Monday, March 20, 2006

Romancing The Star-Spangled Banner

Do you know all the words to the National Anthem? Not only do most Americans have difficulty singing the "Star Spangled Banner," it seems as though more than half of us do not know the words. The National Association for Music Education wants to see that Americans recover this lost knowledge:
Consider little Dean Nunley, 3 years old and warbling in a breathy, singsong voice at a "Star-Spangled Banner" singing contest at the Phoenix Zoo on Thursday: "Ooooh, say kin yooseeeeee?"

His treatment was touchingly intelligible before running into trouble at the ramparts and the perilous fight. He came back strong at the end, a feat of memorization and tune over comprehension. Dean, who had learned the song at hockey games, smiled at the applause and waddled off with his mother.

The problem, it has been suggested, is that little Dean is about as good as it gets in this country. The National Anthem Project, undertaken by a group of the nation's music teachers, says most Americans have largely forgotten the words to the national anthem and the story behind the song.

A Harris poll of 2,200 men and women conducted for the group found that 61 percent did not know all the words. For example, when asked what follows "whose broad stripes and bright stars," more people than not tended to mistakenly place phrases like "were so gallantly streaming" (34 percent) or "gave proof through the night" (19 percent).

The National Anthem Project is touring the country with a singular mission: to re-teach a nation its anthem. The effort is much like the way the song first spread, state by state, though this time it has corporate sponsors, led by DaimlerChrysler's Jeep division. The tour began in January in Florida, and Thursday's visit to the Phoenix Zoo was its 17th stop.

"Of all the millions and millions of songs that Americans are exposed to, the national anthem is our national anthem, the one piece that people should know how to sing," said David E. Circle, president of the National Association for Music Education, the teachers group that came up with the idea.

And Cliff Siler, the tour manager, said: "This song is the spirit of America. We lost a lot of that at some point along the line." As the girls from the choir of Cordova Middle School in Phoenix just learned, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814.

"Something about Fort McHenry," said Bianca Nevarez, a seventh grader. "It was actually a poem, but they made it into a song."
There is more to read in the whole thing. Get a good history lesson of the song along with related lore right here and visit the web site of The National Anthem Project over there.

For a number of years, I've belonged to that school of thought that would like to see the adoption of "America the Beautiful" as a sort of "Co-National Anthem." To me, "America" is a much more prettier song (and MUCH easier to sing) that seems to faithfully capture the nature of the American Experience.

As resistant as most Americans are to change, I really don't think that supporters of the traditional Anthem have much to worry about.
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