by Don Vitale
Getting rid of The Star-Spangled Banner may sound like treason instead of reason.
But hear me out first, friends, before you have a Stage10 Panic Attack! Francis Scott Key may have been an amateur poet…but he
wrote a poem that stirred our spirits based on what he saw during the
Battle of Baltimore on the night of September 13, 1814.
The scene: British ships bombarding Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay.
Key witnessed the “rockets red glare” and the “bombs bursting in air”
as British frigates aimed their gunpowder at American forces
defending the Fort. The attack lasted 25 hours but when the smoke cleared,
Key saw the American flag atop the Fort’s ramparts signaling that the
Americans had won the battle.
To make a short story even shorter….
Key wrote his poem based on what he saw, it was set to music
and eventually became America’s National Anthem.
But hold on. It took from 1814 when Key wrote the poem until 1931
when it was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover to make it
America’s official National Anthem.
I will not send you to the back of the classroom if you ask why it took
117 years to get ourselves an Anthem. Maybe whoever said ‘the mills of the gods
grind slowly’ had our Anthem in mind!
Was there a problem?
Not really….other than few people can actually
sing the Anthem without making a fool of themselves.
You heard me right, friends, the words written by Key are singable, barely.
However you slice it, the song’s 12-note span is a stretch for most singers,
amateurs and pros alike.
Even though “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played at the beginning
of public sports events in this country, including before every baseball
game, it’s no secret that the Anthem we have is– are you hearing me on this?—
difficult to sing.
Okay, you’re telling me you want a for instance?
Sure, pardner, here’s a for instance. Some of this nation’s most popular singers performing the song have either left out one of the lines or repeated the same line out of sequence. At the Super BowlXLV played in Texas on February 6, 2011 pop singer Christina Aguilera sang the wrong lyrics replacing the song’s 4th line with an alteration of the 2nd line.
Or how about just simply forgetting the words as many performers have done?
It’s why many ball parks and other venues have pre-recorded the song, which is
lip-synced by the singer who pretends they’re singing the Anthem.
At Boston’s Fenway Park it’s standard practice.
Then there’s singer-songwriter Steven Tyler performing the
National Anthem at a pro football championship game in 2012
with a cappella renditions of the song with changed lyrics.
Do you believe it? He sang it without music using lyrics he changed!
The man issued a public apology afterward.
I could go on with a myriad of renditions of the Anthem,
many substituting a verse with words that express a political
opinion or lifestyle.
Is it any wonder that a recent Harris Interactive poll showed that
many adults not only do not know the song’s lyrics but are unaware
of its history.
Look friends, I can continue our trip through this Land of Make Believe
….but I think you get the picture.
All of which accounts for a growing chorus of those who say our country needs a different National Anthem. One that expresses the beauty of our land, extols our heroes
and celebrates our history. Not to mention an Anthem that’s easy to sing.
Many who’ve debated replacing our present Anthem point to
“America The Beautiful.”
“I love this song,” says author and former tv personality Lynn Sherr.
“America The Beautiful” is “…simple…emotionaland I think it talksabout a country, a land and its people….not just about a flag, not just about a battle. It doesn’t talk about conquest. It talks about the possibilities of this nation.”
Katharine Lee Bates of Massachusetts, a college professor, wrote the poem
in 1893 after a train trip to this country’s west. The trip took her through
Kansas and its “golden wheat fields waving in the wind”…Colorado,
“where she saw “the purple gorgeous mountains of the Rocky Mountains.”
Sherr says the words written in 1893 are just as meaningful today as they were then.
Two years later Katharine Lee Bates published her poem in a church periodical.
Samuel Ward, a church organist and choirmaster wrote the music.
Personally, I cast my vote for replacing our National Anthem.
Do I like “The Star-Spangled Banner”? You betcha, pardner!
Anyone says I don’t gets an invite to step off 40 paces tomorrow
morning and…don’t forget your weapons, Mister!
But while I like our present Anthem, I love “America The Beautiful.”
There was a time when it was appropriate for our National Anthem
to express our battles waged…our wars won…with bombs bursting in air.
But not today. Today our National Anthem should express
our nation’s beauty, its grandeur, it’s spirit of renewal.
Following the September 11 attacks in the U.S….CBS news anchor Dan Rather
cried briefly as he quoted the 4th verse of the poem.
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Sure sounds like a National Anthem to me–dv