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Spain seeks words for lyric-less anthem

  • Story Highlights
  • Competition seeks lyrics for word-less Spanish national anthem
  • Spanish Olympic bosses want something sports fans can sing at events
  • Panel to decide winning lyrics before the end of the year
  • Spanish parliament will have final say on whether lyrics are adopted
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By CNN's Melissa Gray
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(CNN) -- Spaniards rarely seem at a loss for words -- except when it comes to their national anthem. Though more than two centuries old, it has never had any lyrics.

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Spanish Olympic officials want an anthem that fans can sing at sporting events.

But that could soon change. A three-month public competition to find lyrics for the anthem closes Friday, and a decision on the winning words could come by the end of the year.

The idea for the competition came from the Spanish Olympic Committee, which wanted athletes and fans to have words to sing when the anthem is played at sports events.

"I get a very strange feeling when we have to sing 'la, la, la,'" said Alejandro Blanco, president of the committee.

Thousands of entries have been received since the competition opened in July, and a six-member panel representing music, history, literature, politics, and sports meets next week to start deciding the winning lyrics.

"I think it's going to be a big job for the six of us," said Theresa Zabell, a panel member and former Olympian.

The origins of the anthem are disputed, according to Michael Jamieson Bristow, a composer and music historian.

Some claim it was composed by a German and given as a gift to King Carlos III in 1770, while others believe the tune was originally French and reset for military orchestras in the late 1700s.

Bristow says the music is "rather slow" and "makes a solemn rather than a fiery impression."

Gen. Francisco Franco declared it the official anthem in 1942. Various writers have written verses for it over the years, but none has ever been declared official.

Zabell said the panel has until Dec. 19 to choose a winner, at which point it will hand the winning lyrics to the Spanish parliament for a final vote.

The number of entries isn't the only thing complicating the panel's task. In a country with a diverse culture and fierce regional pride, choosing words to represent everyone could be impossible.

"We have to take care and not make it overtly political," said Carlos Vaso, a musician and composer. "It should reflect Spanish patriotic values and should include everyone, leaving aside political ideologies."

Language itself is also an issue, because Spanish is not the dominant language everywhere in Spain. Catalan is spoken in Barcelona, Euskara is spoken in the Basque region, and Galego is spoken in Galicia, in the northwest.

Zabell, who won gold in the sailing events at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta, said she's not too worried about trying to please everyone.

"I think we have to find some words that the people that feel proud of being Spanish, and feel proud of the Spanish flag, would want to sing," she said. "If there are people that don't fall in that category, then nobody is going to oblige them."

Zabell said she's approaching the task from an athlete's perspective and will be looking for lyrics with a "victorious" feel.

"Obviously it's a very important moment when you win a sporting event -- you really feel quite happy and over the top," she said. "We've got to sort of go in that direction." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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