The intention was laudable. A children’s choir on the pitch of the Stade de France singing the anthems of the two nations in unison opening the ball of the World Cup in France. In fact, the interpretation of the Marseillaise, Friday September 8, a few minutes before the start of the World Cup between France and New Zealand (27-13) was rather a hiccup.
Between the children singing in cannon, the stadium wanting to join in the party without being able to follow them and the players struggling to keep up the rhythm, the French anthem was more of a cacophony than a moment of communion. “The most rotten Marseillaise in history”criticized former French tennis player Julien Benneteau on X (ex-Twitter).
And the question was not limited to the anthem composed by Rouget de Lisle. Throughout the first weekend of the World Cup in France, voices were raised against those of the children who sang the anthems of the twenty competing countries (sometimes live, often recorded).
Beyond the arrangements in canon and harmonies, magnificent to listen to but hardly suitable when several tens of thousands of supporters reinforce the choir, the abyss between the warlike tone of the majority of the anthems and the crystalline voices interpreting them was glaring. “For the love of God, give everyone back their national anthems. It kills the pre-match”implored ex-Ireland fullback Rob Kearney onsummarizing the general feeling.
Their voices have been heard. According to the Team and Agence France-Presse (AFP), the organizers of the competition decided, Tuesday, September 12, to give the federations the choice between a new version of the anthems, lighter but still sung by children, or a clic version. “France 2023 is trying to find an intermediate solution but as it stands, the Marseillaise in canon, it was not ideal and it created a cacophony which was not suitableured AFP a source close to rugby authorities. They are trying to find a solution, knowing that there have been anthems where it has gone very well.”
The “scrum of choirs”
Exchanges between World Rugby (the body which manages world rugby), the organizing committee as well as the French Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, made it possible to reach this compromise: the canons end, and the federations choose between a “clic” anthem – which we imagine to be musical – and the rearranged version. “We have to find a balance between anthems sung with the strength of rugby and not despair of the kids who have worked hard on the subject”specifies a source close to rugby authorities to AFP.
Because the “choir melee”, the name of the project involving children’s choirs, is not its first hiccup. Led by Claude Atcher, the former director general of the France 2023 Public Interest Group (GIP) dismissed for serious misconduct a year ago, the project initially planned to have all the anthems of the competition performed (48 matches, therefore) by a choir.
More than 300 children, divided into 26 choirs, rehearsed with this in mind before learning, at the beginning of March, that the enterprise was reduced to its bare minimum: due to logistical impossibilities – particularly in terms of sound system – only the stadiums of Saint-Denis and Marseille kept the choirs, while the other seven venues at the World Cup saw the anthems recorded by the children broadcast in their loudspeakers.
If the initial versions had been validated by each federation concerned, these choirs are now restricted – and subject to a second validation. And from Thursday September 14, the XV of France should find a Marseillaise sung in chorus by its supporters, in the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Villeneuve-d’Ascq (North). However, due to a different organization, there is little chance that they will return to one of the successes of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) in terms of atmosphere: the choice, since the end of the Covid-19 period in 2021, to turn off the sound system along the way, to let the stadium complete the anthem a cappella.
Clement Martel (with AFP)