Thursday, January 28, 2010

The National Anthem

      Congress adopted The Star Spangled Banner as our national anthem in 1931, although it had been recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889. For most of the 19th century, Hail Columbia was used at official government functions, and My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee was also used prior to 1931.
      Originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key after viewing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, The Star Spangled Banner was later fitted to the melody of a drinking song written for The Anacreon, a men’s social club in London. The following are the words to the first of six verses comprising the Anacreontic Song:

To Anacreon* in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this Answer arriv'd from the jolly old Grecian,
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine.”

      In my opinion, Congress chose the wrong song, and I know I am not alone in this. An octave and a half in range, there is no key in which to write it that is comfortable for most singers. If it is in a decent range for the sopranos, the basses can easily hurt themselves on the high notes, and if it’s OK for the basses, the sopranos have to be suffering from laryngitis to hit the low notes.
      One song that has been suggested as being “better” is God Bless America. There are several reasons why this is not a good choice, but the primary one is that it does not fit the definition: Anthem, n. a song, as of praise, devotion, or patriotism. (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary.)
      God Bless America does not fit that definition - it is more of a prayer than an anthem. Besides, what is the meaning of the phrase “…and guide her, through the night with a light from above?”
      My personal choice is America, The Beautiful. It fits the definition, it is a reverent poem of praise set to beautiful music, and above all, it is easy to sing. It’s range is only a ninth, four notes shorter than the Star Spangled Banner.
      But that’s just my opinion.

*Anacreon (Greek Ἀνακρέων) (570 BC – 488 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns.

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