I'm hearing a familiar tune these days. An Indiana senator wants to change our national anthem. He wants us to start using "America the Beautiful." The reasoning behind it has been with us for awhile: "The Star-Spangled Banner" is "utterly un-singable"
A music historian in the hometown of Francis Scott Key recently said "people who can't sing `The Star Spangled Banner' simply can't carry a tune." His comment made me remember a scene from "The Electric Horseman." Robert Redford has just led Jane Fonda on foot through 10 miles of Utah wilderness. To keep her going, he makes her sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." She complains."It's a hard song to sing," she says.
In his Best Western brogue Redford replies, "And just why do you think that is?" The implication, of course, is that a country as wonderful as this should have a national anthem that requires energy and effort.
In my case, I see the whole "change the anthem" business as silly. If the national anthem is ever changed, I'll personally sing both the new and the old anthem at your wedding. You have it here in writing.
Personal experience has taught me it's easier to change the course of the moon than to change a beloved anthem.
Years ago I tried to get Box Elder High School to change its school song. I thought I had a pretty good case. The old school song was nothing more than "The Stars and Stripes Forever." (Many of you may know the tune as "Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody's mother, etc.") And the words we sang to the thing seemed to have been tossed together by two P.E. teachers during a break in the faculty lounge:
Oh sing we a song of Box Elder
Her colors are purple and white;
Tell all the world of her triumphs,
Led by the lily so white.
Notice the clever rhyming of "white" with "white" there. And if you want to see a group of people cringe, make 24 football players sing a line like "led by the lily so white."
Anyway, I hung a petition by the school office door. It said the old school song was old hat and it was high time for change. With all the talent in the music department, I said, and two wordsmiths like Jordan Larsen and Rosie Sleigh teaching English, we deserved a song we could be proud of.
I left space at the bottom for about 300 names.
Only one kid in the school signed the petition - a likable rowdy named Thayne Sargent.
Sarge, if you're out there, thank you.
The experience did teach me a little something about trying to change anthems, however. It taught me this: Blood is thicker than water, but tradition is thicker than Heinz ketchup.
Besides, "America the Beautiful" would never fly as a national anthem in this day and age. Have you sung it lately? Half of the first verse is a prayer: "God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea."
If you think a line like that will get by court appeals in 1989, well, you live in a different nation than I do. It would make more sense to insist all Americans take vocal lessons so they can hit the high note on "O'er the land of the free."
As for Redford and Fonda, well, it was a nice moment in a movie. Anyone who remembers the '60s knows Jane's always had trouble catching the spirit of the national anthem.
And perhaps she always will.