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Recent high-profile sporting events left me wondering about the protocol for the National Anthem, like the one for the Pledge of Allegiance in the U.S. Flag Code.

The protocol for the Pledge of Allegiance is laid out in the Flag code Section 4

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. (Italics are mine.)

Orioles Players

The Search Begins

Easy enough, but what about protocol for the National Anthem? I began at Google and started searching and discovered a lot of information that couldn’t be verified. I kept digging.

I located one site that “claimed” to quote the U.S. Flag Code as found on the American Legion website. It contained a section that wasn’t in my copy of the U.S. Flag Code, so I went to the American Legion website to see which version of the Flag Code they were using. It turned out they are using the same one I am, and there is no reference to the National Anthem contained in the Flag Code.

I did find a section on the Legion site titled National Anthem and it did reference the U.S. Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 171 for the proper protocol. Then to confirm, I went to the U.S. Government site containing the United States Codes and dug into Title 36.

This brought up the next hurdle. There was no Chapter 10. WHAT?

More digging …


EUREKA! The research paid off in a big way and here is what I located.

          • Section 301–National Anthem

Sec. 301. National anthem

(a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music
known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.–During a rendition of the national
(1) when the flag is displayed–
(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at
attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with
their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder,
the hand being over the heart; and
(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute
at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until
the last note; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face
toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag
were displayed.

There it is. The elusive National Anthem protocol. Now when you attend that next concert, ball game, or school event, you will know the proper conduct when they begin playing the Star Spangled Banner.

Rest of Chapter 3

Here is the rest of the information in this Chapter of the United States Code.

Sec. 302. National motto

“In God we trust” is the national motto.

Sec. 303. National floral emblem

The flower commonly known as the rose is the national floral emblem.

Sec. 304. National march

The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is the national march.

300 Responses to “Protocol for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance”

  1. adam counterman says:

    Is it ok for people to sing the national anthem while.it is being played. As a former high school band member/ still musician. We always at competitions or games stood at attention if we weren’t the ones performing it. And showed our respect by being quiet and letting the people who were playing it be the ones who played it. I hear people sing it while it is being played and I wasnt sure if it was ok or not to do so. Maybe my question is redundant, but I wanted to ask for clarification. Thank you

  2. Sometimes it’s darn hard to sing along with the National Anthem, depending on who is performing! But if you want to sing, it’s ok. Be polite and respectful, and maybe sing softly—but sing.

    You asked a good question Adam. Thank you for writing and best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  3. Cpl Soupy says:

    When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, is it proper for women to un-cover their headdress? What is the protocal, here?

  4. The Pledge of Allegiance mentions men only, in regard to removing head coverings. I have seen some women take off their hats when they were wearing a ball cap, or what might typically be considered a man’s hat, but it is not required. No harm or foul if the woman wants to remove her hat, but specifically not asked for in the Flag Code.

    Thank you for writing, Cpl. Soupy. Best wishes, Deborah

  5. Dawn Madison says:

    When I was at my son’s school this morning, they played the national anthem, but they had no flag in the office to face. The music was coming from the speakers overhead, so I was confused about protocol. Was told to face in the direction of the flag outside even though I could not see it. Right or wrong?

  6. Hi Dawn. If no flag is visible to salute, you are supposed to stand at attention, face the (source of) music—in this case a speaker—and salute as appropriate with a military salute or a heart salute (right hand over the heart). It is important to remember that we render honors to the National Anthem by saluting, whether is the flag is present on not. The link below is useful.
    Thank you for writing, and best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  7. Philip Harris says:

    As a foreigner, I want to know the protocol when the U.S. National Anthem is played. I had thought that somebody who is not a U.S. citizen is not supposed to cover their hand over their heart but is to respectfully place their hands to their side. I desire to do the right thing and the subject came up when I was attending my son’s football (soccer) game. As a non citizen, I would imagine that I don’t have the same rights and privileges. Can someone help me?

  8. As a non-citizen of the U.S., you are under no obligation to sing or salute during the American National Anthem, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The instructions for non-citizens is to stand at attention with your arms at you side. However, if you want to sing or salute—with a hand over the heart—during the National Anthem, you are free to participate. Those who know you would regard it an act respect. Thank you for writing, Philip, and best wishes. Deborah Hendrick

  9. Philip Harris says:

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you so much for your helpful reply. I really appreciated it and commend you for your quick response. Again, thank you.

