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TheNationalAnthem_NAC Last February I wrote an article about the protocol for the National Anthem. In it, I documented my research for the proper behavior during the playing and/or singing of the National Anthem. Since then, I have received many follow-up questions relating to the law contained in the U.S. Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is.

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
anthem–
(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.

The questions range from flag ceremonies, to discussions about the changes in the Anthem protocol over the last sixty-six years. With all these exchanges taking place in the comment section, which many readers likely would not see, I wanted spend some time and expand on the previous article.

National Anthem Protocol

The text quoted above was approved by Congress in June 1942 after the National Anthem Committee (NAC) adopted The Code for the National Anthem of the United States of America (pdf link of original document) in April 1942. What I find interesting is the differences in the two documents.

The NAC code included such details as

  • the proper keys for performances (A-flat)
  • requiring no liberty be taken in either style or substance with the approved version of the National Anthem
  • the requirement of an announcement before the anthem for the assembled to join in singing
  • mandating the tempo of the anthem, and specified that on the metronome—settings 104bpm for the verses and 96bpm for the chorus.

The Congressional version left out many of the details recommended by the committee and included the phrase—with the right hand over the heart—which was not contained in the NAC document.

A Nation’s Song

One of the biggest differences between the two documents is singing. The law approved by Congress makes no mention of singing the anthem, while the NAC centers around audience participation. To the NAC the National Anthem was our song and correspondingly, we should sing the Star Spangled Banner at every opportunity.

The very nature of the song lends itself to participation. Look at the lyrics that Francis Scott Key penned.

O, 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,
Through 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.

 

Keep in mind there are four stanzas to the National Anthem, although only the first is in general knowledge. The NAC included three stanzas in the official version, including 2) and 4) below. There is real significance in the lesser known lyrics. The words are full of images that Key saw that morning as the sun rose and the Star Spangled Banner did yet wave.

2) On the shore dimly seen thro’ 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 on the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

3) 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 wash’d 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.

4) O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!

My concern involves contemporary renditions of the anthem. Controversy surrounds many, while others are hailed as new standards. I like to sing The Star Spangled Banner, and if the song’s performance is such that it is not singable by the audience too, I have a problem. That’s what I want to write about in Part 2—Style over Substance and the National Anthem.

Article Series - National Anthem Protocol

  1. Protocols and the National Anthem
  2. The National Anthem—Style Over Substance

35 Responses to “Protocols and the National Anthem”

  1. [...] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt… questions relating to the law contained in the US Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is. Sec. 301. National anthem. (a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music … [...]

  2. [...] tawon wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt… questions relating to the law contained in the US Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is. Sec. 301. National anthem. (a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music … [...]

  3. P Sanders says:

    My school recently started playing the National Anthem over the intercom system prior to the Pledge. However, they only play half of it and them stop and start the pledge! Common sense would say that is wrong and disrespectful, but is there anything anywhere that states the anthem should be played in its entirety?

  4. There is nothing in the U.S. Code that says the National Anthem must be played “whole.”
    But I agree with you—I think it is poor form to play half of the Anthem. I’m also pretty stuffy about “entertainment” arrangements of the National Anthem, designed to spotlight the performers instead of the Anthem.

    Thank you for writing, Deborah

  5. EVAN A. CHRISS says:

    When the program includes the, inaddaition to the Star Spangled Banner, the anthem of a state or the anthem of a foreign counytry or a popular song such as “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful”, is the Star Spangled Banner sung first or last?

  6. M Clemens says:

    What if the National Anthem is playing remotely (i.e. on a TV) in a public forum (i.e. a school auditorium.) Yesterday’s Obama inauguration was watched all over the nation. Should the standard protocol be observed? Is this any different than playing a recording of the Anthem during a ceremony? Does it matter if the ceremony is live?

  7. M Clemens—This is a problem that has stumped Americans since the invention of the radio, and there is not an easy answer.

    If the goal of watching (or listening) to the broadcast is to include the audience in the event, then I personally think those gathered—no matter how distant—should stand and salute. If there is a flag physically present where those watching are gathered, then they should salute the flag.

    Otherwise, watch the screen and salute as those on the screen salute. It’s a small gesture, but an important one I think. Just my opinion though.

  8. Nancy Griffin says:

    Is The National Anthem sung before or after the Pledge of Allegiance?

  9. Hi Nancy—thank you for writing. The U.S. Code does not specify an order. Generally the Pledge is recited first, then the National Anthem is sung when both are done together.

