A lot of people complain that The Star Spangled Banner is hard to sing. I agree! However, one of the things I have discovered in my four decades of life is that singing is something you can actually get better at with practice. I know this for a fact, because I once decided I was going to learn to sing that damn song if it killed me. Every morning I attempted to sing it in the shower. And I gradually got better at it, until finally the day came when I could reliably make the transition between “dawn’s” and “early.” Before I knew it, I was nailing “proudly” every single time. And I knew roughly how low to start so that I could still produce sound when I got up to “glare.” This was more than twenty years ago, but guess what. I can still do it. Yep, I am living proof that you don’t need to be a professional musician to make it through the national anthem.
But, you may ask, why bother? I mean other than fear of social censure, why would anyone even want to sing that stupid song. It doesn’t even make sense. Compare it to songs like America the Beautiful, or My Country ‘Tis of Thee, which brag about our majestic mountains and shining seas, our sweet land of liberty — in our national anthem we are asking IF the flag is still flying. Not exactly confidence inspiring.
Well that is what I always thought, until this morning when I stumbled across this essay by Isaac Asimov. He lays out the historical background of the poem, which was written after the War of 1812. The battle which Francis Scott Key witnessed, it turns out, was one of the highest strategic import. The British had already sacked Washington. If this particular fort were to be taken too, our young country would truly have been lost. So, the battle raged all night with bombs bursting in air, etc. Come morning, the only way he could tell who had won was by peering through the haze to see which flag was flying. And guess what… there are three more stanzas (who knew?) which reveal that yes we beat back the Brits:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Now that’s some patriotic fervor, eh? Go practice!