  10. ECJ says:

    I read “Protocol for the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance,” Feb 13th, 2007 by Larry Hendrick, and most of the posts here (admittedly, I did not read all 259 responses). I see where it is described what to do during the National Anthem when the flag is not displayed (face toward the music…). My question is: what do you do during the Pledge of Allegiance if the flag is not displayed? While the flag code addresses the protocol for the Pledge, is makes no mention of what to do if the flag is not displayed. Maybe that’s because there is no logic in pledging your allegiance to a flag that is not present?

    Many groups, like Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, start their programs with the pledge. I have seen them use the flag on a member’s shirt sleeve if a larger flag is not displayed (a flag is a flag no matter what size, correct?). So, I guess I have two questions: (1) is there any logic in saying the Pledge if there is no flag displayed? and (2) if the answer to the first question is yes, it’s OK to say the pledge when a flag is not displayed, then what do you face? Taking from the rule on the National Anthem that when no flag is displayed you face toward the music, would you face the person “leading” the saying of the Pledge, assuming there is a “leader?” If that person does not exist, what would you face? Oddly, this whole thing stems from someone who says he was taught you face east to say the Pledge when a flag is not present. The idea makes no sense, and a reasonable search of the web turns up nothing of the sort.


  11. Dear ECJ, From the Flag Code: The Pledge of Allegiance “should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag … .” We do not (should not) recite the Pledge of Allegiance without a flag present.

    On a personal note: Lately I have been thinking about carrying a small flag in my handbag—maybe a 12″x17″—without the stick and folded appropriately. Not that I expect to need the flag for the Pledge, or anything else, but I just like the idea.

    I hope this helps. Thank you for writing. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  12. Deborah – I liked your responses and thought I would respectfully ask you to weigh in on another flag/pledge issue. We are one of thousands of high school Junior ROTC programs in America. Once each week on our uniform day, we say the Pledge of Allegiance while indoors and in a military uniform. Again, we are not covered as we are indoors in the classroom. The question is “do the cadets stand at attention and face the flag or should they place their right hand over their heart?” I never experienced this issue when in the Navy since the Pledge was never used since the National Anthem was always available. Thanks.

  13. Dear LCDR Stauffer,

    I am not the best person to answer this question. So I hope you will take my answer to your ROTC liaison in the Navy for confirmation. It is a complicated issue.

    You should not be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in uniform at all. The Pledge of Allegiance was written and adopted for civilians. You and your Junior ROTC cadets conduct yourselves under the aegis of the U.S. Navy, and military personnel do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and especially not in uniform. They also do not sing during the National Anthem, but stand at attention and salute.

    Why? My theory: Because military personnel have taken a higher, more comprehensive oath than the Pledge of Allegiance. I know we are talking about high school students, and they have not taken an oath of enlistment. Nevertheless, they took some kind of an oath or pledge when they joined Junior ROTC. When they are in uniform, they should comport themselves precisely the same way they would if they were full military.

    Saluting indoors: When Congress passed the legislation giving veterans and military personnel in civilian clothing the right to salute the flag (under the same conditions in which they would have saluted while in uniform), the Commandant of the U.S. Navy issued a statement saying that Navy traditions are not negated by recent acts of Congress, and Navy personnel would not be saluting without head covers, or in civilian clothing. So you and your cadets must decide, individually or as a unit, whether you will salute the flag uncovered or not.

    My recommendation for conduct (in uniform) during the Pledge of Allegiance: Stand at attention, do not salute if uncovered and indoors, and do not recite the Pledge. This will require every cadet to (eventually) explain why, but this is part of the tradition of the military in general, and the U.S. Navy specifically.

    If they are in civilian clothing, then they can act as civilians, following the instructions for conduct as given in the Flag Code and the National Anthem Code.

    This link is to a long article, which has not been updated recently, but you may find it useful to read, especially the comments. Some of the links in it may be dead, but they go to government websites which may be shut down at present.

    Thank you for writing. I hope this helps, but I do hope you will confirm this information through your resources. My best wishes to you and the cadets. I have a tender heart for these young people.

    Deborah Hendrick

  14. Nadine says:

    Hi. My elementary choir will be singing the national anthem this TH, but I wanted to know if we had to sing it first? Can it be put second or even last in our program? We were going to talk about the history of it’s origins and will have the audience stand of course. I don’t want to be disrespectful by not singing it right off the bat. Thank you for your quick reply.

  15. Hi Nadine. Our only instructions for the National Anthem (found in Title 36 of the U.S. Code) address personal comportment only. We are not told when or where, or under what circumstances to sing the National Anthem. Traditionally, we usually do sing the Anthem early on, but if the program itself is about the National Anthem, then of course it is perfectly appropriate to sing it where it naturally fits into the event. I hope everyone enjoys the program. Best wishes, Deborah

  16. Nadine says:

    The program isn’t about the national anthem, it’s one of the songs in it. I have a student tell the audience about the piece were are going to sing.

