrane Ashoonagh Dy Vannin" was given official status in 2001 as the Manx national anthem by the Manx parliament, although it dates back originally to 1770 when it was composed by William Henry Gill. But Gill drew upon the native Island culture, and composed it basing it on a traditional Manx melody called Mylecharaine. By contrast, Island Chrome has no apparent historical links at all to Island melodies. The Isle of Man anthem was not the result of a competition; it won its status by usage.

Yet the composer has been noted as saying "his musical inspiration was rooted in Jerrais poetry and traditional folk music". I defy anyone to find a trace of traditional folk music in Island Home.

Ma Normandie, by Frédéric Bérat, 1836, had often been taken as an "unofficial anthem", and it is easy to see why. While it refers to Normandy, rather than France, it has a folk-like French lilt to it, and feels much of a Jersey song than Island Home.

When far from us the Winter flies,
And the world is born to hope anew,
Under France's lovely skies,
When the sun returns in sweeter hue,
When Nature 'round us greener be,
When swallows homeward wing their way,
I love to see my Normandy,

Quand tout renaît à l'espérance,
Et que l'hiver fuit loin de nous,
Sous le beau ciel de notre France,
Quand le soleil revient plus doux,
Quand la nature est reverdie,
Quand l'hirondelle est de retour,
J'aime à revoir ma Normandie !
C'est le pays qui m'a donné le jour.
The land that gave to me the light of day.

The other song which is sung by Sadie Renard at Liberation Day is "Beautiful Jersey". This is not only a song about Jersey, but also while in translation, is also in Jerrais, the language native to Jersey which came from the old Norman French.

There's a spot that I love that I ne'er can forget,
Tho' far I may roam 'twill be dear.
For its beauty will linger in memory yet,
Where'er o'er the world I may steer.
Dear Jersey, fair Isle, of the ocean the queen,
Thy charms are so many and rare;
For love finds a home 'mid each beauteous scene,
My heart ever longs to be there.

Beautiful Jersey, gem of the sea,
Ever my heart turns in longing to thee;
Bright are the mem'ries you waken for me,
Beautiful Jersey, gem of the sea.

On thy shores I have wandered in glad days of yore,
With one who is dear to my heart.
And the love-links will bind us as one evermore,
Although for a while we must part.
And oft in my dreams do I see the dear place
The dear little Isle of the sea,
And in fancy I gaze on a sweet loving face,
The face that is dearest to me.

Beautiful Jersey, gem of the sea,
Ever my heart turns in longing to thee;
Bright are the mem'ries you waken for me,
Beautiful Jersey, gem of the sea.

Man Bieau P'tit Jerri
Y'a un coin d'terre que j'aime, que j'n'oubliéthai janmais -
Dans mes pensées tréjous preunmyi -
Car jé n'vai rein à compather à ses bieautés
Dans touos mes viages à l'êtrangi.
Jèrri, man paradis, pus belle taque souos l'solé -
Qué j'aime la paix dé chu Jèrri!
L'amour lé veurt, j'ai si envie dé m'en r'aller
Èrvaie man chièr pétit pays,

Both "Beautiful Jersey" and "Ma Normandie" have two things in common.

The first is that they are aesthetic rather than religious songs; they celebrate the beauty of place. This is true of many national anthems, with a few exceptions such as England and America. The Ukrainian, Australian, Spanish and Irish national anthems do not mention God, or indeed anything specifically religious, which one might expect in Spain or Ireland as bastions of Catholicism; but instead, they celebrate a sense of place, of beauty, and leave hymnody to do God.

This is also true of the Guernsey and Isle of Man anthems; indeed the Guernsey anthem, which is also sung in Guernesiais , is very similar in feel to Beautiful Jersey.

Sarnia; dear Homeland, Gem of the sea.
Island of beauty, my heart longs for thee.
Thy voice calls me ever, in waking, or sleep,
Till my soul cries with anguish, my eyes ache to weep.
In fancy I see thee, again as of yore,
Thy verdure clad hills and thy wave beaten shore.
Thy rock sheltered bays, ah; of all thou art best,
I'm returning to greet thee, dear island of rest.

This brings is to the second thing that these anthems have in common, which is that what I call the theme of "exile in place", the idea that wherever one goes, far from home, the memory of home calls the Islander to return. Or again, it can be seen in terms of not losing sight of what is close to home, a theme of "lest we forget". This is also true of many other national anthems.

Island Home has "Our thankful hearts are raised to God for Jersey" which conjures up not so much a sense of any deep feeling, but is more like a toast with people chinking glasses.

There is a video on You Tube of a group of ordinary French people from Normany in Rome singing "Ma Normandie"; I can imagine people singing "Beautiful Jersey" when away from home. But why on earth would anyone want to sing "Island Home" is beyond me! It is the "call of the heart" that is so missing from "Island Home"; it has no emotional pull to it, which is probably why "Beautiful Jersey" is still so much a part of Jersey, and may it remain so.



Anonymous said...

I think the idea isn't simply so a tune can be played at the podium if a Jersey person wins a sports competition. I think they (former Bailiff etc) have the full intention of making Jersey independent. Look at the introduction of that feasibility report they commissioned. I don't like their agenda and this national anthem is just part of drip feeding that agenda.

none of your business said...

I couldn't agree more, the 'official' Jersey anthem could have been penned by the previous Bailiff Phil Bailhache with his mate the Dean of Jersey. It is political, sterile, stilted and lacking in emotion.

I'm not from Jersey, so perhaps have no right to comment, but for me what I love about this island is its beauty, the quality of its light, its otherness, and wherever one is from the memories it would or does evoke.

So for me it has to be Beautiful Jersey - says it all really