- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ben Meyer stood up in his classroom at 9 a.m. yesterday, placed his hand over his heart and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” without missing a word or a note.

“It’s cool,” he said. “It symbolizes our country.”

The 13-year-old eighth-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Fairfax County was one of thousands of students across the country who are learning the significance of the national anthem as part of the National Anthem Project.

Yesterday, schools and communities nationwide sang the anthem to celebrate its 191st anniversary. Blessed Sacrament School in Northwest also participated.

The National Anthem Project comes after a nationwide poll found that two out of three American adults don’t know all of the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” — and many more don’t know which song is the national anthem or why it was written.

The song includes four stanzas, but only the first usually is sung. Critics repeatedly have tried to get the nation to change the anthem because of the violence portrayed in some of the stanzas.

The campaign to reteach to the United States “The Star-Spangled Banner” began in March and is led by the National Association for Music Education, the largest arts-education association and the only one that addresses all facets of music education. First lady Laura Bush serves as honorary chairperson of the program.

At Sandburg yesterday, several of Ben’s classmates stumbled over the words of the anthem, which they were learning in the first class session, and its history.

Ben said he learned the words years before “at baseball games.”

“The song is about showing respect for our country,” said Kpelyn Wolwor, 11, a Sandburg student from Libya.

“We sing out to all the people who have been in the rough as such,” she said, referring to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Like other teachers at Sandburg, Kim Myron handed out written lessons to Ben and his classmates, describing how poet-lawyer Francis Scott Key watched the British blast Fort McHenry with more than 1,500 bombs in Baltimore Harbor the night of Sept. 13, 1814.

As dawn broke, Key was expecting to find Baltimore firmly under British control, but was surprised to see a battered American flag still flying during the sunrise.

Key was so inspired that he wrote the poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was set to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which is largely attributed to British composer John Stafford Smith.

The history gives meaning to the words, “O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

After seeing that the handmade flag still was waving at dawn, Key wrote, “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

“I hope with this, when you sing the national anthem, you will understand you are telling a story,” Ms. Myron told her class.

In 1931, Congress enacted legislation that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem.

At 8 a.m. yesterday, about 70 student musicians gathered under the American flag in front of Sandburg at 8428 Fort Hunt Road in Alexandria. The band and orchestra began playing, and the chorus began singing to the flag, which was flying at half-staff in tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims.

The performance was videotaped, and just minutes before 9 a.m., it was played in each classroom as all of the teachers and about 1,100 students stood up, placed their hands over their hearts and sang the anthem.

Similar programs were performed at schools in Jacksonville, Fla., St. Louis, Mo., and Chico, Calif., yesterday.

In Cheyenne, Wyo., thousands of students stood with their governor on the steps of the state Capitol to sing the anthem.

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