A clutch of Robert Burns songs is in the running for the first ever European Union Songbook, a collection of tunes that has been billed as an “unparalleled democratic project” designed to showcase “national sentiments with an underlying European identity.”
The timing of the project, aimed at promoting unity across the continent, could have been better, given Britain’s contentious decision to vote to leave the EU in last month’s referendum.
But those Scots looking to leave a lasting mark on the EU’s cultural footprint have until Thursday to cast their vote for some of the Bard’s most enduring numbers.
In what represents an altogether more sober and considered alternative to the Eurovision Song Contest, people are being asked to choose six songs that best embody British life in a range of six categories: love, nature and the seasons, freedom and peace, folk songs, faith, and children’s songs.
In the love category, Burns’s A Red, Red Rose is one of seven shortlisted songs. The list also includes Wild Mountain Thyme. Although this is credited to Belfast musician, Francis McPeake, it is largely based on The Braes of Balquhither by Scottish poet, Robert Tannahill.
Burns also features in the shortlist for a folk or traditional song fit to represent Britain, with Auld Lang Syne up against Greensleeves, The Ash Grove, Scarborough Fair and Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London.
Jeppe Marsling, a Danish journalist who founded the songbook initiative, said it is a chance to celebrate the cultural identities of EU member states.
He explained: “If we EU citizens want to take the step from the economic – coal, steel and fish – to the social and cultural, we need to take ownership of the union, since it first of all belongs to us, the citizens.
“Due to the overwhelming Americanisation and the lack of common languages in the EU, we all know painfully little about each other’s cultures. To share national songs seems to be a direct way out of the EU estrangement towards getting to know each other better.”
The shortlisted songs for Britain’s place in the inaugural songbook were chosen by students and teachers from the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire.
Anyone wanting to cast a vote should visit www.eu-songbook.org.