  17. Ah. After welcoming greetings and remarks, I would let the child’s information about the National Anthem be the intro to the event. Then the student can graciously invite all those in attendance to stand for the Anthem and salute as appropriate. All the best, Deborah

  18. Dawn McFarland says:

    Is there a protocol on which goes first The National Anthem or The Pledge of Allegiance? As a music teacher I never thought about it until someone mentioned it. Each year for our Veterans Day Program it has been switchedd back and forth. Thank A Vet!

  19. Hi Dawn. The Flag Code and the National Anthem Code are both silent on the topic of who goes first. The only instructions concern personal comportment. So we are not told when or where do say the Pledge or sing the Anthem, only how to do them. This provides a lot of latitude in how we perform these two honors. I have often thought that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the end of a meeting or event would be a lovely way to close—a sort of patriotic benediction if you will, before we all leave for our homes, work, et cetera—especially since many schools no longer permit prayers on the campus. Saying the Pledge at the end would remind us, bind us (I hope) together. The person who leads the pledge could then dismiss those assembled. And certainly if a prayer were included in the program, the Pledge could be said before the prayer.

    If the event opens with a Color Guard, then it would be quite natural (and customary) to recite the Pledge before the flag carriers post the flags, and then all will sit down. This provides a little breather during which the Master of Ceremonies makes welcoming remarks, introduces special guests, et cetera. Then the MC can introduce those who will perform the National Anthem, inviting all to stand (those who can) for the Anthem. Regarding the Colors: the Colors are announced, but carried in silence—no music. This is because we salute the flag, but the only music we salute is the National Anthem, and the Colors are not in motion during the Anthem.

    Thank you for writing, Dawn. Best wishes for a lovely and successful Veterans Day program.
    Deborah Hendrick

  20. Julie says:

    During our school Veterans Day ceremony our Kindergarten and 1st grade students will be “singing” The Pledge of Allegiance as a part of their performance. How should this be handled? Should the audience be asked to stand for the song? We typically recite the Pledge during our ceremony.
    Thank you very much for your assistance. Regards, Julie

  21. Julie—I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never heard of singing the Pledge of Allegiance. Permit me to brainstorm for a bit …

    Americans render honors the flag by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and saluting, but singing the Pledge makes it a performance, and the two are not interchangeable. Certainly there is no obligation to recite the Pledge (or sing the National Anthem)—the U.S. Code does not tell us where or when we should renders these honors; it addresses personal comportment only. However, if you don’t recite the Pledge, those assembled may feel like the musical performance was meant to be the Pledge, and you want to avoid that since it would be a breach of etiquette.

    Can the musical Pledge be combined with other patriotic songs—so that it is clearly separated from the recited Pledge? If the recited Pledge is said early in the event, then the musical Pledge would be perceived properly as a musical number and I don’t think people would try to stand. Could the musical Pledge be given at the end of the ceremony? It would be quite moving, especially from the school’s youngest pupils. If people stood at the end, then it would be quite logical to say “Thank you for coming today,” et cetera. Or if there is a closing prayer to follow the musical Pledge—it would be a lovely way to end the ceremony, and negate any awkwardness if someone stands for the musical Pledge. What it boils down to is putting as much space as you can between reciting the Pledge and when the children sing it.

    I don’t know if this helps you, Julie. You are welcome to phone me if you want—it helps sometimes to bounce ideas back and forth. And I may be overlooking something obvious, too.
    Best wishes, and thank you for writing.
    Deborah Hendrick

  22. Bob Eoff says:

    The writer did NOT answer the question. Which should come first, the Pledge or the National Anthem?? Maybe I overlooked his answer but I’m still not clear.

  23. Bob—you are not alone. The Flag Code (where we find the instructions for the Pledge of Allegiance) and the National Anthem Code are silent on this. In fact, the only instructions address personal comportment, and nothing else. We are not told when or where to recite the Pledge or sing the National Anthem, only how to perform these honors, and certainly not what order to observe them.

    Depending on the occasion, the Pledge is frequently recited first, following the entrance of a Color Guard, and then the National Anthem is performed later after introductions. But we have all freedom to order them any way we choose. When I was a schoolgirl (in Texas) we said the Pledge in our classrooms, but waited for assemblies or “big” events to sing the National Anthem. So I came to associate the Pledge with small groups and the Anthem with large groups.

