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The term national anthem refers to a musical composition which represents a particular country, culture or people. Generally patriotic in nature, a national anthem is usually accompanied by sung words which convey the history and principles of the group it represents.
Most countries have official national anthems, chosen by the government. However, many countries use 'unofficial' anthems, which are chosen by public consensus. Unofficial anthems are commonplace even in countries which also have an official anthem, with various reasons causing the substitution of the two.
National anthems are often used at many different events, either to acknowledge or introduce a country. It is customary during international sporting events for the national anthem of each participating nation to be played before the game begins, some sporting events will also begin with their country's national anthem being played when all players are from the same country (for instance, American baseball games will often start with the playing of the American national anthem).
During certain international sporting contests, such as the Olympic Games, a country's national anthem will be played in recognition of the winner of each event. This is accompanied by the winning country's flag being raised in celebration, with their closest competitor's flags being raised simultaneously, although to a slightly lesser height.
National anthems are also often played at large gatherings, particularly on public holidays. This act is used to create a sense of camaraderie at gatherings, and to display patriotism. Often this can be the cause of great controversy, e.g. the playing of "God Save The Queen' on Republic of Ireland soil at sporting occasions . During the 2008 Olympics the US national anthem was cut at the end during Michael Phelps' medal award ceremony, afterwards instrumental versions of every country's national anthem were used.
Unofficial national anthems
Many countries use unofficial anthems during gatherings or sporting events for a variety of reasons.
England does not have an official anthem; the anthem of the United Kingdom, "God Save the Queen" is played. In sporting events where both countries would generally use the same anthem (for instance, a game played between England and Northern Ireland, which both use the UK anthem), teams may opt to use unofficial anthems in place of their 'regular' anthem. It is not uncommon for English sporting teams to use the songs "Land of Hope and Glory" or '"Jerusalem" in lieu of "God Save the Queen."
Some countries use popular folk songs in place of their official national anthem. For instance, supporters of Australian sports teams will often sing the folk song "Waltzing Matilda" during matches instead of the Australian national anthem "Advance Australia Fair'.
"The Internationale" is a sort of national anthem for communists.
Most national anthems are accompanied by lyrics, used to express patriotism or to convey the history and principles of the group being represented. Some national anthems do not have official lyrics, such as 'Marcha Real', the national anthem of Spain.
Lyrics are only essential for the first verse in a national anthem, as it is usually the only one that is sung. On those rare occasions when the second verse is sung the singer, or the recording they are miming to, will sing the second verse. Everyone else will standard around with their hands on their hearts going neh nah nah nar, looking sheepish, until they get to a bit of a line they know in which case they will sing it as loudly as possible.
- La Marseillaise: The greatest national anthem in the world, ever. BBC.
- The U.K. national anthem as you have never heard it before. BBC.
- Nine national anthems on piano.