Saturday, March 2, 2013

Celebrating 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 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?

By Diane Forrest

Following the Oscars last week, I was curious to learn more about the history, and especially how the celebration had changed over the years.  So I checked out the website and viewed their history section.  Each year was represented by their own page, and on the right side of the page, there were also other important events noted during that year.  I passed through the years 1928-1930 quickly, since I didn’t recognize any of the actors or movies, but I stopped at 1931.  Lionel Barrymore won best actor, Marie Dressler best actress, and Cimarron won best picture.  More interesting were the other events that took place in 1931.

Al Capone was convicted and sentenced to 11 years for tax evasion.  The Empire State Building opened on May 1, and on March 3rd, The Star Spangled Banner officially becomes the national anthem of the United States.

According to, in 1814, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote a poem called “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Key penned the verses after witnessing the British attack on Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. The sight of the American flag flying triumphantly over Fort McHenry in the morning inspired his legendary words.

Key decided to set his piece to music, and borrowed the tune from a popular song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Not long after it was first published, people began referring to the piece as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song became an overnight success, and bands began playing it during public events and military occasions.

There is always alot of discussion about the song following major sporting events and occasions where it is sung.  Recently, at the inauguration of President Obama, Beyonce' Knowles sang the anthem during the ceremony.  The song had been previously recorded by her, and a tape was played while she lip synced.   Not only is this a hard piece to perform, but it is made more difficult with the echoing of the speakers playing in your ears.  It makes it difficult to stay on key and remember the words.  Beyonce didn't want to embarrass the President should any of these things occurred, but the storm over the recording was an even bigger disruption.

Many singers are criticized over their renditions of the song, many complain about them changing the tempo or arrangement of the music.  To me, I am not as concerned about the music, I have spent many years singing in school and church choirs, and this is something that is frequently done to many old and favorite songs.  However, the words remain the same.

Today we celebrate National Anthem Day. lists some tips for singing the National Anthem.  They include:

Memorize the words. One of people's biggest pet peeves are listening to a singer butcher the words of the National Anthem. Get a copy of the lyrics and commit them to memory.
Practice daily. The more you practice singing the National Anthem, the better your final performance will be. Set aside some time each day leading up to the event.
Work with your accompanists. If you have a keyboardist or band playing with you, set up regular rehearsals. You want to get in sync before you sing the National Anthem.
Keep it simple. There is no reason to add your own arrangement unless asked specifically to do so.
Learn all the notes. Although the National Anthem has a simplistic melody, you should attempt to hit all of the notes accurately. Find the key that you are most comfortable in if need be.
Wear something respectful. A National Anthem performance is not the time to bust out the bustier and leather pants. Conservative dress is much more appropriate.

[All images from Google] 

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