Oh, Say! Can You See?!
In preparation for singing The Star-Spangled Banner at a couple of local events on this Fourth of July, and working with my voice students to do the same - something I’ve done through the years more times than I can count - I ponder a number of characteristics about our national anthem.
With regard to this historical piece of music, some claim it is too difficult to sing; even to the point where, from time to time, an individual or group proposes we change it to something else.
Suggestions over the years have been such classic choices as “God Bless America”, “O Beautiful [for Spacious Skies]”, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”; and more recent as well as one of my personal favorites: “Home” by Drew Pearson and Greg Holden . . .
. . .to name a few.
All are great artistic heartfelt works which express a love for our homeland. But to change our national anthem because it is “too hard to sing” simply doesn’t wash. If you pull the piece apart and analyze its intervals and timing, it is no more difficult than many popular songs with which we all sing along on the radio. One doesn’t need the vocal range of Mariah Carey or Ariana Grande to pull it off.
Others claim the lyrics are outdated as they were written in a time of war; the argument being, nobody wants to sing about war.
It’s true that Francis Scott Key was instantly inspired to write the words, Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light; what so proudly we hail at the twilight’s last gleaming . . . after pulling an all-nighter of fighting for freedom. But to be that depleted and exhausted after spending all night in battle, seeing comrades die beside him - not war for war’s sake, but for FREEDOM - and still have the mental and emotional energy to compose lyrics which express every American’s sentiment at that hour - is patriotism from the heart; something that is never outdated in this country.
Dear Hearts, I am always open to change. I actually like it. Shaking things up a bit is fun and many times, refreshing.
But not change for change sake. I am never in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Let’s take a look at the first verse of lyrics to our national anthem, shall we?: Oh, say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hail
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.
Oh, say does that star-spangled
Banner yet wave
For the land of the free
And the home of the brave.
War, or no war, these lyrics continue to be applicable for every patriot. We continue the fight for our freedoms, within our borders as well as outside. Modern day struggles for freedom include every man and woman; whether it is for racial / gender / equality, economic / education / healthcare opportunity and child safety, or defending folks from human trafficking around the world, etc.
Although we work harder than our forefathers these days at using our words instead of muscle - many times the fight for freedom takes place inside of a courtroom, involves a protest march, and / or working within our judicial system - there are times when we must defend ourselves with military might.
No one wants to implement this level of defense.
The tome “Just War” is a voluminous classic literary work on the shelves and required reading lists at each of our military academies. It describes in detail the mindset of refraining from war and implementing everything possible to avoid it. But if and when it happens, its sentiment and purpose is toward defense and freedom; most of the time, for many other defenseless lands as well as our own country.
So, Dear Hearts: It is with a proud heart, warmed up vocal cords, and a love of the USA and its anthem that I propose we retain The Star-Spangled Banner as our “theme song”, so to speak.
Oh, Say! Can you see that the flag and this song represents all of the freedoms for which each of us fight.
Happy Independence Day, Dear Hearts! Stay safe!