Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Star-Spangled Banner

I think that the United States’ National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, deserves a special reverence. It is the “theme song” for our country, and our country is a truly special place. Perfect? No, but special? Definitely.

Having the National Anthem performed at the beginning of public events is done for the purpose of reminding us where we live, and to stir up feelings and thoughts to remind us what makes the United States of America the greatest nation on Earth. So I get really indignant when people who volunteer or are selected to sing the National Anthem at public events try to “make the song their own.”

Message to past and future singers of the National Anthem: It is not a plaything for your ego, a sonic palette for you musical creativity, or a stage upon which you are compelled to show off your vocal pyrotechnics.

Altering the melody of The Star Spangled Banner is commensurate with changing the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer, or the First Amendment. Some may argue that as long as the words aren’t changed, no harm, no foul. Wrong. The Star Spangled Banner is not just words; it is a song. That means music and words. It is not an original melody, but its origin is unimportant. What is important is that the melody and the words that Francis Scott Key joined together on that September morning in 1814, and which the U.S. Congress made the official national anthem in 1931 are a unit. The song—the words and the music—have been officially selected as our nation’s song of praise, and they therefore should not be screwed around with for the personal satisfaction of the person who has been honored with the opportunity to perform it for the public or for the amazement of the audience.

Having said all of that, I am now confronted with the dual prospects of not only having the National Anthem translated into Spanish, but also of having its text changed to meet some nebulous demands of Hispanics who are either her legally or who have broken our immigration laws to come here. I am tempted to support the position that if someone wants to honor the United States by singing its National Anthem but cannot do so in English that we ought to appreciate that sentiment and allow Spanish words to be substituted, or at least look the other way. However, that tends to lend tacit approval to having people become citizens of this country without learning its language, and I find that inexcusable, intolerable and unacceptable. Changing the words? No way, Jose.

So, here are the rules, according to Observations: Sing the melody straight; sing the words in English as Mr. Key wrote them; and sing it with reverence, or don’t sing it at all.

Most of us—perhaps it is more accurate to say “many” of us—know the first verse. When it is performed publicly, it is the first verse only that we hear. However, there are four verses to The Star Spangled Banner, and I have taken the liberty to provide the complete text for your edification.

The Star Spangled Banner
—Francis Scott Key, 1814

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' 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?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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epiac1216 said...

Very well-said. A national anthem represents the best values and traditions of a nation, together with the coat of arms and the flag. You can see how football players feel when they hear their national anthem in foreign soil--specially soccer. We will see that during the next world soccer cup in Germany.

I didn't know there were more words than usually sung. I copied them for future study. Thanks for a well-thought out post.



James Shott said...

Omar, thanks for your comment and for visiting Observations.

I hope you come back to see this response. I tried to find a way to contact you, but was unsuccessful.

epiac1216 said...

Hi James:

I just read your comments at my blog Epiac's Place, and came back to let you know that I had received them.

You are a good explorer, since you were able to trace me to Epiac's Place.

As I said, I like the way you think out your posts. Well-balanced, polite and to the point.

Best regards,


Epiac's Place -

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