Land of the free hits sour notes on own anthem

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Oh, say, can you sing the national anthem?

Steve Guido and Eric Dorsey, both of New Fairfield, Conn., can — sort of.

“Whose broad stripes and bright sparks, through the, um, the, um, perilous plight,” the 16-year-olds sang on the Mall when asked yesterday, looking sheepishly at each other for help when they goofed up the lyrics.

The Washington Times quizzed several Mall strollers on their knowledge of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and found some who knew the song by heart.

Lin Taylor of Harrisburg, Pa., belted out a few lines as her young children’s eyes glazed over.

“You know,” she said to Erin, 8, and Ben, 7, who returned blank stares, “Oh, say can you see?”

The Taylor children aren’t alone: A recent Harris Poll showed two out of three Americans do not know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Organizers of the National Anthem Project want to remedy that by reteaching the song through school music classes and singalongs at sporting events.

“Out of all the songs Americans know, they should be able to sing this one above all others,” John J. Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education (MENC), which runs the anthem project, said during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol yesterday.

Mr. Mahlmann and the music-education group attribute the lack of knowledge to years of budget cuts to music programs in schools around the country.

To kick off a campaign for increased support of music education, the National Anthem Project brought together more than 200 schoolchildren yesterday to sing the anthem and remind the nation of the importance of Francis Scott Key’s patriotic lyrics.

Two dozen students from Thomson Elementary School’s choir in Northeast joined other children, the U.S. Marine Band and country recording artists the Oak Ridge Boys in a performance that was televised from the West Lawn of the Capitol.

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, attended the performance.

“Music is one of the easy things to eliminate because of budget cuts, but it’s important to give kids the avenue to express themselves,” Mr. Poe said. “We need to get kids singing about our history again.”

Key originally wrote the anthem as a poem during the War of 1812 as he watched Fort McHenry in Baltimore being attacked by the British navy. It was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.

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