    I personally think saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the end of an event would be a lovely way to close—a sort of patriotic benediction before we say goodbye and go our separate ways. I don’t know that anyone has ever done this, but I float the idea at every opportunity.

    I wish I could give you a definitive answer to your question, but I cannot. I have attached links to the Flag Code and the National Anthem Code for your use.

    Flag Code:http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title4&edition=prelim
    National Anthem Code: http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title36/subtitle1&edition=prelim

    Thank you for writing, Bob. I appreciate that you took the time to search for an answer.
    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  24. Bob Eoff says:

    Deborah: Thanks for your reply on my protocal question. I coordinate the local Veterans Day program and Memorial Day program as director for the Chamber in my small town in North Texas. I’ll just wing it tomorrow and know that God will forgive me if I get it wrong. If you have an interest in politics check us out somtime at http://www.constitutionparty.com. We are closely alighned with Oathkeepeers.org. Check them out too.


  25. Mike Brenner says:

    I am a member of a chorus that is sometimes asked to sing the National Anthem at sports events. I recently had a disagreement with our director over the demeanor of the chorus members during the singing. As a retired Navy officer, I suggested we stand at attention while we sing. He rejected that with a long explanation saying choral performers never do that and instead stand and sing in a relaxed manner. He would not suggest what that demeanor should be. I find that attitude to be disrespectful. I’d rather we all at least assume the same posture. Which one of us is right?

  26. Hi Mike. The National Anthem Code is silent on how the Anthem should be performed. The Code addresses personal comportment only, so we are not told when or where to perform the Anthem, nor how it should be performed. The result is that Americans are given—and have taken—great liberty in how the Anthem is performed. I am a bit of a purist, so I like it best when we all sing it together, the way it was written, but alas, that rarely happens. (Imagine at the Super Bowl, if everyone in the stadium stood and sang the National Anthem together. I hope someday to see such a thing.)

    Coming from a military background, you are accustomed to seeing the Anthem performed by men and women in pristine uniforms, and standing at perfect attention. Civilians performances are frequently more relaxed, though woe unto them if they stray too far from the traditional path. One of the finest performances I ever heard was at a minor league baseball game in Amarillo, Texas, when three Amarillo players in uniform stood at home plate, put their bare heads together over one microphone, and sang the Anthem in three-part harmony.

    While you certainly know the difference between standing up straight, and standing at attention, for most civilians—standing up straight IS standing at attention. You will need to make allowance in your heart for those around you and the chorus director.

    Mike, I appreciate that you took the time to search for answers and write.
    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  27. Ray Trifari says:

    With regard to the issue of men removing their headwear during the playing of the National Anthem, is any distinction made as to where the event at which the anthem is played is indoors or outdoors, and about the latter, if the event is played in temperatures of extreme cold?

    Also, in recent years baseball stadia are constructed with open concourses where concession stands and rest rooms are located. These areas are in almost full view of the field areas where the anthem is being sung and the colors displayed. Do the rules set forth in the statute apply to those areas or merely to the seating bowls areas?

  28. Hi Ray. Thank you for writing. Regarding the National Anthem Code, which I have attached below, there is no distinction made for being indoors or outdoors. When the music begins, men and boys (except for veterans and active duty military personnel) should remove their head coverings, and salute during the National Anthem with a heart salute—by placing their right hand over the heart. If you can hear the music, you should face the direction of the music and salute. (Obviously, if one is inside a restroom and/or a restroom stall, this particular part of etiquette must be politely overlooked.)

    In the case of the National Anthem, we are rendering honors to the anthem itself, rather than the flag.
    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

    §301. National anthem

    (a) Designation.-The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

    (b) Conduct During Playing.-During a rendition of the national anthem-

    (1) when the flag is displayed-

    (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

    (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

    (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

    (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

    (Pub. L. 105–225, Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1263; Pub. L. 110–417, [div. A], title V, §595, Oct. 14, 2008, 122 Stat. 4475.)

  29. Zenovy Tymochko says:

    Here is my interpretation:

    Male veterans with hats may leave hats on head and render a military salute.
    Male veterans with hats may remove hats and hold over left shoulder, hand over heart.
    Male veterans without hats may render a military salute.
    Male veterans without hats may render the civilian salute: right hand over heart.
    Male veterans should execute one of the above, as applicable.

    So, if all of the above are correct, what are the rules for female veterans?

    Also, active duty Navy and Marine Corps in uniform remove cover indoors. Navy and
    Marine Corps in uniform do not salute unless covered.
    Question: What is protocol for uniformed Navy and Marine Corps personnel when
    indoors when National Anthem is played? What about female Navy and
    Marine Corps personnel?

