Obama gaffe? Orchestra premature? Her Majesty rude?
It is clear what went wrong at the state banquet in honour of President Obama, but difficult to know precisely who was to blame. Either the President extemporised and inadvertently gave the orchestral conductor his cue to commence; or the conductor mis-heard that cue and began the national anthem prematurely. But the response of Her Majesty is interesting: she stands to semi-attention, politely saying to the President, "That's very kind," before turning from his raised glass to face the front. But this leaves him looking awkward and clearly embarrassed.
The professionalism of the actor is proportional to the extent to which he or she is able to conceal error from an audience. There is a well-known story that when Queen Victoria hosted a dinner for an African chief, when the finger bowls were served, being unfamiliar with the custom, he lifted it to his mouth and drank. After a few embarrassing seconds, Queen Victoria took her finger bowl and did the same, in order guard her distinguished guest from humiliation. Everyone then courtesously followed the Queen, all drinking the contents of their fingerbowls.
There is a clearly a time and place to adhere to tradition and strict protocol, and a time to relax or permit deviation: the difference between the pharisaical and the order instituted by Jesus. His Grace is not entirely sure that Her Majesty got it right here, but he is very keen to listen to the wisdom of his communicants. There is slavery to custom, and there is love; there is legalism, and there is grace; there is mental rigidity, and there is the heart.
If it were President Obama's custom to eat with unwashed hands and he inadvertently failed to honour the traditions of his host to wash, should the host wash in front of him? If the President felt it right to continue his speech over the national anthem and raise his glass, should Her Majesty turn away? One wonders what the President would have done had the Queen made the same mistake in Washington during the US national anthem. But then, of course, she would never.