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Time to hire a professional

June 14th, 2004 · 2 Comments

It happened that this week Abigail has been reading The Flag of the United States and so on this week of Flag Day, we’ve been discussing the history of the Stars and Stripes, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner.

In regards to the national anthem, I realized that the girls – outside of skating events where the award ceremonies are televised and an American wins the gold – have not heard it often. So I decided to sing it for them as we sat together on the sofa with our stack of books. In my homeschool style, I sang it for them a few times, explaining the lyrics, stopping to catch my breath and dissect what Frances Scott Key wrote in 1814.

I don’t sing the national anthem that often myself. With my lower-ranged limited-range voice, it’s a bit of a stretch for my abilities. Especially those notes at the top of the melody. Ted’s the singer of the family: I’ve spent many years envying his voice and wishing I had one. However, the girls liked the song and I figured we were all having fun. No one was around to critique my ability or notice that I can’t quite hit those high notes. (there’s a reason why the lyrics say “home of the brave” – I’ve got to be brave to try to hit that high G!) Ted was in his office, a set of doors and a set of headphones insulating his sensitive ears from mine.

Later at dinner, we told Ted what we had studied that afternoon. He had a look on his face when the girls mentioned the national anthem.

I think I said something to him like “I shouldn’t be singing, eh?” trying to make a joke out of the torture I’d given the girls.

Ted replied “Especially when my headphones don’t work.” I wasn’t aware that one of the cords to his headphones is broken, so that ear can still hear whatever I am attempting to sing on the sofa….perhaps it is time to hire a professional to teach our children….

Note: I misinterpreted what Ted said. He was explaining that with the broken connection, he hears more noise when he’s working. Self-conscious, I simply assumed he was commenting on my singing.

Today we sang the song a few more times. Then I found the score with music on the Internet and let the girls listen to it. The Smithsonian’s site has more information. The Star-Spangled Banner, the one that Key saw, was made

under government contract in the summer of 1813 by a professional Baltimore flagmaker, Mary Pickersgill. Assisted by her 13-year old daughter, Caroline, and by two of her nieces, Eliza and Margaret Young, Mary may also have received help from her mother, Rebecca Young, who was a flagmaker as well.

She was paid $405.90 for the work, which she did “many nights until 12 o’clock”.
The flag looks a bit beat-up in places, and some of this happened after the war:

Certain people were granted the privilege of cutting fragments from the flag as souvenirs. “Indeed had we have given all we had been importuned for,” Georgiana Appleton wrote, “little would be left to show.” Owners of some of these historic fragments have given theirs to the Smithsonian.

Pictures of American flag designs through time. I don’t think I had heard of the New England Pine Tree Flag.

Flag Code: how and when to display the flag.

It was interesting to learn that what solidier and amateur poet Frances Scott Key “hastily scribbled on the back of a letter” from the fort was a poem – not a song

Francis Scott Key was a gifted amateur poet and hymnist. Inspired by the sight of the American flag flying over Fort McHenry the morning after the bombardment, he scribbled the initial notes for his poem on the back of a letter.

Francis Scott Key first published his impressions of the Fort McHenry victory as a broadside poem, with a note that it should be sung to the popular British melody “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

Here are the original lyrics to the tune:

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle, and flute, no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to intwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.

This is the second piece Key had written to this tune, an eighteenth century British pub song. Funny to think that the familiar melody of our national anthem – which to me seems so somber, respectful and intense – came from a London society that celebrated a sixth-century B.C. Greek poet called Anacreon, who mainly wrote erotic poetry and drinking songs, to quote this site.

I wonder what would happen now. Would copyright law allow Key to borrow the tune? Perhaps it would be considered public domain. Would people protest the pub-association? The tune’s foreign ancestry? Insist a professional not an amateur write our national anthem? I think a professional would have to be hired…in order to handle all the legalities of creativity in our twenty-first century society…:-)

Tags: homeschool

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