Archive for Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Star-Spangled bungles stir national anthem awareness efforts

September 14, 2005


You wouldn't know it from reading people's lips at a sporting event, but "The Star-Spangled Banner" ends with the following phrase:

"O'er the land of the free / and the home of the brave."

That's "o'er," not "for."

The insidiously common slip-up shows that when it comes to the national anthem, many Americans' knowledge is as dim as the dawn's early light. According to a widely cited Harris poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans said they didn't know all the words to the song, and many who claimed to know all the words were bluffing: When asked to complete a lyric, they got it wrong.

"I think it would be fairly easy to think you knew the song and maybe to discover at an awkward moment that you really didn't," said Dean Bevan, a professor emeritus of English at Baker University who said he once heard a young woman forget the lyrics halfway through a musical audition.

But this week, an effort is under way in Kansas and across the country to remind people of the song's importance - and its true lyrics.

The National Association for Music Education sent packets to roughly 45,000 schools nationwide, urging teachers to gather students Tuesday to sing the song in unison.

There were at least a handful of takers in the Lawrence area. A group of Baker University students gathered in Rice Auditorium at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday for a reading of the song's four verses, followed by music and singing.

At Schwegler School, vocal music teacher Susan Ralston led students in a singing of the song during Tuesday's morning announcements.

Lysette Van Pelt, director of vocal music at Perry-Lecompton, said her students would wait until Friday and combine the singing with celebrations of Constitution Day.

Francis Scott Key

Mentioned in the epic poem by Francis Scott Key, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Key witnessed the aftermath of a 25-hour British naval bombardment on the fort 191 years ago Tuesday. The poem he wrote encapsulating his emotion was later set to music and became our national anthem.

Stuart O'Neill, music director at Oskaloosa High School, said he would have the band play the anthem during morning practice.

"We'll talk a little bit about the history of the song," he said. "It's already in our repertoire."

Dee Hansen, an associate professor of music at Baker, said the purpose of the nationwide event was twofold: to educate people about the song, and to remind them of the importance of teaching music in schools.

"That's where most people learn to sing the song in the first place is in music classes," said Hansen, who also is president of the Kansas Music Educators Assn.

As for Americans' difficulties with the song, Hansen said she thought the difficult melody might deter people from singing it. After all, not everyone has Whitney Houston's vocal range.

"It's hard for people who haven't had a lot of training," she said. "It's a hard song to sing."

The song

Lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," by Francis Scott Key: Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Staff writer Joel Mathis contributed information to this story.


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