Happy Independence Day to my American followers! I’ve traveled to visit my husband’s family and some friends from the area where we grew up. Anticipating the journey, has made me think not only about all the different aspects of American landscape that I’ve seen from my travels and relocations, but an endearing memory from my middle school chorus teacher.
She was shorter than most of her students but a firecracker. She would record each section’s part on a tape with and without accompaniment so we could practice our songs outside of class. I think it was the first time I realized how much extra work teachers must do outside of the classroom! One time while we waited for the bell to ring to begin class, a few of us had an informal chat with her about the national anthem. The teacher stated that The Star Spangled Banner wasn’t a favorite of hers and nominated America the Beautiful instead. I hadn’t heard it before, and neither had a few others, so she started singing it for us.
I was captivated by the poetry. Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA, our mountains weren’t purple, but I loved the image nonetheless. It was a rural, agricultural community with deep ties to land. The first verse seemed to perfectly capture the importance of farming to our nation. Later, the song honors our history and perseverance to build from wilderness to cities.
The words were first written as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates, titled “Pikes Peak,” a It appeared in the 1895 July 4 edition of The Congregationalist. Samuel Ward composed the music, originally for another hymn. The two were united in 1910.
I continued singing through high school. My chorus often sang the national anthem before basketball games (soloists performed for the football games). I have to agree with my chorus instructor! The Star Spangled Banner is difficult to sing and I find America the Beautiful much more moving!
I first heard this Ray Charles version after watching the baseball film, The Sand Lot…around the same time that I heard the hymn version, actually.
I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Fourth!