National Anthem Project Concludes With Grand Finale Events

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2007 – In the shadow of the Washington Monument, with its 50 American flags snapping in the breeze, the “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band helped kick off the grand finale of the National Anthem Project here yesterday.

The National Association for Music Education’s multiyear project to get America singing its anthem again began when a poll showed two-thirds of Americans didn’t know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It wasn’t just the words, it was not knowing anything about who Francis Scott Key was,” said Earl Hurrey, the association’s assistant executive director. “We had kids that didn’t know what the name of the national anthem was. They thought it was just the ‘National Anthem.’”

The staggering results of the poll prompted the National Association of Music Education to launch the National Anthem Project on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on March 10, 2005. The project was intended to re-teach Americans the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and to emphasize the importance of music in school, Hurrey said.

“We created the National Anthem Project to make people aware that music education in schools is far more important than just ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’” Hurrey, a former Marine master gunnery sergeant and member of the “President’s Own” said. “The songs of our heritage are an important part of our culture, and when you cut music from schools, you’re also cutting those lessons about our music and our heritage.”

The students from Patterson Elementary School in Gilbert, Ariz., who were part of the nearly 5,000 music students from 42 states who gathered on the National Mall for the program, don’t have that problem. Their music teacher, Diane Walker, makes sure her students know the words to the multiple verses.

“I was excited for the kids to learn all of (the verses). We talked about the words and what the words mean,” she said. “I think when they sing those words today, being in this setting, it’ll mean more than it ever has before.”

Her students agreed. With red and blue bands on her braces, Kelsi Helfrich, 11, said she appreciates her teacher’s zeal for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I only knew the first verse of the national anthem, and I didn’t really know the rest,” she said. “There’s a lot of history behind it, and it probably took a long time to write it.”

Helfrich admitted that until recently she thought there was just one verse to the song. “Apparently there’s four,” she said with a colorful grin.

Yesterday’s events began the grand finale capping the two-year project. When the Marine band’s musical salute to American culture ended, the Oak Ridge Boys took center stage and, along with Mrs. America representatives, led the crowd in singing the national anthem.

The celebration concludes tomorrow at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a musical festival. A drum corps competition will end the day’s festivities.

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