It has now been confirmed that the ever-youthful goddess J-Lo has pulled out of her performance of the official World Cup song during the event's opening ceremony this Thursday. In a song very much of three halves, hers being the middle section, there could now be an unfortunate hiatus somewhere between Ole and Ola while Pitbull and Claudia Leitte figure out who'll say which.
I had thought the world of sports anthems belonged to Shakira. Her chorus this time is even more memorable than her 2010 World Cup offering. Last time in South Africa we had two syllables to contend with. Poetic refinement in the intervening four years has brought us to a new economy, replacing wa-ka with la-la, and thus giving everyone around the globe a fighting chance of singing along.
Now I'm not averse to a song with, shall we say, accessible lyrics. But I'm from the 90s-New-Order-John-Barnes school of World Cup songs. As a music therapist, I can't argue with John Barnes when he advises,"You've got to hold and give, but do it at the right time / You can be slow or fast but you must get to the line." It's like he's been observing my music therapy sessions. (And whilst we're loitering in the 90s, did anyone else, like me, spend most of the summer of '98 singing mistakenly, "sea lions on a shirt"?)
Like any good chapel kid, I love an anthem. I used to sit captivated during the Olympics marvelling at how similar most countries' national anthems were. How was it, mused my 11-year-old self, that the national anthems of Canada, Singapore, Australia, or Ghana all sounded sort of the same? Truly, I trilled, chords I, IV and V were a universal grammar, and trumpets and violins chorused as a global voice. Of course some years later I put the pieces together. We may wonder how our respective national anthems might have sounded if Pitbull had been our nation's favourite composer in the 19th century instead of Parry. People would now have more fun on podiums, that's for sure.
No stranger to sporting anthems nor indeed to Hubert Parry, mezzo soprano and Nordoff Robbins ambassador Laura Wright is steadily becoming the go-to Bringer of Ceremony. She has sung at Twickers, Wembley, and the Olympic Stadium, and is herself a formidable athlete. Who else would stop mid-marathon to sing Jerusalem as she did recently during the 2014 London Marathon, and still clock up a stellar running time for Nordoff Robbins? I'm generally out of breath by "in ancient time".
Growing up somewhat between the pillars of Wigan and St Helens rugby league, I had an impression early on that sport and music didn't really mix - at least not in the same person. And not unless perhaps you were a euphonium-playing prop-forward. School timetables created subtle choices between the rugby pitch and choir practice; more recently I have marvelled at systems such as the Junior Colleges of Singapore where it is not uncommon to find the rugby captain also sitting as choir president. Makes High School Musical sorta kinda redundant.
As a secret sportie at High School, I would repeat my flute parts inside my head whilst on cross-country; this had its drawbacks (literally) because if it was a slow piece I would have to trudge in time with the somnolent beat in my head. Waltzes also were problematic. As were jigs. However, if school band was working on a stirring march, I would finish easily in the top 10. My one public foray into sports at school was as a member of the volleyball team. Such hyper-social shrieking and slapping seemed alien to me at the time. Then I found myself in London's Soho during my 20s, and it all came flooding back.
The one thing that music and sports have in common is performance. And what I notice among musicians and athletes at the highest levels is that they are so often surprised by their performance. Witness the face of Mo Farah when he won the 5,000 metres in the London Olympics. He looked astonished. The same thing happens after musicians take on challenging works in concert performances, and indeed when people in music therapy are drawn into new ways of being. I think maybe what's so captivating about watching musicians and athletes is that their endeavour lets us witness with them the moment when they discover, anew, who they are. Ole, Ola.