Opinion: Old Year’s Night Celebrations and Auld Lang Syne music – By Dave Martins

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Like most people in their growing up years, I discovered early the influence music can have in our lives, ranging from birthday parties to wedding receptions to special days in the year, and in celebrations big and small in venues ranging from simple to elaborate. Also in my 50-plus years as a musician, I have seen that influence being played out in a range of occasions in a range of countries, with joy and exhilaration so frequently the result.

Along the way, however, I must confess that the singular exception to that euphoria for me has been the Auld Lang Syne music that is a fixture in New Year’s Eve celebrations in most countries. From the first time I heard it as a young man in West Dem, that particular piece of music struck me as an odd choice because there is a definite message of sadness, I would even say regret, conveyed by the music; it makes us tearful.           
Yes, it is an appealing melody, but the onward lift one would expect in a “Happy New Year” message is not boldly there in the signature song. Perhaps this owes to the fact that I know nothing of the history of that piece of music, with its “looking back” message, but I have always found it strange that such a wistful song should have become standard fare in forward-looking year-end celebrations.  The impact of the piece on crowds in celebration leaves me to concede that the New Year’s Eve crowds were reacting to something unknown to me:  the frenzied Old Year’s Night celebrations, roaring along until a few minutes before midnight, would be cut off immediately as the hour struck, to be replaced by everyone standing still for a few minutes to the strains of Auld Lang Syne, which would then be immediately replaced by the frenzied celebrations and the balloons, confetti, etc.

I readily confess to always being taken aback by this reaction on December 31, in many different countries, with different populations, but with me not fully understanding what was playing out.  We don’t see it at a christening, where a new life is being celebrated, or at a wedding, where an exciting union has been joined, or at a funeral, where heads are bowed for the passing of a singular soul.

Surely those would qualify as most fitting for such treatment, but for some reason it is only at December’s end when this music is heard; it is a fixture at no other time.

I can further attest that several other musicians have expressed the same bewilderment at this one song, on just this one occasion, suddenly creating this total shift in mood in the crowd for those three or four minutes, only to resume just as suddenly with the previous frenzy and celebration. Musicians are involved in delivering it but the exercise itself is peculiar, going from cheese to chalk, momentarily, and then back to cheese again.  I can hear the comments regarding “remembering the past” etc., but it has always struck me as odd that only on New Year’s Eve is that remembrance eulogized in this way.

I can also hear the suggestion by some that I should take the time to explore the history of Auld Lang Syne as we have come to know it, and I suspect that my raising the subject here may indeed help to provide the answer. I end by stressing that no other day in the year has this joint display of almost total abandon, halted by a brief moment of solemnity, with heads bowed and hands over hearts, and then immediately back to even more frenzied flat out abandon.  As someone on the stage, repeatedly standing there and seeing the twin exercise, I have seen it without ever fully unravelling it.

I appreciate the remembrance as well as the celebration functions taking place, but why only then?

Perhaps the answer is that Old Year’s Night is actually not so much in remembering the past, but in the high expectation of the coming year with developments to benefit all.  Indeed, one suspects that in this year of COVID, the country, and indeed the world, is awash with mankind looking forward anxiously to better days, probably making the revelry this year after Auld Lang Syne more frenzied than ever.  I won’t be on a bandstand here this year to see it, but it will surely be so as we turn our gaze to 2021 and onward. Happy New Year, folks. Live in a manner to keep you and yours safe.


MUSIC VIDEO: Auld Lang Syne with Sing Along Lyrics | Happy New Year Song


Auld Lang Syne with Sing Along Lyrics | Happy New Year Song

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  • puigpantxin  On 01/15/2021 at 7:16 am

    The Wikipedia link, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auld_Lang_Syne, suggests why this song is sung on Old Year night: a remembrance of love & friendship. There is too, for many I would guess, a feeling that, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. In the UK, everyone links arms when the song is sung, swaying to the left and right in unison. I’ve never heard it sung at a funeral (where it might be appropriate), nor at a wedding (perhaps grounds for immediate divorce proceedings!).

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