When 300 school children in Arlington's All-County Elementary Orchestra begin playing "The Emperor's Hymn" at a county music festival this week, the auditorium will fill, some say, with one of music's most beautiful classics. Others view the piece--once called "Deutschland Uber Alles"--as an unfortunate musical memento of Nazi Germany.
A group of about a dozen Arlington parents, calling the music objectionable, has asked the county School Board to ban its playing at the elementary school orchestra festival scheduled for Wednesday night at Wakefield High School. "There are parents who are offended at this," said Joan Mulholland, mother of five children in county schools. "I know that it was written many years ago, but it is a sensitive situation in this day and time. . . . In view of the current Holocaust commemoration, it's just a very poor choice."
"The Emperor's Hymn" is one of 10 selections on a program featuring music from around the world. Titled "Deutschland Uber Alles," it was the national anthem of Germany under Adolf Hitler.
Today, the music, composed by Franz Josef Haydn and retitled "Deutschland Lied," is the national anthem of West Germany. The lyrics are different from those sung by Hitler's Nazis.
Arlington school officials, concerned about censorship, have taken no steps to prevent its performance.
"Whether we support or dislike what the Nazis stood for doesn't take away from the piece of music our children are going to be playing," School Board Vice Chairman Simone (Sim) Pace told parents at a meeting last week.
School Superintendent Charles E. Nunley, who said he has received only a few calls from parents concerned about the program, is not expected to rule on the matter. "I would not support performances that are deliberately offensive to any group, and yet by the same token we have to struggle with the censorship issue," he said.
Larry V. Bohnert, the school system's fine arts director, said the song was included on the program because of its beautiful melody. He said it has been played in school concerts before.
Some of the concerned parents said they have not yet decided what, if any, further action they will take. They said they do not want to disrupt the performance of young children who don't know the song's history. "I don't know if my son should put down his violin in protest or not. I haven't gotten that far," said Eileen Melia, a parent.
School Board Chairman Evelyn Reid Syphax said she felt the board should consider the matter further. Syphax, who is black, said, "I certainly would feel badly if they got up and sang 'Ole Black Joe.' "