"The Star Spangled Banner" is a difficult song to sing because of the octave and a half range of the music. The Rim Country Middle School chorus has been practicing since the beginning of the school year to learn the words and sing them to the standards of the national anthem code.
Last Wednesday at 9 a.m. they joined students from all over our nation in song when they performed our national anthem from the basketball court at RCMS.
"This was an effort of the National Association for Music Education to solve the issue of people not knowing the national anthem," said RCMS music teacher Karen Phylow.
It is also an attempt to bring more attention to school music programs where it is first taught.
"Two out of three (adult) Americans do not know the words," she said.
Seventh-grade choral member Caleb Harrison and several others thought that they had learned the song at home.
"Whenever I go to baseball games, I usually sing along," he said.
Phylow estimated that 90 percent of her students did not know the lyrics at the beginning of the year.
While they were learning, some funny, yet common, mistakes occurred.
Ramparts was "rampharts."
"Who brought stripes and white stars," became correctly, "Whose broad stripes and bright stars."
One student thought the anthem opened with "Jose, can you see?" not "Oh say! can you see."
Another's "donserly light" was corrected to "dawn's early light."
Teaching all her students the correct lyrics was not Phylow's only goal. She included a history lesson.
Attorney Francis Scott Key's friend Dr. William Beanes was taken prisoner by the British during the war of 1812. Key successfully negotiated Beanes' release, however, the men were not allowed to return to Baltimore until the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
Key watched from eight miles away as bombing continued through the night. At dawn, the British gave up, and, seeing the American flag was still flying, he quickly penned the famous poem.
The actual flag that Key saw flying is on public display at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. It is undergoing preservation.
The flag measures 30-by-42-feet and was made by Mary Young Pickersgill.
"We learned it has 15 stars and 15 stripes," said seventh-grader Deedra Wayland. (These were for the original 13 colonies plus Kentucky and Vermont.)
The music is attributed to an old English tavern song, "To Anacreon in Heaven." John Stafford Smith is credited with scoring the music.
"My students thought it was funny that the music came from a drinking song," Phylow said.
There was a 20-year battle in Congress over the adoption of "The Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem, Phylow said. It was adopted on March 3, 1931
The Code for the national anthem of the United States of America was adopted by the national anthem committee on April 2, 1942.
"The code states that it should never be just played," Phylow said. "It is not meant to be played as a solo because that would violate the spirit of the national anthem."
A-Flat is the key for mass singing of adults and band or instrumental performances. B-flat is used for treble voices.
The RCMS chorus learned the etiquette of folding and unfolding the 15-by-25-foot flag used in their performance.
Phylow is pleased that all of her students know the first verse of The Star Spangled Banner. Knowing 100 percent of the first verse was the requirement for a passing grade.
The RCMS chorus is comprised of more than 60 students. Chorus is a year-long exploration at RCMS. It is open to all grade levels. They are practicing for a winter concert, with the performance date to be determined.