I was reminded that today, September 14, 2014, is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, and the writing by Francis Scott Key of what has become our national anthem: The Star Spangled Banner. In light of that, I decided to rerun an essay I wrote in 2012. Our national anthem has become a pet topic for me. The song is rousing, yet for many hard to sing. Once man did get it right, and I wrote about that too. I do wish that ‘the powers that be’ at any event where it is sung would encourage everyone to sing it. We need everyone’s participation these days.
The Star Spangled Banner was made our national anthem just over eighty years ago in March 1931. 1931 was the year the Empire State Building was completed and the year my husband was born. Two out of three of those have weathered well – one, the anthem, has not.
I’ve always found it hard to sing. It starts out in a fairly comfortable range, but then “the rockets’ red glare” takes the range sky high. Years ago everyone sang it at the start of sporting events. Today some rock group or rap singer or some sponsor’s wife does the rendition. Many flub the lines. The younger generation’s singers just have to jazz it up and add notes that were never in the score. The singing wives, who really are fine in the church choir, should never be encouraged to get up and sing alone. This is our national anthem, for pity’s sake, let’s not abuse it.
|A notoriously bad version - Oh, yeah!|
Whenever the subject comes up it’s for sure folks will agree that our anthem is hard to sing, and most will suggest we’d be better off with a rousing rendition of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. Don’t hold your breath kiddies! Though it has become popular to play it at many sporting events, especially in the National Hockey League, (after all, there is no law that says a national anthem has to be played) the politically correct in this country wouldn’t have an anthem that contained the word “God”.* I don’t know how these same folks handle their greenbacks though, what with “In God We Trust” on all our currency. Perhaps they rely totally on electronic banking.
This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie’s great song, might come under consideration, especially if we stuck to just the first two verses. “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island” – it covers the whole nation. But in the original version, after the first few verses it begins to sound like the protest song it is. Guthrie wrote it in 1940 as a rebuttal to Berlin’s God Bless America, which he thought unrealistic. God Bless America does get my vote though. Anthem lyrics aren’t necessarily realistic, but they should be patriotic, extolling us as we can be our very ‘finest hour’. Realistic lyrics would have to be changed on a regular basis according to the state of the union, and would read like the front page of a major national newspaper.
There’s a lot to be said for America the Beautiful – but God is in the lyrics there too, wouldn’tcha know. And it’s a song that’s usually played slowly and with a bit more, shall we say, reverence than our current anthem, making it a poor choice at sporting event s. Yes, “God” is in the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner: “and this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’” Rarely do we sing on down to that fourth stanza to note it. At the time our anthem was chosen the movement toward political correctness was not even on the horizon. I wish Congress had stuck with Hail, Columbia. Maybe they can bring that one back.
*They’re after the Pledge of Allegiance too. Read this recent article from the UPI.