  30. Hello Mr.Tymochko, How nice to hear from you again.

    The changes to the Flag Code that permit veterans and active duty personnel out of uniform to salute make no distinction between male and female veterans. The decision to render a military salute or a “heart” salute belongs entirely to the veteran and the military person, under all circumstances.

    Regarding Navy and Marine Corps active-duty personnel and their veterans: By passing this particular legislation, Congress summarily dismissed centuries of Navy and Marine Corp standards and tradition. It is therefor incumbent upon each Navy and Marine veteran—and active-duty personnel—to decide to salute in a civilian setting. The Navy and Marine Corp make no distinction between men and women regarding saluting, so even a civilian situation, the decision to render a military salute, or not, is entirely a private decision.

    Thank you for writing. This was a good question.
    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  31. Require_PoA_in_Ohio says:

    Parent and an Ohio resident here…
    School districts in Ohio are not required to have children recite Pledge of Allegiance. Many Ohio school system district school administrators don’t want to rock a political boat (local, state or national), so they avoid recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance tradition altogether in their districts.
    At school sports events, and most certainly amateur and professional sports events, I’ve noticed everyone (spectators, athletes and yes school administrators) happily, and seemingly genuinely, following protocol for the National Anthem without any challenge, conflict or criticism. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I’ve never seen any US Citizen who is NOT willingly follow protocol during the National Anthem at a sports event. Yet, I have found some of these same people as being vehemently against any requirement of having children in schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance. To me it is unfortunate that priorities and protocols are so dramatically different between Classrooms and Ballparks. I am at a loss. I’ve yet to determine what this particular hypocrisy is teaching our kids.
    Ohio has only four other states in our union that agree with its position not to mandate the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools— By my math, 92% of the States of our United States of America have decided differently from Ohio and have deemed the Pledge as being worthy to mandate in a school day.

  32. Thank you for writing. Ohio may, like California, permit only student-led Pledges of Allegiance. The school has to allow a time during the day for a student or students to lead the student body in the Pledge, but there is no participation by the staff in these proceedings (to encourage or discourage reciting the Pledge of Allegiance), and no student may be compelled to recite the Pledge. This may be something for you to check into. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  33. Rob McMinn says:

    I have been to several sporting venues where the flag is automatically lowered from the ceiling for the playing of the national anthem. Once the anthem is completed, it is slowly rolled back up. How long should one remain standing as the flag is being rolled back up?

  34. Hi Rob. Thank you for writing. I feel like an old grouch answering your question. That’s because I am definitely not a fan of the “roll down” flag. But if I was present where the flag was being rolled down and then up again, I would stand and continue to salute (heart salute or military salute) as long as any part of the flag was still visible.

    Here is a link to the National Anthem Code, which you may find useful.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  35. Jimmy K says:

    I am sporting official where multiple venues may be playing at the same time. You may have baseball on one field, softball on another field, and possibly track on the football field. All of these sporting competitions may start at different times and usually will all include the playing of the National Anthem. What is the proper protocol when you can clearly hear the National Anthem playing on one field while you’re in the middle of play on another field?

  36. Hi Jimmy. Thank you for writing. The National Anthem Code does not tell us where or when to perform the National Anthem; it addresses personal comportment only. Those who wrote and codified the National Anthem never anticipated this situation. Previously I have advised those on game fields, if they can hear the Anthem from another field, to stop and render honors as appropriate. It takes about 1 minute, 20 second for the Anthem to be performed, so that’s not an unreasonable length of time to pause. You will never be criticized for stopping while the Anthem plays, and if someone does, send them to me :)

    Here is a link to the National Anthem from the U.S. Code, if you want to print it out and keep it handy in case someone kicks up a fuss.

    Best wishes, Jimmy. I appreciate that you took the time to search for an answer.
    Deborah Hendrick

  37. Pete Rathmell says:

    After watching the absolute butchering of our national anthem by 5 singers [?] at the Rose Bowl, I decided that something needed to be done to convince event organizers to contract only with singers who agree to sing it as written by Francis Scott Key. As a member of several veterans organizations, I have organized a committee to look into this issue. We will look at social media and a combined, concerted PR campaign by the national veterans organizations such as the VFW and American Legion, et. al. Your suggestions and comments are welcome.

  38. Dear Mr. Rathmell,

    I no longer listen to the National Anthem as performed at sporting events. My husband sends me out of the room and mutes the sound—that’s how badly I react. But you took the time to find The Daily Flag and write to me, so I found the Rose Bowl “anthem” on YouTube and watched it. I must tell you: I’ve heard a lot worse. I would be happy to hear these ladies sing gospel music to me all day long, but like you, I prefer the Anthem original-style.

