Life As We Know It: March 3, 2014
THE WINTER Olympic Games are over, but I can’t get the Canadian national anthem out of my head. While my granddaughter was saying Grace at dinner the other night, I was silently humming “O Canada.”
I realize this may be the equivalent of poking a badger with a sharp stick, but I have to say it: when it comes to national anthems, Canada wins the gold and the United States might not make the podium.
Go ahead. Fire off the nasty emails. I consider myself as loyal and patriotic to the land of my birth as they come, so I can take the abuse.
However, when I stand up at a ballgame for the “Star Spangled Banner” and place my hand over my heart, I mouth the words but I don’t sing them. I can’t. An octave and a half is beyond my capability. If I start out low enough to hit the lows, I can’t get high enough to hit the highs without screaming.
Inasmuch as most Americans are as vocally challenged as me, why did we go and make the “SSB” our official national anthem in 1931, especially when we had other choices that would stir our hearts without straining our vocal cords?
The problem, and it happens a lot at sporting events, is that we turn the assignment of singing the national anthem over to somebody who has no business attempting it. Roseanne Barr comes to mind. Amateurs also often forget the lyrics.
Francis Scott Key’s original poem, by itself, is fine. His words should rouse pride in every American who remembers the story of the brutal but ultimately unsuccessful British assault on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814.
But the melody? Whoa. Not only is it difficult even for professional singers, the song itself originated in England, and celebrated an ancient Greek poet named Anacreon who was fond of good wine and good love – not that those are bad things.
In other words, we appropriated an 18th Century drinking song from the very country from which we had fled, a song that paid reverent tribute to the fruits of the vine, and we made it our national anthem.
If we were going to borrow from the British, why didn’t we just go all the way and adopt “My Country ’Tis of Thee” as our anthem? Well, there’s a good reason we didn’t. The song, with different lyrics, is England’s national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”
Okay, what about “America the Beautiful”? What’s more inspiring than those “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain,” the “purple mountain majesties” and that magnificent “fruited plain?” Americans from “sea to shining sea” get choked up when they sing it, which by the way, they can do with reasonable ease.
In spite of all that, is anything going to change? Absolutely not. Nor should it. The “Star Spangled Banner” has officially been America’s anthem for 83 years. It will not be replaced.
So you have to hand it to the Canadians.
“O Canada” goes all the way back to 1880, though it was not adopted as the official anthem until 1980, a century later. Thanks to the Olympics, I’ll be humming it for another month..
Nice job, Canada. Good for you, eh?