Saturday, August 27, 2011

We Need A Singable National Anthem


      An article in this morning's newspaper is headlined “Mennonite college drops U.S. anthem.” The article goes on to state that Goshen college in Indiana is dropping the national anthem in favor of “America The Beautiful.”
     The school had never played “The Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events until last year, saying the image of bombs bursting in air was too violent for a college whose motto is “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.” At that time the college opted for an instrumental version of the song, with a review after one year.
     The year is up, the “Star Spangled Banner” is out and “America, The Beautiful” is in at Goshen.
     Of course, this decision is not very popular with many people, who consider it unpatriotic.
     But I don't understand why this is so. Regardless of the song played primarily at sporting events, I still love my country; I see no reason why it cannot have an anthem with beautiful words, and a melody in a singable range.
     Some of you may remember that I wrote about this subject on January 28, 2010. I am taking the liberty of repeating that posting here:
     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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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

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