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O, Say, Does Your Class Know the National Anthem?


For years, students learned "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other patriotic songs in music class. Budget cuts, though, have forced many schools to eliminate music, so the National Association for Music Education is urging people to learn and sing the anthem. Included: Tips for teaching the national anthem.

Alarmed by studies showing that scores of Americans don't know all the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," and many aren't even sure which song is the national anthem or why it was written, the National Association for Music Education (MENC) launched the National Anthem Project. The effort is aimed at increasing awareness of the need for music education in the schools and its role in teaching students the national anthem and other patriotic songs.

Many adults who do know the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" report that they learned them in school. But cuts in funding to school arts programs such as music has meant many students no longer learn the national anthem and other songs that are part of America's heritage.

The multi-year National Anthem Project includes the National Anthem Project Road Show, which is spending the year touring the continental U.S. and Alaska. The road show includes interactive games and a national anthem singing contest, and local choirs and bands are invited to participate. The project is scheduled to wrap up with a series of programs in 2007.

Elizabeth Lasko, a spokeswoman for MENC, talked with Education World about the National Anthem Project and how teachers can get involved with the effort.

Education World: Why did MENC start this program?

Elizabeth Lasko: To raise public awareness of the importance of strong music education programs. A recent Harris Poll showed that two-thirds of Americans don't know the words to and can't sing our national anthem. We saw this as a consequence of fewer students having access to music in school, because most people in the poll who did know the anthem said they learned it in music class at school. At MENC, our mission is to advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all. So we believed we had a responsibility to do something about this situation.

Singing "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Here are the complete lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key.

EW: Why do you think fewer students are learning "The Star-Spangled Banner" in school?

Lasko: If music is not part of a student's school curriculum, he or she is less likely to learn the National Anthem and other patriotic music, which is a shame, because this music is such an important part of our history and cultural heritage.

EW: What are some activities classroom teachers can use to teach the national anthem?

Lasko: Several free lessons are available online at The National Anthem Project Teachers' Resources. These range from the very basic learning of the words to studying the meaning of the words, the history of the anthem, and its musical structure. Patriotic music lends itself well to cross-curricular studies with history, art, and social studies. Our online bulletin board boasts dozens of ideas from teachers about how to teach the anthem. We've assembled many ideas in a book called It Works for Me: The National Anthem and Other Patriotic Music in the Classroom, a new MENC resource featuring music educators from around the U.S. sharing their secrets for teaching "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other patriotic tunes.

EW: At what grade levels do you recommend teaching the national anthem? What about the complaints that it is difficult to sing?

Lasko: Elementary students are perfectly capable of learning to sing the anthem. (There is a lesson posted on our Web site for just this age group.) The range of the anthem is an octave and a half, and this does present challenges for many singers. But it's possible to be taught to sing it -- and that's one reason why it's important for kids to have access to a music teacher in their school.

EW: What types of programs have communities staged to welcome the tour?

"If music is not part of a student's school curriculum, he or she is less likely to learn the National Anthem and other patriotic music, which is a shame, because this music is such an important part of our history and cultural heritage."

Lasko: We've had an amazing, inspiring reaction from our teachers and their communities. On September 14, 2005, the anniversary of the penning of the lyrics by Francis Scott Key, 1,700 schools across the country participated in National Anthem Project Day celebrations. These ranged from singing the anthem on the steps of their school, inviting elected officials to make statements, arranging for a town or city proclamation, having contests, and more. For the tour, we are asking people to come to us when we are in their state, with their choirs, bands, and orchestral ensembles. When schools participate, they can receive a personalized certificate by registering as a National Anthem Project All-Star School

EW: Can you tell me about the culminating activity of the campaign MENC has planned for 2007?

Lasko: Several events are in the planning stages. We expect to have major singing celebrations. More information will be posted on our site as we confirm plans. But I expect this campaign to restore America's voice to continue after our culminating event. I think our citizens who have learned the national anthem as a result of this initiative will be inspired to support their local music programs and to make sure that all kids get to experience the benefits of learning music, including learning the music of their country's history.

This e-interview with Elizabeth Lasko is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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