Thursday, August 25, 2011

A trend? Or just a quirk?

Let me state up front that I have never attended Goshen College, nor do I know anyone who ever had a connection to the school in Goshen , Ind. And my exposure to the Mennonite Church (with which the college is affiliated) has been minimal.

So I don’t have a personal reason to want to praise that rural Indiana school that is going to find itself gaining national attention in coming days, and may well find itself becoming a target for the conservative ideologues who are determined to stage a cultural war to impose their sense of morals upon us all.

WHICH IN THIS case may be appropriate, since the issue we’re going to be fighting a “war” over is a “war” anthem.

Specifically, the Star-Spangled Banner, our nation’s anthem since 1931, which is based off an 1814 poem that tells the tale of how Fort McHenry near Baltimore sustained an attack from the British Navy and didn’t surrender – with the flag still flying high in the morning when the battle was complete.

Which may be an ideal worthy of mentioning – we don’t surrender.

But let’s be honest. It is an awkward song to sing, with a first verse of lyrics that way too many people manage to butcher and three more verses of lyrics that most people don’t even pretend to care about.

THERE HAS TO be a better song by which we can celebrate our sentiments about our nation than this one.

What is going to get ideologues worked up is the fact that Goshen College, following three years of debate, made the call to do away with the anthem being played prior to the ballgames played by the school’s athletic teams.

The Goshen Maple Leafs will no longer stand attention prior to a sporting event while a recording of the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays. Not that they’re going music-less.

Instead, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the school will use "America the Beautiful" as a patriotic song to inspire us behind our country, before watching the Leafs take on their competition of other schools in the Indiana-based Mid-Central College Conference.

I CAN ALREADY hear the rants and rages from the ideologues about how this school is being disrespectful to the "Star-Spangled Banner." In fact, some of the student-athletes have already said they’re not thrilled about the change.

But no matter how much those individuals want to believe their thought represents the entirety of ideas on this issue, they don’t. There are those of us who realize that life will go on without the "Star-Spangled Banner," and who have become offended at the way the song routinely gets mangled prior to sporting events.

If not playing it prior to a ballgame means I no longer have to hear some third-rate singer try to pretend she is the Second Coming of Mahalia Jackson, I think we’d all be better off if sports teams followed the lead of Goshen College.

In the case of Goshen, they say their primary objection to the anthem is its war-like imagery (the Mennonites are pacifists). Hence, "America the Beautiful" is a more pleasing image – considering that it honors the physical beauty of our nation.

NONE OF THAT “rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air” stuff that dominates the U.S. national anthem. Although it’s not like the U.S. is the only nation on Earth that has a martial overtone to its anthem.

Just look to the south to Mexico, where “Mexicanos, al Grito de Guerra” tells of the roar of the cannons and how Mexicans will rise to fight off any, “enemy outlander (who) should dare to profane your ground with his sole.”

Get into the more obscure verses of Mexico’s national anthem, and you learn that those same enemy outlanders will have their blood spilled all over the land and will be devastated for trying to invade the Mexican homeland.

By comparison, Francis Scott Key composed a virtual love poem.

BUT MY REAL objection to the "Star-Spangled Banner" as an anthem that must be played prior to ballgames is really in the fact that so few people really know the song. They butcher it so badly that I can’t help but feel those moments when sports fans try to sing along are the most dreadful of any event.

I wonder at times if people really have any clue what it is they are supposed to be singing, and if they’re all so incredibly tone-deaf that they don’t realize how badly they’re singing it?

Besides, it’s not like the anthem has been around forever. There are generations of people who lived their full lives in this country of ours who would have thought our current obsession with singing the anthem prior to drinking a beer (or three) while the New York Yankees beat up on the Boston Red Sox is bizarre.

Our nation went for just over 150 of its 235 years of existence without the "Star-Spangled Banner" as its anthem, and the idea of a ballgame requiring the anthem is a product of World War II that probably should have withered away with the WACs.

FOR LET’S NOT forget that our nation’s “anthem” used to be a song called “Hail, Columbia,” which now is regarded as the theme music for the entrance of the Vice President.

Perhaps Goshen is giving us a nudge in the direction where someday, the "Star-Spangled Banner" becomes the theme for the Secretary of Defense – while the rest of us celebrate the “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain.”

Except maybe for the atheists, who will be offended that the song says “God shed His grace” on “America! America!” Or maybe the American Indian tribes who will resent the reference to “pilgrim feet” whose “stern impassion’d stress, A thoroughfare for freedom beat, Across the wilderness.”

But those are commentaries for another day.


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