We Need a New National Anthem
Should the National Anthem be replaced? And if you think the National Anthem should be replaced, what song would you choose? (Use comment area below)
- Yes 11%
- No 89%
168 total votes.
Sure, Christina Aguilera butchered the national anthem at the Super Bowl. But the problem isn't just with Christina Aguilera. It's also with the national anthem.
Somehow, we got stuck with the wrong song.
Our present anthem has always grated on my ears, musically speaking. But before you start unleashing all those letters and Web comments calling me some kind of un-American pinko, please hear me out.
We're not talking about sacred Scripture here. The words to the "The Star-Spangled Banner" (referred to hereafter as TSSB) are a none-too-inspiring bit of doggerel penned by a minor poet, Francis Scott Key, about a relatively obscure military confrontation (the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British) that took place in one of our lesser-known conflicts, the War of 1812.
Next, somebody set the poem to music, choosing a British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," originally written for a men's social club in, of all places, London. The melody is anything but beautiful. And, because it spans an octave and a half, hardly anyone short of a trained opera performer can sing the dang thing at all well - even if he or she isn't caterwauling it as grotesquely as Ms. Aguilera was on Sunday.
Lest you think I'm tampering with some ancient tradition that goes back to the Founding Fathers or the Constitution or something, be aware that TSSB wasn't officially adopted as our national anthem until 1931, under the administration of Herbert Hoover. Before that, a number of other songs bounced around auditioning for the part before the wrong one landed it.
Which brings me to the point of this column: If TSSB shouldn't be our national theme song, then what should?
Certainly not "America" (the one that starts, "My country, 'tis of thee"), which is, of all things, set to the tune of "God Save the Queen." Nor should we go with "God Bless America," a nice but rather shallow little show tune written by Irving Berlin in 1918, revised by him in 1938, and run into the ground by Kate Smith.
No, my unhesitating nominee for the national anthem for the United States is (ta-da): "America the Beautiful."
O beautiful! For spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
I confess that, every time I hear those lovely, soaring words, I have trouble keeping these old eyes from brimming with tears.
Katharine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics as a poem in the 1890s, I'm told, after being inspired by the view from Pike's Peak in Colorado. Later, her impassioned verse was set to a composition by organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward, who had originally written it as a setting for a 17th century hymn, "O Mother, Dear Jerusalem." The combined product was first published in 1910 under the name "America the Beautiful" (hereafter called ATB).
I don't want to throw off on TSSB, which has tradition behind it and is not without its strengths. It's just that ATB so much better captures the physical beauty of our land and the overarching patriotic spirit that is supposed to unite its citizens. It suggests majestic vistas instead of smoky English taverns or bombs blowing up over Baltimore.
Besides the aforementioned octave span, there are other technical and artistic problems with TSSB. In some places, the words and tune don't jibe well, putting accents on wrong syllables. The clunkiness of the phrase "and preserved us a nation" comes to mind. By contrast, the lyrics and melody of ATB just go rolling along in majestic cadence, with the rhythm of the syllables in "America," two long beats and two short ones, echoing movingly in other words or phrases.
Most of all, ATB is just so sublimely American. It sprang spontaneously and proudly from our soil, as opposed to being transplanted awkwardly into it. Therefore, it sounds more natural springing from our lips. And, I imagine, even from Christina Aguilera's.
We'll never replace our national anthem, I suppose. But some of us will never be satisfied until the day comes when the stanza that crowds sing at baseball games across the nation, just before the umpire yells "Play ball," goes like this:
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
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