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Project to Rekindle Singing of National Anthem

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2004 – They may not see much by the dawn's early light, but apparently well over half of all Americans are completely in the dark when it comes to the words of the national anthem, according to a Harris Interactive Survey of 2,204 Americans.

An ABC news poll also showed that roughly 38 percent of American teens didn't know the actual name of the nation's official song. It's "The Star-Spangled Banner," if you weren't sure.

In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a bill officially making the poem -- written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 and set to music by John Stafford Smith -- the United States' national anthem. But it seems that, for various reasons, America has lost its voice, said John J. Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education, which still uses the acronym MENC from a prior name of the organization.

America apparently has been at a loss for words for quite a while, Mahlmann said Nov. 4 in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service. He and MENC are launching "The National Anthem Project" to reverse the trend.

The project is set to launch March 10, in conjunction with the PBS airing of "The 21st World's Largest Concert." The WLC, performed by 8 million to 10 million children, will end with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Mahlmann and his staff are hoping to get servicemembers in Iraq to participate by singing the anthem, he said.

The project is set to culminate in 2007 with a "record-setting" performance of the national anthem in Washington.

Between the project's launch and its conclusion, Mahlmann said, a grassroots movement will try to reach students, teachers and communities. The movement is being fostered by partnerships of American organizations that should be concerned about this program, he said. Currently, those organizations include the Defense Department, Disney, the Girl Scouts, the American Legion, A&E and the History Channel.

"We're looking for a grassroots campaign, first of all. And then we're looking for activities to take this program on the road to communities throughout the nation, where we can encourage Americans to sing and participate and learn the words," Mahlmann said. Of course, he said, classroom and music teachers are being encouraged to participate.

One effort to promote the re-endearment of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is already complete. "Liberty For All: A Musical Journey" is a compact disk of patriotic music and American history. Introduced by retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the music is performed by "The President's Own" Marine Corps Band.

Mahlmann said the band was chosen in part because it is the oldest of the service bands, dating back to the 1700s. Proceeds from the sale of the CD will benefit The National Anthem Project and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.

Some claim that the national anthem is not known because it's difficult to sing. "I think it's difficult to sing, but on the other hand, that's why we have music teachers," Mahlmann said. "And our campaign is going to help Americans overcome that and be able to sing the national anthem, as they should."

School budget cuts share a measure of blame in the silencing of America, Mahlmann said. And school is where most polled in the Harris survey indicated that, if they knew the song, is where they learned it.

"Our concern is that school music programs are under fire and being cut. And that -- in school music programs -- is where people learn songs, including patriotic songs like the national anthem," Mahlmann said. "That's not happening. People aren't learning the words."

The cuts are a double whammy, as patriotic music carries with it a great deal of American history, he added.

Five percent, of those polled in the Harris survey claim to have learned the song at a sporting event. This is curious, Mahlmann said, because sporting events are where it is the most apparent that the lyrics are eluding most Americans.

"It seemed a very obvious fact that when you go to sporting events, people don't sing the national anthem or when you see people at the Olympics with their awards ceremonies, they're not singing the national anthem," he said.

"When America is under crisis, as we were on 9/11, we saw what Congress did immediately: They went on the steps of the Capitol and sang," he said. Song is a unifying force that encourages appreciation of what people have, he added.

"It's something that brings our emotions and our values together through song and through spirit and America's soul," Mahlmann said. "And so our goal and our mission through that activity of singing seemed to be an appropriate time to focus on our national anthem, which again, because of people not knowing the words, we should encourage."

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Related Sites:
National Association for Music Education
The National Anthem Project


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