    But what is original? John Stafford Smith composed the “original” melody, but there is no official version. On July 26, 1889, the Secretary of the Navy designated “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag. During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the White House played it whenever a national anthem was deemed appropriate.

    John Philip Sousa’s strong support in a National Anthem was key in the passage of the legislation, which President Herbert C. Hoover signed into law March 3, 1931. It established Francis Scott Key’s poem and John Stafford Smith’s music as the official anthem of the United States. The new law, however, did not specify an official text or musical arrangement, which left room for creative arrangements and interpretations of “The Star Spangled Banner.” And we Americans are creative.

    At the U.S. Army’s own music website, under Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) it says,

    How can I get copies of written music for The U.S. National Anthem?
    Due to copyright laws and music licensing concerns, we can’t provide music and recommend that you buy all music commercially through a music publisher (see a list at http://www.mpa.org/ or http://www.nmpa.org/links.html). If you can’t find the song you would like to purchase, call The U.S. Army Band at (703) 696-3648 for assistance.

    What this means is that the U.S. Army does not always use the same arrangement of the National Anthem. And I bet that the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard use a variety of arrangements, too.

    There is apparently a U.S. Department of State version, which I cannot find, though I will keep looking. Presumably this arrangement is provided to other countries so that they can play an appropriate rendition of the Star Spangled Banner when an official U.S. delegation is visiting, and this version would be played in our own embassies around the world and at state department events. But there is no legislation to support this “official” version.

    Where we run into trouble is establishing an official arrangement of Smith’s melody, which is precisely what the National Anthem Code carefully avoids. An arrangement of the National Anthem written for 5th and 6th graders is vastly different from the one played by the President’s Own U.S. Marine Corps Band. Here is a U.S. Navy band rendition, suitable for any event (and what I wish all performances of the National Anthem sounded like): http://www.navyband.navy.mil/anthems/ANTHEMS/United%20States.mp3

    And here are four very old recordings of the Star Spangled Banner, and while all of them are the same basic melody and lyric, none of the arrangements are the same (the National Anthem is not always the first song in each of the recordings). Here is another basic version and it’s different from the first one I linked to. They are in different keys and the arrangement of the notes is not the same.

    One of those old recordings is by a Marine Corp band, and they aren’t using a constant drum roll and crashing cymbals—and I can’t imagine a Marine Corps band today playing the National Anthem without a loud drum roll and shimmering cymbals. But wait, there’s more: Listen to this recording of a John Philips Sousa arrangement. I don’t know if it was considered over the top at the time, but even by today’s standards, I think most people would be dismayed.

    I share all this with you in love and frustration. Like you, I am deeply frustrated by performers who take liberties with the National Anthem and try to make it a showcase for their particular talent and style. On the other hand, we Americans are rather big on liberty and freedom, and style, too. And if Congress refused to qualify how the the National Anthem should be performed when they passed the legislation, who am I to insist that the song be sung to please me? But somehow we have permitted the singing of the National Anthem turn into this frightening exhibition for both the performer(s) and the observers, and I don’t think anyone is happy about the result.

    So this is what I do want, and it will solve most of these problems. There were 100,000 people in the Rose Bowl Stadium last week, and they let four (very nice ladies, I’m certain) sing the National Anthem for them.

    No. Not any more. I want ALL of us to sing the National Anthem. Together. Imagine 100,000 voices singing together. That brings me to my knees and gives me the shivers. Obviously we don’t all have splendid voices, and I can’t hit the high notes or the low notes either, but in a stadium of 100,000 people, there would be enough people who could and those in the middle would sustain those above and below.

    Imagine at the Super Bowl or the the World Series, if a performer of incandescent splendor, came out and invited everyone there to stand and sing together while he or she conducted the National Anthem (with or without instrumental accompaniment). Wow. How amazing would that be? Instead of cringing, we would be shouting hallelujah at our television screens. And it doesn’t have to be a “personality” to conduct the Anthem. I’d be happy to sing with the band, or a recorded Anthem. We’ve made it so complicated and it doesn’t have to be. But what this also means is that we would need to sing a traditional, standard version of the Star Spangled Banner in order to sing it together. Which would make me (and thee) very happy, not to mention millions of other Americans.

    I can’t support the idea of insisting that any singer perform the National Anthem to a traditional standard, but I can most definitely support, encourage, and promote the idea of singing the National Anthem in unison. You are not alone in seeking a better way to honor our country by honoring the Anthem. I get at least one letter-writer a week to the website or to me personally who is saddened, frustrated, and disgusted by performances designed to showcase the performers more than the Anthem.

