Some pieces of music you can’t escape knowing, and for children in 1960s Britain, God Save the Queen would qualify, according to research published back then. But a new study in the Psychology of Music suggests times have changed: only six in ten children at a Dorset primary school were able to correctly name the piece. Yet, the British National Anthem still appears capable of rousing positive, nationalistic associations within the young. When The University of Surrey researchers Naomi Winstone and Kirsty Witherspoon asked 62 Sussex schoolchildren, aged eight to ten, to listen to the British National Anthem, and two pieces with similar musical properties, the children said they felt more positive emotions listening to the anthem compared with the other pieces, and nearly half described a specifically national basis for their reaction, such as feeling honoured or loyal to the country.
Winstone and Witherspoon noted that various sectors of society – politicians, teachers and in some cases students themselves – have called for schools to take a role in guiding a more “balanced perspective on British patriotism.” This study shows how symbolic content can elicit nationality-linked emotions in young children, emotions that will inevitably play some role in the more explicit national identity that is known to develop from around age 11. The researchers said that “gaining a deeper understanding of how children respond to nationally salient music might provide insight into how music education can best foster positive identity with an increasingly diverse Britain.”
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