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Switzerland To Announce Winner Of National Anthem Contest

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is the national anthem of Switzerland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SWISS PSALM”)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #1: (Singing in foreign language).

SIEGEL: It's called the "Swiss Psalm," and it sounds like a perfectly serviceable anthem.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

But the Swiss want an upgrade. Alex Marshall has a new book called "Republic Or Death: Travels In Search Of National Anthems." He explains the problem.

ALEX MARSHALL: The current lyrics to the "Swiss Psalm" just sound horribly outdated. They come across as a biblical weather forecast full of lines about how when the sun hits the Alps, you're meant to pray. And if you're a sort of secular 30-something, this doesn't inspire you. It doesn't get you going.

SIEGEL: So the Swiss Society for Public Good is holding a contest for a new, more modern anthem. Sometimes a national anthem glorifies a country's great military moment.

CORNISH: But Switzerland is famously neutral, so lyrics about battlefield victories would seem to be off the table. The Society for Public Good looked for inspiration elsewhere.

MARSHALL: They sought entries that talks about the things in its constitution, so issues like sustainable developments and the country's strength in diversity and - to you and I, that probably sounds like an awful thing to put in a song. I mean, who's going to want to stand, you know, at a soccer game or at a rugby or tennis match and stand there of pride talking about the virtues of sustainable development?

CORNISH: After three years with entries coming from around the world, the Swiss public is voting, choosing among three finalists. Two use the same melody as the old Swiss song with, yes, lyrics about sustainable development and diversity.

SIEGEL: Then there's the third entry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #2: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: There's nothing about sustainable development in the lyrics, but Alex Marshall still finds the tune a little creepy.

MARSHALL: To me, it sounds almost like the music to a sort of Grimm's fairytale. If I was a child, I'd be frightened learning this in school.

SIEGEL: Well, creepy or not, the winner will be announced tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.