Our Anthem



Our National Anthem

 … Pure and Simple!!!!

February 4, 2002

Imagine you are held (under guard) on the ship of the enemy. You watch (but primarily hear) the battle that will seal the fate of your country.  You wait through the darkness of night, not knowing the outcome.  Yet in the “dawn’s early light”, you can see that the symbol of which you are so proud ... “the star-spangled banner”, the red, white and blue flag of your country ... “was still there”, waving over the battleground, signaling victory ... the victory that sealed, not the fate of your country, but its freedom!  This is what Francis Scott Key saw on another September day in 1814, and he was so overcome with the emotion of that moment, he found an envelope and penned the words to The Star-Spangled Banner.  He did not compose the music, but others who were moved by the words he had written, combined them with an old English melody.  It became our National Anthem.  I wonder why anyone ever thought it should be?


There are three songs frequently used as our “national” songs.  God Bless America is our national prayer, America the Beautiful is our national hymn, and The National Anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner) is our national anthem.  Many would like to replace our current national anthem with God Bless America ... still it is what it is, and no more ... a stirring prayer; it is not an anthem.  Others would like to replace our current national anthem with America the Beautiful ... but it is what it is, and no more; a stirring hymn, it is not an anthem.  The National Anthem is what it is; it is our anthem, and perhaps there is good reason, for its words express the very moments we became this great nation, why we are free, why we are Americans!\


Some say that The National Anthem is too difficult to sing.  I say they are wrong ... I know they are wrong!  As a church musician/organist, I have used The National Anthem as often as I have found a reason.  I play it in an uplifting, march-like tempo and in a key the congregation can sing.  With no exceptions, the people lift the roof singing their anthem, and what’s more ... they love singing it and are thankful for the opportunity to do it.


For so long we have not been given the opportunity to really sing our anthem.  We have had to “listen” to entertainers (selected for their recording ability) who were more interested in “performing” the anthem (slipping and sliding in and around the melody with nauseating embellishments), than to sing the anthem in a way the American people could join them. We have literally been silenced by the people who have chosen these entertainers to “perform our National Anthem” as well as the entertainers themselves.  Sad.


I have dreamed of living during a time when I would hear the American people sing our anthem as other nations sing theirs - with pride and gusto!  And the truth is, we had our chance to turn it around after September 11th!  For example, I attended the first baseball game played at Turner Field after the September 11th attack.  Libby Whittemore, a well-known Atlanta cabaret entertainer, stepped up to the plate, and without embellishment sang The National Anthem from her heart and in a key the fans could join ... and for the FIRST TIME ... I heard the people sing ... REALLY SING their anthem!  It was a stirring moment!  WOW!  An entertainer who was more interested in the anthem and the people than herself!!! But alas, the opportunity was short-lived. During the first Super Bowl, with the tattered flag, which had been scooped from the embers of our September battlefield, flying over thousands of Americans who could and would have joined as a united voice to sing our anthem, they could not ... WE could not.  We had to “listen” to a flashy performer who did not understand.  Sad.


So how can we get our nation singing our anthem with gusto?  It could be so simple ... an orchestra, a marching band, an accompaniment recording in a singable key - then let the American people be the “featured group”.  Unfortunately, it is a rarity to find an orchestra or band willing to select a singable key for the people.  For they would rather select a key that enhances their performance with brilliancy of tone.  Wish they would understand we’d much prefer the opportunity to sing our anthem than to listen to it played in a range only those in musical theatre or opera could attain.


If you still feel our anthem should be changed to something more beautiful, or singable, or for whatever reason you may have, please read the words of the infrequently sung last verse of our anthem (there are 4). These words have never been more meaningful.  They bring together the reason we have a nation, the beauty of our nation, and a prayer for our nation.  No other song testifies so strongly and honors the birth of our nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all as does The Star-Spangled Banner



~ Beverly Smith (Zacharias) Herrington



P.S.  For the interested musician - the Key is A flat!!

The 4th verse ...

 Oh thus be it e'er when free men shall stand
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that has 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! 

 Francis Scott Key
September 1814


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