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
(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
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
- Protocols and the National Anthem
- The National Anthem—Style Over Substance