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by Bernadette Yarnot

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Our National Anthem

"Oh say can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose bold 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.
Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free,
And the home of the brave?"

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountains’ majesty
Above the fruited plain.
America, America,
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown they good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."

There has been a recent movement in Colorado to replace the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, with the song America the Beautiful. The supporters of this movement cite the unsingability of the anthem, its martial theme, and the fact that The Start Spangled Banner has been the national anthem for less than a century (1931.)

I am not particularly in favor of this movement for several reasons. I will admit that the Star Spangled Banner is difficult for many people to sing, as it covers the range of one (yes, one) octave , but "difficult to sing" does not precisely describe it. The melody follows a natural progression, and it was a drinking song... I somehow doubt that the drunken men who invented the tune found it particularly difficult. We may not have liked their rendition, but we’re picky.

But several of their other objections bother me. Yes, the Star Spangled Banner was written during a war (the war of 1812, the last foreign war on American soil) , but it is not the unabashedly martial theme that its critics are making it out to be. And even if it were, many European anthems are direct descendants of marches and military sentiment. Melodically, they fulfill the "easy to sing" requirement by having ranges of only a few notes. Regrettably, they are difficult to distinguish from one another by these traits.

And though the Star Spangled Banner has been the national anthem for less than a century, its tenure completely spans the age of television, and likewise spans the lifetimes of the greater majority of the people alive today. It is instantly recognizable. Very few national anthems are. (Even if many Americans don’t know the words, which is worth another rant. )

But I have other problems with the idea of replacing our current national anthem with America the Beautiful. Though that song is well-loved, there is one phrase which will cause instant trouble: "God shed His grace on thee." The ACLU is still fighting battles over "In God we trust" and "One nation, under God"; do you think they’ll let this one slip by? Someone, somewhere, would be grabbed to rewrite the lyric, and lyrical rewrites are generally a bad idea unless the original lyric is strained. In fact, if that line were changed, several lines after that would have to be altered as well, and we would get a battle over people who like the old lyrics as opposed to the new.

I’m not joking. Just changing church hymns so they are non-gender-specific leads to pitched battles within congregations. People like the songs they grow up with, and woe betide the one who dares to mess with them.

While the "unsingability" of the national anthem is a problem, I find a greater problem in the fact that children aren’t even taught it. It is definitely difficult to sing a song if you’re having to search for both the notes and the words. Children don’t need to sing it every day, as many of them did fifty years ago, but perhaps they could be provided with the words when the class is learning patriotic songs.

But the greatest reason why I think we should keep our current national anthem over America the Beautiful is the tone. America the Beautiful sings about the land, the "fruited plain", the "purple mountains", the "shining sea." While there is much to admire in the land this country occupies, I think that America is more than just the land it sits on. It is the idealism and determination of the people, and the spirit that drives them. The Star Spangled Banner is not about militarism; it is about determination, and perseverance.

And it can be taken as a warning, too. "Oh, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?"

Do we let our land become anything less?

What do you think?  Talk to me.

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