I was raised to feel pride in our country. My parents came from a generation that applauded patriotism and, as a young man, my dad had a taste of another country that did not have the privileges, justices and rights that ours has. I learned early to put my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve known the words to the Star Spangled Banner for as long as I can remember. As a child, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. I still enjoy being in a classroom first thing in the morning in order to have the opportunity to put my hand over my heart and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” There was a time, too, when it was common to sing the Star Spangled Banner; now, usually, we just listen to it. We listen to a recording star or wanna-be recording star or just some local talent sing the National Anthem while we listen and then hoot-n-holler at the appropriate place towards the end of the song. I like to go to sporting events so, over the years, I’ve heard the National Anthem sung in a variety of ways and I guess I’m a purist because I really don’t like all the fancy variations so many singers seem to think necessary. One of my favorite versions was sung by an opera star in town for a performance. His rendition was pure talent, not hoopla, and he sang as if he meant the words. When he finished, there seemed to be a moment of silence as we all took in what we had just heard. However, throughout the years, my all-time favorite version of the National Anthem is that heard at each home game of University of Oregon football. At Autzen Stadium, we don’t listen to the Star Spangled Banner, we sing it! The band plays the music (and they do it nicely enough that we’re able to sing along) and the crowd is invited to sing the words. The singing at the first game after 9/11 was one of the most moving experiences of that time period – we put our hearts together and truly sang loud and proud. While the level of participation varies from week-to-week, there are still many of us who obviously relish the opportunity to actually sing our National Anthem rather than just listen to it. Pete Seeger said, “When you sing, you feel a kind of strength; you think, I’m not alone, there’s a whole batch of us who feel this way.”
I don’t sing well (as my section neighbors at Autzen would surely tell you), but I sing. I sing with passion, I sing with gratitude and I sing with pleasure. In this time when we’re trying to live more simply, I wish we could get rid of the fancy singers and their often-butchered versions of the Star Spangled Banner. I wish we could move back to simply singing it ourselves; to feeling the strength that comes from singing together. I wish we all had the opportunity, on a regular basis, to remember our patriotism and to stand up and sing loud and proud.