    However, in most cases, we do not recite the Pledge and sing the National Anthem at the same time. Traditionally, the Pledge is recited on occasions when singing the National Anthem would be difficult. So every morning in classrooms all across the nation, school children stand, salute and say the Pledge of Allegiance, because singing the National Anthem would be more complicated. But when all the children are assembled in the gym or auditorium for a special event, they will sing the National Anthem, but not recite the Pledge.

    It seems to me that the Pledge is saved for small-scale events (club meeting, classroom, etc.) and the National Anthem is performed in a larger venue such as an auditorium, gymnasium or stadium. Just my observation however. It is certainly ok to do both.

  10. Joyce B says:

    What about the band/orchestra that plays the national anthem? Do the performers have to stand during the rendition? I’ve never seen that happen, except when a marching band is playing, but a friend asked. I would think no, but I’m not sure.

    Thank you for tracking down answers!

  11. Musicians and vocalists are given latitude when it comes to performing the National Anthem. They do not have to remove their head coverings, and they are allowed to be seated while performing. Thank you Joyce, for writing.

  12. crabber1967 says:

    I was curious WHEN the Anthem is required to be played.
    I believe it is required to be played a the gathering of large groups. The playing of the National Anthem before sporting events is an example.
    You may be interested in the fact that your site was mentioned at a site where I publish articles about auto racing. This site also has many other sports represented on various pages.
    One article which has caused a good bit of comments to be posted [including one post the included the link to your site] is titled: “Dear National Anthem Singers: Get It Right or Get Off the Stage ”
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/296432-dear-national-anthem-singers-get-it-right-or-get-off-the-stage

    I am looking forward to your reply that will clear up WHEN the playing of the Anthem is required. Thanks.

  13. crabber1967—you have asked a good questions, and my answer will be long, but stick with me.

    Q. I was curious WHEN the Anthem is required to be played?

    A. No where in the U.S. Code are Americans told where and when the National Anthem should be played. That is a decision left to citizens, not the government. Here is a link to the entire statute as it is written, along with other information you will want to read (it’s not long).

    Of special interest, it is worth noting that the law regarding the National Anthem is not found in the same section of the U.S. Code where the laws about the flag are found (or what we commonly call the U.S. Flag Code). Because of this, many people grew up not knowing that we are supposed to salute during the National Anthem also—with a “heart” salute or a military salute, because all they knew or were taught about was from the Flag Code. I am including below, all that is written in the U.S. Code about the National Anthem.

    Sec. 301. National anthem

    -STATUTE-
    (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) 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.

    As you note, we traditionally play the National Anthem at the gathering of large groups: sporting events, graduations, concerts, school assemblies, et cetera. As a school girl, we recited the Pledge each day in our classrooms, but saved the National Anthem for whole school gatherings and school games, when there was a pianist or band to play the music while we sang. I remember very few occasions when we sang it a cappella.

    I went to the website you linked to, and my sentiments are very much like those of the author and the commenters. It’s not that I dislike a soloist, but I sincerely believe that the National Anthem—our beloved Star-Spangled Banner—was never intended to be sung by a soloist. It is OUR anthem, and I believe we should sing it all together.

    Those who can reach the high notes will be held aloft by those who can sing the low notes. Someone who stumbles over the lyrics will be carried along by the person standing along side. This is what Americans do. I think the Star-Spangled Banner is much more beautiful and stirring when we all sing together, and my fondest hope is that someday—at a large gathering of national significance (the Super Bowl for starters) someone will stand before those assembled and say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, would you all rise and join me in singing the National Anthem.” And then LEAD everyone there in singing the anthem. Now wouldn’t that be something!

    And I don’t mean to criticize soloists, but when the “performance” is all about the performer, not the National Anthem, I lose patience. If we sing it together, we will sing it like it was written, and each time we will be refreshed and reminded again that we are Americans. (rant over :)

    Here are a few more articles I wrote on this same topic.
    Protocol questions—Parades, the Pledge, and the National Anthem

    The National Anthem—Style over Substance

    And last but not least, because you mentioned that you are a veteran, you might be interested in this topic on veterans saluting, which has been the most popular article ever posted on The Daily Flag.

    As always, the comments are much more interesting than what I wrote.

    Thank you for writing crabber1967, and best wishes—Deborah Hendrick

  14. Maria says:

    Is is a violation of protocol to “Present Colors” by a color guard to a song other than the National Anthem? The song was the “Negro National Anthem” at a cultural diversity program at a high school. While I do not care what the song was, the American National Anthem was not played and they presented colors to the alternate song. I am thinking that The National Anthem should have at least been played prior and the guard could have remained at present arms through the next song. My son is offended (Marine) and I am trying to prevent conflict.

