The following is an editorial. The viewpoints expressed are those of the author and not WNWO or Barrington Broadcasting Group.
Another musician and media star has botched the National Anthem. Aerosmith front man Stephen Tyler screeched his way through the song before the start of the NFC championship game Sunday and Americans are angry that the Star Spangled Banner was butchered on national television yet again.
Stumbling and stammering through the words to Francis Scott Keyâ??s 19th century poem is more routine than one might think. Professional singers and amateurs alike have trouble with the tune. This leads to a question more and more people are asking: Is it time for a new national anthem?
While a majority of Americans might know the words to the Star Spangled Banner, few could tell you what they mean, or what theyâ??re about. The song spans one and a half octaves, making it a challenge for the non-singer to render with any kind of quality. The song obviously was not meant to be sung by the masses.
While most Americans would recognize Francis Scott Key as its author, few know what inspired Key to put quill to paper and pen the poem, â??The Defence of Fort McHenry.â?? Key wrote the poem as he watched the British navy bombard Fort McHenry along Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore in 1814 during the War of 1812. The â??rocketsâ??red glare and the bombs bursting in air,â?? illuminated the fortâ??s smaller flag flown in bad weather during the evening and into the wee hours of the morning. That star spangled banner to which the first verse of the poem refers (there are actually four verses) was the larger flag that was raised over Fort McHenry early that morning. When Key saw that flag flying majestically over the fort â??by the dawnâ??s early light,â?? he knew Fort McHenry had not fallen.
While the defense of Fort McHenry was an heroic effort and those who saw to its defense that night are worthy of commemoration, the song doesnâ??t really say anything about America. Musically, it was meant for those with accomplished voices or those who donâ??t mind singing badly. The music was composed by John Stafford Smith, a British composer, and was originally entitled, â??The Anacreontic Song.â?? It was popular in British and American saloons in the 18th century. Saloon patrons are not known for supreme vocal performances.
The vocal gymnastics necessary to sing it properly make the song the target of vocal virtuosos and who delight in delaying the start of athletic events while showing off their vocal chops. This makes what should be a moment of communal patriotic pride an impatient wait for public events to commence. The lyrics, difficult to remember, have lost their meaning as the â??Defence of Fort McHenryâ?? has faded from memory.
We, as a nation, can do better in selecting a tune that represents us as a people.
Perhaps America the Beautiful would better serve as a national anthem. Its words are simple and easy to remember. It is a beautiful song that can be rendered beautifully, yet sung by the non-musician. Its message is simple: America is beautiful.
To want to replace the National Anthem with its majestic oratory and soaring medley about our flag flying in battle may seem unpatriotic. But our National Anthem was meant for the masses. If we are indeed, one nation, under God, as our pledge decrees, should we not have a song, emblematic of our country, that the masses can sing?