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Monday, March 7, 2016

A Little Anthem for an Anthem

On Saturday afternoon I went with my shanty choir to a residential home for the elderly in Slochteren, to sing for the inhabitants. The home, 'Olderloug', was well known terrain - we had sung there before, for an audience of (very) old people, some care staff, quite some volunteers, and maybe some inhabitants from the neighborhood.

The days are long gone that in the Netherlands you could enter a residential home for the elderly at retirement age and live there for a couple of decades. Nowadays, one has to be really fragile in order to enter a residential home. If you are only a bit fragile, or rather fragile but not enough to convince the authorities that you need care in a residential home, the powers that be claim that 'family', 'friends', and 'the community' ought to take care of older people, rather than 'the government' (forgetting that 'the government' is nothing else than 'the community' but then institutionalized through tax-paying mechanisms).

I am not going to enter into discussions about today's claims that our society should be 'inclusive' and directed towards 'participation', although, to speak with Dylan, "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" - just looking around you is enough to separate the high-strung idealistic and political correct language from the sometimes grey reality unfolding. I am just noticing here that one of the consequences of all this newspeak is that more and more residential homes have to close down because of a lack of inhabitants (basically: because of a lack of money, or rather: because of a lack of willingness to keep investing - the system simply becomes too expensive to be sustained by this poor country I live in).

And so the concert we were giving in Olderloug would be the last concert ever there, because next week Olderloug would be closed down and the remaining inhabitants would be moved to various homes elsewhere in the province - to be, after a while, probably moved to yet another home somewhere else in the province because more homes will be closed down. Et cetera.
We sang the usual two sets we sing in homes like this. Quite some German, Dutch and regional dialect repertoire. Repertoire which sometimes sparks in those inhabitants clearly living with dementia recognition of melodies they once knew so well. Other inhabitants sing along; yet other inhabitants passively sit through the concert. If you can observe the audience the whole concert, as I could, the overwhelming impression is that those present enjoy themselves, and that care staff and volunteers do their utmost to make sure people enjoy themselves. As does the choir.

All those present, coming from all different directions and backgrounds, all with different intentions and different reasons to be there, finding each other in a gigantic attempt to make the occasion as meaningful as possible for everyone present. The social situation as a concerted, yet completely improvised human endeavour which always leaves a deep impression on me.

As usual, we finished the concert with singing the Anthem of the province of Groningen. As usual, our announcer Piet said the audience could stay seated - no need to stand up, he assured them. As usual, most of those present stood up nevertheless, sometimes helped by volunteers and care staff, and sang the anthem as they had done all their lives.

And while I looked at those sometimes very old people singing about the wonderful province they lived in most of their life, they were raised in, they raised their kids in, they worked in, they breathed in, they loved in and maybe also hated in; and while I heard them singing about the sturdiness of the inhabitants, about the local language representing their hearts' feeling, I couldn't help but feeling the irony of it all.

Here we are, singing our praise of the place we live in and love so much; but we sing it as a farewell song to the home we have to leave behind. Here we are, singing our love for a problem-ridden piece of land: earth quakes cracking the walls of our homes due to the fact that the nation has extracted the natural gas reserves in the 'Slochteren field' (yes, the same Slochteren where we were singing) far too eager, making billions of profit along the way; a huge unemployment problem since many decades; population shrinkage leading to the closing down of schools and shops in smaller villages; complete villages threatened to be surrounded by huge wind energy turbines because the minister has his international obligations and therefore refuses to listen to those people whose homes become worth less and less and whose quality of life is threatened.

Here we are, defying all that and singing that old-fashioned song. I looked at the old woman in front of me, standing because she was supported by one of the volunteers; she may have been ninety, she knew she would have to move, and a more 'fragile' sight cannot be imagined. And she sang, about the wonderland she lived in, the people working and living on quietly in spite of it all, and their will as sturdy as steel.

I never have been a big fan of the anthem genre - the genre is not very meaningful to me. But in Slochteren I realized the complete irrelevance of such a thought. Because, again, the meaning is not in the genre. The meaning is not in the music - the meaning is in the situation, and first and foremost in all those people making up that situation.

Van Lauwerszee tot Dollard tou,
van Drenthe tot aan 't Wad,
doar gruit, doar bluit ain wonderlaand
rondom ain wondre stad.
Ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Grönnen, Stad en Ommelaand;
ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Stad en Ommelaand!

Doar broest de zee, doar hoelt de wind,
doar soest 't aan diek en wad,
moar rustig waarkt en wuilt het volk,
het volk van Loug en Stad.
Ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Grönnen, Stad en Ommelaand;
ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Stad en Ommelaand!

Doar woont de dege degelkhaaid,
de wille, vast as stoal,
doar vuilt het haart, wat tonge sprekt,
in richt- en slichte toal.
Ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Grönnen, Stad en Ommelaand;
ain Pronkjewail in golden raand
is Stad en Ommelaand!

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