  15. Maria, thank you for writing, and I apologize for the delay in answering. Yes, it was a breach of protocol.

    A color guard can present the colors without the National Anthem being performed. Boy Scouts do it every week in their regular meetings. The National Anthem can be performed without a color guard—schools do it every day. But there is no substitution for the National Anthem. We don’t present the colors to God Bless America or Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Negro National Anthem). These are wonderful patriotic songs, but they are not accorded the same honor as The Star-Spangled Banner.

  16. When the Negro National Hymn and the Star Spangled Banner are both being played/sung, which one goes first?

  17. Joysetta—I am so sorry. I wrote a response to you very early yesterday morning, but this morning I see that it did not post for some reason (a problem with not enough coffee in me, perhaps).

    You have asked a very good question. The Star-Spangled Banner is performed first, and as a courtesy, it should always be announced so that guests have time to stand and prepare themselves to remove hats, and salute with a heart salute or a *military salute as appropriate. After the National Anthem, then you would sing the Negro National Hymn, and/or any other patriotic American songs (such as America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and et cetera.)

    The only exception to this rule is if the national anthem of another country were going to be played at the same event—if a foreign dignitary from France or Japan, for example, was a guest at the event. Then the U.S. State Department instructs us to play the foreign national anthem first in honor of the guest/country, and the Star-Spangled Banner second.

    *military veterans and active-duty veterans are now permitted to salute the flag with a military salute anytime, anywhere, without wearing uniforms or head coverings.

    Thank you for writing, Joysetta, and Best Wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  18. SGM (Ret) Johnson says:

    Have a question for you, title 36 US Code does not mention if there is a difference if the National Anthem is played outdoors or indoors. Is there a difference protocols that should be taken. Normally if the National Anthem were played in indoors then military in uniform would stand at attention. Should military in uniform render a salute (without headgear) or should they continue to just remain at attention. Also do veterans surrender a salute or remain at attention ?

  19. Dear Sgm. Johnson—The change in the law that permits veterans and active duty military personnel to salute the flag out of uniform has raised more questions than it answers. It is my conclusion that unless the law is further clarified (which I seriously doubt will ever happen), then veterans and all military personnel are free to render a military salute to the flag indoors or outdoors, in uniform or in civilian clothing, bare-headed or covered, regardless of the covering. This means saluting during the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, when the flag passes in review, and when the flag is raised or lowered on a flagpole.

    If comments to articles on The Daily Flag mean anything, then the veterans themselves have spoken, and this is their decision. I do strongly believe however, that veterans and active-duty military personnel should comport themselves as though they were in uniform, and refrain from singing and saluting both, during the National Anthem, and or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In other words, be silent if choosing to salute. But then there are some veterans who disagree with me on that fine point.

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

  20. Allison says:

    In our Black History program, the colors were presented and the National Antheim was sung, using correct protocols. Everyone sat down. After the MC’s gave their opening lines, they told everyone that the Black National Antheim would be sung. The first line was sung and a teacher started waving her arms around and telling everyone to rise. Half the crowd stood. What is the proper protocol?

  21. The Black National Anthem is an historic, patriotic song in the same category as America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee). The strictest protocol says that we stand only for the National Anthem, and that protocol is found here: http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/36C3.txt

    Since 9/11, it has become very popular to play God Bless America at many sporting events, and invariably the announcer encourages the crowd to stand. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I am not in favor of it because I think it takes away a certain amount of respect for the National Anthem. I feel the same way about the Black National Anthem—there is nothing wrong with standing for it, but I am not in favor of it.

    But, as far as I know, there is no written protocol in the U.S. Code, or instructions from the U.S. State Department that address the Black National Anthem.

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

  22. Eileen Cunningham says:

    I read that applause is not appropriate at the end of the National Anthem.
    Is there any authenticity to this claim?
    Thank you.

  23. Hi Eileen—The portion of the U.S. Code that addresses the National Anthem does not mention applause, but it clearly describes personal comportment during the Anthem. It is undoubtedly a violation of the Code to begin applauding before the Anthem is finished, but unfortunately it is quite common now. There is nothing in the Code that would prevent applause after the Anthem is finished however. I am including a link to the National Anthem “code” below, so you can see what it says. Thank you for writing.

    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick
    http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/36C3.txt

  24. Clark Corbin says:

    When an acapella group sings the National Anthem,do they face the audiance or the flag?
    Hands over the heart or at their sides?

