Social Studies

Oh Say, Can You See?

March 22, 2005 2 min read
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Americans are going to get a refresher course on the lyrics and importance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” courtesy of the nation’s music teachers.

The National Association for Music Education kicked off its campaign, the National Anthem Project, on March 10. In addition to teaching the words and history of the anthem, the project aims to raise awareness about the importance of music education in schools.

A recent Harris Interactive survey suggests there’s work to be done. Two out of three Americans said they don’t know the anthem’s lyrics. Another poll, conducted by ABC News, found that 38 percent of teenagers didn’t know the title of the anthem, and that fewer than 35 percent could name the author of its lyrics.

Despite learning the national anthem at school and hearing it at baseball games, students are becoming less familiar with it and traditional American folk songs, according to a study by Marilyn Ward, a professor of music education at the University of Florida in Gainesville. After two years of research, Ms. Ward concluded that students need to learn such age-old songs as “Bingo” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to develop empathy for others and feel they are a part of the larger American society.

To begin the national tutorial on the anthem, hundreds of schoolchildren sang the anthem in a live performance on Capitol Hill on March 10.

First lady Laura Bush is the project’s honorary chairwoman. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. serves as its national executive chairman. Musicians who have lent their support include gospel singer CeCe Winans.

Gov. Ehrlich signed on with the project to highlight his state’s role in the birth of the anthem, said Shareese DeLeaver, his spokeswoman. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the song in 1814 at the Battle of Baltimore, when he saw that the U.S. flag had not fallen when the British bombarded Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

The music teachers’ association still has to persuade the governor to lead the country in a planned nationwide singing of the anthem.

“He was a little bit hesitant,” Ms. DeLeaver said. “He was sold on every other aspect except ‘I’m gonna have to sing?’ ”

The multiyear effort will include education initiatives in schools, special performances and alliances with professional sports teams, and an extensive mobile marketing tour.

The National Association for Music Education, based in Reston, Va., has some 120,000 members.

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