    Thank you for writing, and forgive me for my long-winded response. Think about my idea and see how it works with your idea of contacting event organizers. There’s a solution in all of this, I’m certain.

    I apologize for writing so much, but your comment was timely.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  39. Sondra Awad says:

    Thank you so much for your last comments. You are %100 on the mark. As an American citizen and a music teacher, I am very disgusted with many of the “performances” of our National Anthem. This is the song of our country and, in my opinion, should and needs to be sung by every American (with the exception of those who believe it to be contrary to their religious beliefs). If one person leads the song, a straight simple version would be perfect. I don’t mind different composers making their own arrangements, as long as the melody stays the same and can be sung. Yes, it is not the easiest to sing. When it gets to the high part, people can just sing it an octave lower in their range. How glorious it would be to participate with 100,000 or 100 in singing the song of our wonderful country. It doesn’t matter the size of the group, my heart always wells up with pride as I sing with my fellow Americans. When I taught on an American Army post in Germany, our National Anthem was played in the movie theatre on post before the movie started. All the military personnel diligently stood giving the military salute as they listened to an instrumental version being played. There was something missing from this English composed song being played (the lyrics). Aren’t the lyrics what make this song an American song? The second time I went to the movies I sang alone ( I am no soloist). From that point on I encouraged my students to sing the anthem any time it was played.
    I have now been teaching music in elementary school for 33 years. Every performance which my students give begins with everyone standing and saying the Pledge of Allegiance followed by all being invited to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”. It’a a beautiful experience to have everyone sing together. I often have to wipe away a few tears. How glorious would it be to have an entire football stadium singing together, and how proud I feel when I see the American flag being raised and our athletes sometimes singing our National Anthem as they receive a gold medal at the olympics. We need to get this country singing!
    Deborah, how could we work together to get this bandwagon rolling?

  40. Sondra, I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment; I was on the road. I’m so happy to know that you are out there, teaching The Star-Spangled Banner to your students. You are in a good position to get the word out by encouraging your students to sing when the opportunity arises. Also, you could approach your school board and ask that the school system always provide for singing together when possible—maybe even “teaching” student volunteers to conduct the National Anthem when appropriate. It takes a lot of poise to sing it acapella, but with some one to lead—and the rest of us to follow—it’s not quite so daunting. Also, if you belong to a professional music teachers organization (I know they exist for band directors, so I’m guessing the exist for music teachers too), perhaps you can write a letter to the organization’s publication, or get on the agenda for the next meeting to advance the idea. And if you can get on the agenda for veterans service organization (VFW, American Legion, Vietname Veterans, Lions Club, Rotary, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce, et cetera for a National Anthem pep talk, that will help get the word out, too.

    If you live where there are semi-pro and/or professional sporting teams, then you could approach their management offices about moving toward the idea of everyone singing together instead always selecting a soloist.

    I would not ever want to quash someone’s dream of performing the National Anthem, nor would I want to tell them how to sing it either, but I think the American public is tired and discouraged by high profile performances that abuse the Star Spangled Banner and leave them aching inside. As I wrote to Mr. Rathmell (on this same thread), ” … we have permitted the singing of the National Anthem to turn into this frightening exhibition for both the performer(s) and the observers, and I don’t think anyone is happy about the result.

    Here is what I will do: I’ll see if I can find the U.S. Department of State’s version of the National Anthem, and go from there. And I’ll report back here, and send you and Mr. Rathmell a personal email.

    Thank you so much, and best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  41. Sondra Awad says:

    Deborah, you’ve offered great ideas. I’ll have to begin working on some of them. I wonder how many Americans know that there are actually 4 verses to The Star Spangled Banner. I had to do research to find the 4th. Our music books use verses 1,2 and 4. Check them out for the rest of the story.

    Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
    Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
    In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
    ‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
    A home and a country should leave us no more!
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

  42. Hi Sondra. Glad to learn you are ready to go. I’ve been up to my eyebrows in research and have found so much good information. I was rather randomly searching for the National Anthem on various U.S. Embassy websites, and found copies of the sheet music at the embassies in Hungary and Nigeria. So that is a good start. Here is the link to the one in Hungary: http://hungary.usembassy.gov/anthem.html and it is identical to the one on the Nigerian embassy website. I’m not ready to call these copies “official,” because I think the government has purposefully avoided that, but maybe we can call it the preferred melody line. Obviously a full orchestral or band version is going to be much more elaborate, but if we can acknowledge one simple melody line (that permits changes in the key signature as appropriate), then I think that will be significant.

