Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hear America Singing

"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear
* * *
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else
The day what belongs to the day
* * *
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs."

-- " I Hear America Singing" from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1860)
Among those "varied carols" Walt Whitman wrote of in another era one might include the many versions of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. The variations span virtually every musical genre that's arisen since 1814, when Francis Scott Key's words were put to the music of a "British drinking song" for the first time.

As the blog AWORKS: New American Classical Music observes, over the many years of its existence--
"the National Anthem has been translated into another language by ethnic and immigrant groups in the United States. In 1861, it was translated into German (and is also on that page in Latin). It has been translated into Yiddish by Jewish immigrants and into French by Acadians of Louisiana. It has also been translated into Samoan... ."
This week, British producer Adam Kidron borrowed the music back, you might say -- it did originate in his native England, after all -- and transposed the music into a slightly hip-hop version with lyrics in Spanish. A slimmed-down audio of Nuestro Himno, can be heard here.

The "Divider in Chief" doesn't like it. Apparently, he thinks our national anthem should be restricted to English-only.

It's hard to see how Homeland Security will enforce that, but you can make book on dozens of hypocritical congressmen, eager to pander to the worst instincts of their constituents, proposing new legislation to do just that. Given Mr. Bush's manifest eagerness to invent and then exploit "wedge issues," how many of these other avant guarde musical renditions do you suppose he'll propose banning, as well?
It hardly matters. A great majority of Americans know next to nothing about the Star Spangled Banner, its lyrics, music, or history. As a people, we censor ourselves these days by being stupid.

We dumb-down the school curriculum for our children, eliminate civics classes, and fill the school days with FCAT exams and test exercises that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the political imperatives of our politicians, from the top on down.

According to one poll conducted a few years ago, less than two-thirds of [Americans] even know the name our national anthem is the "Star Spangled Banner." Two years ago, a Harris poll found nearly the same percentage -- 61 percent -- claimed to know all the song's words; but when asked to prove it, "fewer than 39 percent" actually could recite correctly any of the words that come after ".... and bright stars."

You probably didn't need a poll to tell you that. If you've been to a ball game lately or any other event where the audience is encouraged to sing the Star Spangled Banner, you know how our collective voices predictably trail off and miserably die away right about the time we're supposed to be singing, "...thro' the perilous fight/ O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming."

The coordinated efforts of right-wing nativists to generate public anger over Nuestro Himno is worse than absurd. As the Huffington Post's Robert Schlesinger says, those "up in arms" over the music "
would rather get people screaming about nonsense issues like a Spanish-language national anthem than, say, Iraq, or energy dependence, or congressional corruption, etc. etc."

But, hey! At least everybody knows the last two words of our national anthem, right? Play ball! "Juego béisbol!"

Additional Info Links

History, Trivia, and Lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner

Wikipedia: "The Star Spangled Banner - History"

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