This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Defence of Fort M'Henry

Seeing as it's The Fourth and all, I feel like I should write something American. The etymology of apple pie, perhaps. Well, here goes.
Have you ever noticed that our national anthem isn't so easy to sing? People love to bemoan the fact that Kids These Days don't know the words to the anthem, and maybe that's fair. But even if you knew the words, the tune itself requires a vocal range that a pretty beefy number of us don't have. Actually, it's kind of entertaining to search YouTube to find which pop stars can hit the high note and which have to cheat it, like Kelly Clarkson does (admirably) here.
You know what I find weird though? Francis Scott Key doesn't write the poem that would become The Star Spangled Banner until the war of 1812. The poem, which was originally titled Defence of Fort M'Henry (whether defence is a misspelling or an arcane spelling I do not know), wasn't great shakes, and certainly not very musical. The tune doesn't help matters. Isn't it a bit odd that, between the Revolution and 1812, nobody came up with something a little bit catchier? Know what else is weird? The Star Spangled Banner doesn't even become the official national anthem until the 1930s. Which means that between 1812 and the 1930s, nobody said "Hey, this song is really bad, let's write a better one." Although that's probably not as easy as it sounds... my friends and I agreed, the first time we heard our high school alma mater, to write a new one that didn't, you know, suck; so far nothing. We wrote songs about Bob Newhart, Linda McCartney, and a fantastic ditty called I was Mutilated to the tune of I Wanna be Sedated, but you can't just force a thing like an alma mater. It has to just happen in its own time. But I digress, as usual. 
It also seems to me that an anthem would usually be one of the first thing the country comes up with. I mean, flag, check; constitution, check; anthem.... meh, let's give it a couple of decades. It's like waiting until your kid is 40 before you name her.
Or perhaps anthems - particularly the idea that every country should have an official one - are a new idea.
Yeah, I realize this entry isn't great either. Turns out that writing holiday-appropriate blogs, like national anthems and alma maters, is hard to do on command.

Info here mostly from Bill Bryson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think in the end the part that makes me love The Star Spangled Banner the most is the high note that few people can hit well. It seems to set it apart from other patriotic songs. That cool echo you get from it in a place with good acoustics from that note just reminds me why I love it so much. I guess it's the reason people always cheer after that particular note, you can't help but get that feeling of pride to live in the greatest nation on earth.