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Stories from the Scotsman
Time for a new song

The widow of the co-writer of Highland Cathedral says she would be delighted if her late husbandís tune was adopted as a Scottish national song.

Maria Roever, who lives in the Friedenau district of Berlin, insists: "I know that he would be immensely proud that such a song had been taken to heart by the Scots."

The Scottish Rugby Union is planning to try out Highland Cathedral alongside Flower of Scotland at the Scotland-France game in March. But at issue is the choice of words. Highland Cathedral has soared to world-wide popularity since it was written by two German composers, Michael Korb and the late Uri Roever, in 1982, in the style of a traditional pipe tune.

It has also had a particular appeal in Scotland for those who feel that while Flower of Scotland is a rousing folk classic its words are anti-English and its tune, at worst, a dirge.

Last month the Edinburgh poet and playwright, Donald Smith, produced a new set of words for Highland Cathedral and challenged others to do the same.

But it is now clear that over the years many other people have reached for words for Highland Cathedral - including as a possible song for Scotland.

The Scottish Rugby Union has stressed it is not trying to replace Flower of Scotland, the Corries folk tune that emerged spontaneously as a surrogate national anthem. But it is seeking to test the waters on a tune that could be sung beside it.

Ben Kelly, an Inverness tenor and composer, has been trying to promote his version of Highland Cathedral for some years, since copyrighting the words back in 1990 - after an eight-year effort to track down the composers and distributors.

His words have already been sung at the Edinburgh Tattoo, and internationally, and he believes it should be his version that gets sung at the Scotland-France game. "I hope they do it, because itís a tremendous tune. But Iíd like them to sing my words," he says.

After early performances by Scottish pipe bands in Berlin, Highland Cathedral has become one of the best-known bagpipe tunes in the world, especially after being featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It was chosen by pop diva Madonna to be played at her Highland wedding.

Co-composer Michael Korb says he was initially surprised that the tune he and Roever composed should spark such worldwide interest. But such has been the pressure for information, he has put the story of how it was written on a web site.

Korb was always drawn by the sound of the bagpipes, and in 1975, fresh out of school, he took lessons with the pipe major of a Scottish regiment in Berlin. Later, he went to Edinburgh, where he took lessons with piping master Paddy Atkinson, aged 80 at the time.

"He was leading an evening school in the West End," Korb recalls. "When I came back to Germany, I met Uli Roever and I tried to make experiments with the bagpipes. We wrote a lot of tunes but Highland Cathedral was a fantastically successful tune.

"We were surprised every year about the things that happened with Highland Cathedral. A lot of people think that it is a Scottish tune - we had to create a web site to let people see that it was not. And a lot of people think that it is traditional, but itís actually quite new."

Of the title, Korb says: "I love Scotland. We were looking for a title of the tune, and I thought Highland Cathedral, because Scotland is very beautiful, and itís like the majestic landscape and so on."

It is not just Scots who have been inspired to come up with words for the tune. Korb points out that a German writer, Werner Bonfig, has also written words - titled "Stand Up Again". The city of Cologne, he says, has been interested in using it for its own anthem.

Roeverís widow has every sympathy with those Scots who would like to adopt Highland Cathedral for their own. "I can understand that itís not particularly comfortable for proud Scottish people only to have a national anthem that praises the Queen far away in London," she says. "We would certainly give our blessing to this becoming the national song of Scotland because it has touched so many people in so many ways.

"I think that is the great legacy of my husband - his music was capable of moving people."

Highland Cathedral was first recorded by

the Royal Highland Fusiliers, when they were stationed in Berlin in the early 1980s. Ben Kelly first heard it at the Berlin Tattoo in 1982, and soon sought out the composerís agents.

"I was trying to get words that werenít anti-English because thereís too much of that," he says. "I was trying to get words that were more in the future because thereís too much anchoring on the events of the past."

"The original purpose for writing the song wasnít for the rugby. I was trying to write a Scottish national anthem, to have it sung at the Commonwealth Games, anywhere that Scots actually achieved something, anywhere that someone from Scotland has won something or is standing on a rostrum."

"At the last Commonwealth Games they ended up with Scotland the Brave, which was awful. They couldnít sing Flower of Scotland because itís anti-English, they couldnít do that."

Kelly, who started his career at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, has sung tenor with Scottish Showtime in Inverness for about twenty years. He recently published a book of his own original compositions, titled New Scottish Songs.

"Land of our fathers," begins Kellyís version of Cathedral, "we will always be/Faithful and loyal to our own country./In times of danger, we will set you free, Lead you to glory and victory."

He suggests it is sung with the chorus, possibly with the last verse, which reads: "Rise, Caledonia, let your voices ring/ In this Highland Cathedral of our God and King./ Whom joy and liberty to all will bring./Come; let your heart, with love and courage, sing."

Kelly believes his lyrics are clearly different from the historical call to arms enshrined in the Flower of Scotland, but he points to the example of God Save the Queen.

"People are quite happy to sing that, but it doesnít mean a diddly to anyone. Itís just getting a new way of thinking."

Highland Cathedral
Words by Ben Kelly

Land of our fathers, we will always be
Faithful and loyal to our own country.
In times of danger, we will set you free,
Lead you to glory and to victory.
Hail, Caledonia, to our ancient prayer.
In this Highland Cathedral, let our standards bear.
Joining, together, with one dream to share.
God bless the people of this land so fair.


Gone is the past, let us start anew.
Let this hope of peace, always remain.
Spirit of Scotia, be strong and true.
Then your children will smile again, again, again, again.
Rise, Caledonia, let your voices ring
In this Highland Cathedral of our God and King.
Whom joy and liberty to all will bring.
Come; let your heart with love and courage sing.


Lonely the exile, o'er distant seas,
The home of their birth, gone from their eyes.
Bring back their souls o'er the ocean breeze
To the land where their fathers lie.
Repeat last verse

The Scotsman

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