  25. Clark, I apologize for the the delay in answering you. Those who perform the National Anthem are (by tradition) exempt from saluting the flag during the performance. Singers should leave their hands at their sides. It may not be possible for the singers to easily face the flag; they should be positioned in what is the most logical configuration. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  26. Karolyn Sailr says:

    Thank you so much for this resource. I am a retired public school choral director. I have always “known” the protocol for performance, but have had trouble finding the “proofs”. I always had my choirs sing the National Anthem at every opportunity, preceded by an announcement to “join us in singing Your National Anthem.” I despise “soloists” and their butchering of the Anthem. I resent being closed out of singing when I am in the audience. I am giving a program on the National Anthem next spring at my DAR chapter. Thank you again, Karolyn Sailer

  27. Thank you for writing, Karolyn. I’m like it best when we all get to sing the National Anthem together, and I’m glad you feel the same way. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  28. Gus Figeac says:

    I need some clarification on what is correct protocol for ensembles/bands that are seated at an event where a choir group is singing the Narional Anthem? If memory serves me, the ensemble may remain seated but the director stands and salutes for the group. This is obvious for the care of personnel and instruments; am I correct or not? I can remember even in the military remaining seated while our officer in charge (director) would stand and salute while we remained seated. Please clear this up for me and thank you for your assistance.

  29. Thank you for writing. Yes—the customary protocol is the way you have described it.
    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  30. Gus Figeac says:

    Thank you for the prompt response but would you be able to assist me with documentation of this? Is there a published directive I may reference? Thank you again and have a blessed day.

  31. Gus, there may be military directives, but there are none for civilians. Much of what we civilians do is predicated on military protocol, because the Flag Code, and the National Anthem Code are silent except for instructions on personal comportment. The first rule is always, to show no disrespect to the flag, and much of what we do is based on tradition. I am not always bound by tradition, but I am utterly sold out on the idea of “no disrespect … .”

    If you are challenged for your stand on this particular instance of etiquette and protocol, your fall-back can be videos of the Marine Corps band, of which there are many to be found on YouTube, and on their own website. I wish I could be more helpful, but it’s hard to beat the Marines.

    Best wishes, Deborah

  32. Nancy says:

    When I was growing up we were taught to stand at attention during the National Anthem and to put our hands over our hearts when we Pledged our Allegiance to the flag. Did I just grow up with a bunch of rubes, or has the protocal changed

  33. Nancy—If it helps at all, you are not alone in not knowing that we are supposed to stand at attention, and salute during the National Anthem (salute with a military salute, or by placing the right hand over the heart—a “heart salute.”) The etiquette and protocol for the National Anthem was passed by an act of Congress on March 3, 1931. That portion of legislation (which I call the National Anthem Code) is found in Title 36, Chapter 3 of the U.S. Code. I have included it at the bottom of this comment so you can read the entire text, which I copied and pasted from the government website.
    http://uscode.house.gov/browse/prelim@title4&edition=prelim

    The etiquette and protocol for the Pledge of Allegiance (passed by Congress on June 22, 1942) is included in the section of law called the U.S. Flag Code—found at Title 4, Chapter 1. Unfortunately, too many people think the “Flag Code” is all there is. The difference is that the Flag Code is all about the flag, and the National Anthem “code” specifically addresses personal comportment during the National Anthem. The focus is on the Anthem, not the flag. In fact, we can sing and perform the National Anthem without a flag present. But the Pledge of Allegiance is recited only when there is a flag in sight.

    Thank you for writing, Nancy. 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.

  34. Amy says:

    My son is in a high school marching band. Normally, when another band is playing the National Anthem, our members stand in the bleachers and place their hands over their hearts. The hats and instruments are placed on the bleachers in front of them. Recently, we were at a game and were not in the stadium when the National Anthem began. The band stood at attention in parade rank, facing the flag. My son removed his uniform hat, but it was very awkward to do the heart salute, while also holding his instrument. Is a marching band required to remove their uniform hat for the National Anthem, when someone else is playing it? What is the correct protocol in this situation? Thank you!

  35. Hi Amy,
    The band’s Drum Major renders honors to the National Anthem and the flag on behalf of the entire band by saluting with a heart salute (hand over the heart). The Drum Major (with a small amount of crisp style and flair) should signal the band to (rise in unison, and) stand at attention. The band should stand with their instruments held in marching position, not playing position. They do not remove their head covers and they do not salute. The Drum Major salutes for all of them. The band director should render an appropriate salute. When your son’s band is playing the National Anthem, the Drum Major should also face the flag and salute on behalf of the band. He or she can verbally—loudly—count down the start to the Anthem, or the band director can do it. Alternately, the highest ranked first chair in the band can count down the start, which is also appropriate. (In an orchestra, the concert master does this, while the conductor salutes.)
    This was a good question Amy, and thank you for writing.
    Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

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