    It will take a week or longer for me to sort out, and organize what I want to write and post on The Daily Flag. I don’t write quickly, although I write a lot. I’m presently reading inside the website at the National Museum of American History (within the Smithsonian museum system). Here is that link: http://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/the-lyrics.aspx if you want to see where I am.

    More later, Deborah

  43. Sunny Seal says:

    Would you know if there is protocol that the song should be finished once its started. I am being frustrated at the school that I work at because on the day that they play the National Anthem on the intercom they stop it after …gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
    To me that is not right!

  44. Hi Sunny. I would be frustrated, too. Being generous, it takes one minute and 20 seconds to play or sing the Star-Spangled Banner, so I am at a loss to understand why any school administration would cut off the Anthem before it could finish playing. The “National Anthem Code” found here, does not say when or where, or how the Anthem should be performed. It addresses personal comportment only. I would have to go ask why they cut if off before it has finished playing. I know the average school office can a wild and crazy place in the morning. Maybe no one in the office realizes that the recording is messed up.

    Thank you for writing, Sunny. I encourage you to go ask what’s going on. While the Code is silent on this bit of etiquette, tradition and common sense tell us to at least play a whole stanza of the National Anthem.

    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  45. Forrest says:

    Question: I was just at an Irish dance event that played both the Irish and United States National Anthem’s. I was surprised when the Irish National Anthem was played first before The USA National Anthem. The event was conducted in California, is there a protocol for the order of play?

  46. Hi Forrest. There is a protocol for events like this. The U.S. Department of State tells us to play the anthems of foreign nations first, and the American national anthem last. Company first. Thank you for writing, and best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  47. Tom Norris says:

    In a first grade class, the children were sitting in “music circle” and decided to sing the National Anthem It was a spontaneous selection, not planned. There was no music. Should the children have been required to stand? Either standing or sitting, should the have been required to place their hands on their hearts.

  48. Required? Of course not. But it would have been an excellent opportunity for the teacher if he or she had gently explained that when we sing the National Anthem, we are asked to stand and and place the right hand over the heart—as an act of respect for the anthem and the flag. And the moment is not lost, because now that the children have expressed an interest, it’s easy enough to prompt a similar moment. (I do hope there is a flag in the classroom. It’s not required for the National Anthem, but it is for the Pledge of Allegiance.)

    Thank you for writing, Tom
    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  49. Lauren says:

    Hi Deborah-
    We’re hosting an event and expect over 1,000 people in attendance, including state representatives and officials. A local choir will be performing the National Anthem, and I am wondering if it’s customary to arrange for a Color Guard to be present. Or are two flags (in stands) at either end of the stage okay?
    Thank you for any advice!

  50. Hi Lauren. My answer won’t help you much, because I can make a case for both: using a Color Guard, or using the flags already set in the stands. Please forgive me while I ramble a bit.

    I am always perplexed when sporting venues use a Color Guard to present the flag, since most of these places have a flag on pole anyway, or one hanging on the wall. But it’s because a Color Guard is grand and beautiful, and we like to see it. There is a misunderstanding, however, about Color Guards. Anyone can carry the flags as a Color Guard. If I want to arrange for three bankers in pin-striped suits and my granddaughter in her best Sunday dress to be a Color Guard, that’s ok. There is a family in Missouri that carries the Colors on horseback for their local Independence Day parade, and they are now using their third generation of riders. It’s perfectly fine and understandable to want a military Color Guard (or a veterans service organization), but I feel like it limits us in our thinking and planning.

    If you are expecting more than 1000 guest at this event, it is possible that out of all those people, there are some who would be most honored to carry the flags. And it could be anyone: class presidents from the high school, pastors, the local family of the year, librarians. Sixth graders. You get the idea. However, don’t let me discourage you from arranging for a military Color Guard. I just wanted to offer you some ideas.

    The case for using the static flags/pole is equally compelling. For the elderly guests in attendance, standing once for the National Anthem is much easier than standing twice (that’s assuming there would be a bit of space between the posting of the flags and the Anthem). Having the flags displayed to start with saves time. In a gathering of this size, it is an important consideration if there are also prayers, honored guests to be recognized, multiple speakers, awards, et cetera.

    If I were arranging this event, I would use the flags on the stage, and not use a Color Guard, but that’s just me. I don’t know what the event is, so you may want the pageantry of a Color Guard. But the flags on the stage are honorable in their own right without the Color Guard, which I think is better used outdoors.

    Thank you for writing. I hope this helps you clarify your decision.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

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