200 years of the star spangled banner

By Julianne Field, Staff Writer

America’s National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, has a long and in some aspects odd history. On September 11, in the Fine Arts Hall, music Professor Robert Harris, director of Armstrong’s chorus, gave a stirring lecture on the history of our patriotic songs. With the aid of Armstrong’s Chamber choir, Harris presented the audience with examples of song version before and after they were adopted in our nation’s repertoire, although it only “scratched the surface” of the subject.

Audience members were given a program that included a fun follow along quiz of patriotic music factoids. The pieces sang were Chester and Savannah by William Billings, Yankee Doodle and To Anacreon in Heaven, a drinking song from which the Star Spangled Banner got it’s tune. The origins of other well-known works were discussed such as the original poem of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key, America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates, and the military’s Taps.

Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem that inspired our national anthem, watched the battle of Ft. McHenry unfold. He was amazed to find the flag that flew over the fort survived enemy fire. He was so moved by the sight that he wrote the poem the Star Spangled Banner. Coincidentally, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Ft. McHenry, fell on the same week as 9/11.

Harris was inspired to give the lecture by his knowledge of music and his love of history. He used material from his personal book collection for research and felt that the 200th anniversary of the historical battle was a perfect time. He said, “It became apparent in working with general students, music students as well, that most have no exposure to their patriotic, American music heritage in school. In past generations, one of the teachers could play the piano and students would learn all of these songs. But no one knows them anymore. The background is usually interesting. It was a good time for me to write a new paper.”

Harris’ lecture showed how confusing and connected America’s music is with other nations songs and particular events. Often these histories are lost to future generations. “It’s amazing, there are books that every page has another revolutionary war song and there are hundreds of them. Most of them are forgettable. But people back then did this for recreation, they would get together and sing. The music and history are totally intertwined.”

First year student, Brittany Higgins, recently attended an earlier performing arts concert of piano and tuba. She came to the Star Spangled Banner lecture for her music appreciation class and for curiosity of the material. Higgins enjoyed Harris and the choir. She said, “I was really impressed with the chorus, they sounded great. It makes me miss being in a choir and I think I might try out.”

Higgins was surprised by the history behind the National anthem and pleased that she came. Senior student, Derrick Aikens, performed for the lecture. Aikens is in the Chamber Choir and University Chorale and has been singing since 6th grade. Aikens was also surprised by the history behind our national songs. He commented, “To Anacreon in Heaven stood out to me, especially because it was a bunch of drunk men who came up with the tune to the Star Spangled Banner. I had fun learning that song. It was a little difficult to watch for my cue to sing because I was focused on the lecture.”

The next Fine Arts event is the Masquers production, The Mystery of Irma Vep, on 9/28 in Jenkins Hall Theater.