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Saturday, February 02, 2008

America the Beautiful

By 3rd Way

My grandmother was a lover of music.  At sometime in her life she decided to purchase a player piano.  After she passed I was lucky enough to inherit the piano. 


I have fond memories of visiting Grandma’s and pumping away at the piano while the family sang along.  It is kind of like karaoke nerded up a notch.  The problem is you can only listen to the same rolls so many times with the same enthusiasm.  We recently decided that Grandma’s roll collection should be expanded.


We scoured the catalogs and ordered the most appealing rolls out of the limited selection, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Ray Charles, and as a dutiful Folkbum contributor, some folk music (Simon and Garfunkel).  My favorite new roll is America the Beautiful.  I have always preferred it to the Star Spangled Banner.  I have never been fully comfortable singing a song with lyrics like “bombs bursting in air”.  America the Beautiful is also far easier to sing, there is no way I can hit the right notes on the way up to "laaaa-and of the free”. After learning all the lyrics to the song I am even fonder of it.  My favorite verse is this:


O beautiful for glory-tale 
Of liberating strife 
When once and twice, 
for man's avail 
Men lavished precious life! 
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
Till selfish gain no longer stain 
The banner of the free!


I can sing those lyrics loud and proud.


In 1926 there was a push for America the Beautiful to become our country's national anthem. Instead, the older and more established Star Spangled Banner was chosen. On March 31, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a bill making the Star Spangled Banner the national anthem.  Several times there have been attempts, particularly when John Kennedy was president, to give the song legal recognition, as a national hymn, or as a second national anthem.

Presidential nominees have talked about improving our image abroad.  World opinion of us is based on perception of who we are and what we stand for.  Our culture says more about who we are than any foreign policy or aid package ever can.  Changing something as trivial as a song is not going to cause a cultural shift or convince a terrorist that we aren't an aggressor, but it will send a subtle message to everyone in the world that we want to change the way we do business.  I would be more comfortable with my culture if we all sang a song with themes of liberating strife and removing stains of selfish gain instead of a song with themes of militarism.

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