I used to get annoyed by our national anthem. Seriously? The United States’ #1 chief patriotic theme is about bombs going off, and ends (after all, we only ever sing the first verse, right?) with the question of whether our flag even survived the chaos of battle fire. Just by hearing the song, one wouldn’t know. The question isn’t answered. In essence, the song says, “Last night, at twilight, I could see by the explosions that the flag still stood, but now it’s almost morning.” The end of the final cadence sings, “Does that star-spangled banner yet wave over land of the free and the home of the brave?” Basically, “Did we win? Are we still a free country?”
Done. End of song. Play ball.
Maybe that’s why I had such a hard time coming up with an appropriate arrangement of the piece.
I toyed with the idea of staying true to the bold, triumphant style that is traditional for this song, and which fits the second and third verses well. But I couldn’t do it.
I decided to be fair to the lyrics of the first verse, the one portion of the text that we all know and sing, to that question of, “When the morning comes, will we still be a free country?” So I tried something a little different.
Picture a soldier on assignment, watching the fight from his station, and seeing during the evening battle the periodic flashes of bombs illuminating the flag, but when the lights and explosions stop, the night darkens, leaving the question of victory or loss in the air. Then imagine the insufferable night of worry, of questioning, of insecurity, of fear. What about my land? What about my family? What will happen if we lose? The hours passing in darkness, the fear of even lighting a candle lest it spark more chaos. Did we win? Are we safe now? Does the flag still stand?
That’s what this arrangement is about.
Oh, and just for the record, I really like our national anthem now.