When I hear the Prelude to “Te Deum” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, which has become known as the “Eurovision Anthem”, I know it’s time again.
Time again for countries of the European Broadcasting Union to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest, or, as we just used to call it when I was little, “Grand Prix” (it was much easier than the French “Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson” where it was derived from).
For me it started as an annual family tradition. One Saturday evening in May you could find our family in the living room in front of the telly, me lying on the carpet, freshly bathed, wrapped in a bath robe and listening to songs in all kinds of languages. The commentator would give a short introduction about each participating country, the composer/songwriter, what the song was about (competitors were required to sing in their own national language) and who the singer was. Then the conductor of the live orchestra (!!!) would enter the stage which was an integral part of the contest, and when everyone was ready, the singer(s) would come on stage. The performers usually kept their outfits on, and so did the dancers if there were any.
After all the entries had been heard there was, and still is, an interval act while the votes are counted. We would use the opportunity to discuss our favourite songs and make our predictions about who’s going to win. After the interlude each country’s votes came in over a crackly radio connection and part of the fun was whether contact would be lost or not. The spokesperson would build a variation of “thank you so much for a wonderful evening…” into their part, maybe even throw in some words in the native language of the hosting country and then bore viewers out of their mind with every single vote they were awarding. The scores were updated on the scoreboard which was in the earlier years of the competition still physical human-operated. At the conclusion of the voting the winning song was reprised and the Grand Prix was given to the composer and songwriter.
A lot of things have changed since those days and then – a lot of things haven’t.
Watching the ESC is still an annual tradition though I don’t watch it with my parents anymore but with friends. We will decorate the room with flags etc of the hosting country and eat some of their national dishes or have some typical drinks (we were struggling a bit with Azerbaijan).And if we can’t come together, we will watch it simultaneously at our different locations and compare our views and thoughts via Skype or on the phone. I’ll always call my mum during the interval to exchange opinions.
As my watching behaviour has changed over the years so has the contest itself. One thing I miss most is the live orchestra. Since 1998 the orchestra is optional but has never been utilised, for mostly economic reasons I suppose. These days performers outfits are more colourful, elaborate and/or shorter and don’t necessarily stay the same for the whole performance. Taking off bits and pieces and transforming it into something new in a choreographed way is quite common. As are visual effects like light shows, pyrotechnic and laser shows.
The variety of languages has gone down, as the rule about language restriction has changed (several times since the competition started actually). Since 1999 competitors are free to choose the language they want to perform in. Which has even lead to entries being sung in constructed or artificial languages or even an African language (apart from Arabic).
Long gone are the crackly radio connections which have been replaced by instant video links. And with numbers of participating countries rising to more than forty and viewers losing their will because of the time the voting would take up, the spokesperson only announces the top three votes now with the other scores appearing on the CGI wonder that has become the scoreboard.
And finally, after hours of entertainment, the winner is announced, the singer gets the spotlight performing the winning song again and we will know what country will be hosting this event next year. And I will start planning my food and decoration…