Sparklers and picnics: A big shout out to all the folks in the US celebrating American Independence Day. It got me thinking about flags, anthems, and other symbols of statehood.
Much has been said over the years about Francis Scott Key’s stirring poem set to music. As an anthem, it has some serious flaws:
- No one knows all four verses. (Come to think of it, few Americans can correctly recite or sing the first verse, which is the only part formally used in the singing of the anthem.)
- The music is quite demanding, with an almost two-octave range.
- The lyrics are martial, to say the least. Bombs bursting in air, indeed!
Yet despite all that, The Star Spangled Banner remains a heart-thumpingly grand piece of epic poetry. Hard to sing and incomprehensible to the vast majority of the population, it still shouldn’t be replaced by some modern politically correct song.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It is proud and gutsy, and therefore, despite the flowery language, aptly suited for the American psyche.
Consider our national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope). The eight simple lines are contained in one tidy octave, making it easy to learn and comfortable to sing. The haunting minor key lends an air of wistfulness that definitely tugs at the ol’ heartstrings, which causes problems when it is sung at joyous occasions. (Remember Gal Friedman’s Olympic gold medal, and the Israelis in the crowd singing way faster than the recorded music? It is a charming clip, if you haven’t seen it, and you will forgive the excessive jubilation when you remember that it was our very first taste of Olympic gold.)
There is no question that national anthems are emotionally charged symbols. Sweet little Lena, at the press conference after her Eurovision win, started singing “Deutschland, Deutschland,” and my blood ran cold.
Truth is, most of us probably recognize only a handful of national anthems other than our own.