America’s National Songs

This month we celebrate the birth of our great nation. The Declaration of Independence was signed 238 years ago, July 4, 1776. What better way to celebrate than to sing and play our cherished and endeared national patriotic songs? These songs tell the story of our republic from an historical, cultural, traditional, and sometimes religious, background. 78819986

The songs all have a strong vigorous, patriotic content. Some of the lyrics come from poems and some from prose but all espouse heartfelt feelings about our country and what it stands for. There are many different songs in the patriotic repertoire but this writing will be limited to four pieces of historical significance.

The Star-Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, is without a doubt, the most sung and played patriotic piece in America. This song is played and sung at so many occasions, including athletic events, meetings, concerts, graduations, Olympic games and other events too numerous to mention. Every elementary school child usually knows the words to the anthem. It is not however, the easiest song to sing as it has a range of one and a half octaves.
Most people think that Francis Scott Key, (1780-1843) a lawyer and amateur poet, was the composer of the anthem; on the contrary he was the author of the words and not the music. The words came from a poem entitled, Defense of Fort McHenry. The poem was inspired by the War of 1812. Key witnessed the bombardment of the fort by British ships in Chesapeake Bay.

The music was written by British composer John Stafford Smith (1750-1835), some years before, for a men’s social club. Some musicologists say it was from an old English drinking song. The Star-Spangled Banner was not officially adopted as the national anthem until 1931 by a congressional resolution and signed by President Herbert Hoover. The tune was used for years before it officially became our national anthem.

America the Beautiful, one America’s most popular and beloved patriotic songs was composed by Samuel A. Ward (1847-1903), a church organist and choirmaster. The words were by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), an English professor at Wellesley College. The text was inspired by her trip to Colorado and the sights along the way. The original title of the poem was Pike’s Peak. In 1895 it was published under the title, America.

Written In 1882, the music was originally titled, Materna for the hymn, O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. Ward died before the music was combined with Bates poem in 1904. Bates, however, lived to see the popularity of the song as she died in 1929. Some wanted it to be the national anthem as it was easier to sing.

God Bless America, to many people, surely is America’s second national anthem. Irving Berlin (1888-1989) wrote the first rendition while he was in the United States Army in 1918. His intention was to inspire his fellow man to live in peace and tranquility with one another. Kate Smith (1909 – 1986), a vaudeville singer and known as “The First Lady of Radio,” was largely responsible in making the song an immense national sensation. She sang God Bless America on November 11, 1938, the 20th anniversary of the end of World War I, on an Armistice Day radio broadcast.
Everyone was singing and playing it. Sheet music flew off the shelves. It is sung at major league ballgames in the seventh inning stretch and has been for many years. Berlin established a trust that gave proceeds from the song to the Boy and Girl Scouts. Woody Guthrie did not like it and wrote, This Land is Your Land, in protest. After 9-11 God Bless America took on a new popularity instilling pride and patriotism in the country.

The Stars and Stripes Forever, our national march, is said to be John Philip Sousa’s most well-known work. The Stars and Stripes Forever, is by far the most popular march ever written, and it’s popularity is by no means limited to the United States,” stated Paul Bierley in The Works of John Philip Sousa.

Sousa wrote the details of its creation in his autobiography, Marching Along. “Aboard the steamship, Teutonic, as it steamed out of the harbor on my return from Europe in 1896, came one of the most vivid incidents of my career… suddenly I began to sense the rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain…,” he wrote. “That imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing the most distinct melody. When we reached the shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.” This was the brainchild that produced the most famous march ever written.

America is richly blessed with many wonderful patriotic songs but these are at the top of the lists in filling our hearts and minds with love and devotion to our great nation.

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Still Mine: A Movie Review

I have been watching the path of this movie for almost a year. I put it on my “watch for” list and never really gave up on it. I am glad to say it is now out on DVD and not just on Netflix, but in Redbox as well. StillMine_Poster

Still Mine is an amazing Canadian film. It originally came out with a very limited distribution in July 2013 but left the theaters very quickly. Now, sometimes we are tempted to say that when that happens the movie probably wasn’t that good or it would have had a blockbuster reception. I would be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about the mystical ins and outs of film distribution, but I do know that some of the best movies I’ve ever seen never had an ad on TV.

Our stars both had their first lead roles in Still Mine. After decades of playing supporting characters the pair get to star in this exquisitely crafted and deeply affecting love story about a couple in their twilight years. Based on true events and laced with humor, Still Mine tells the heartfelt tale of Craig Morrison (Academy Award nominee, James Cromwell) who comes up against the system when he sets out to build a more suitable house for his ailing wife, Irene (also an Academy Award nominee Genevieve Bujold).

Somewhat “land poor,” Craig and Irene have raised their seven children in the same house on the same land. The house is literally falling down around them; it is old and hard to heat. Craig fells his own trees and cuts his own lumber and although Morrison uses the same methods his father, an accomplished shipbuilder, taught him, times have changed. He quickly gets blindsided by local building codes and bureaucratic officials. He tries to comply but it seems that he is always behind the curve in process.

As Irene becomes increasingly ill—and amidst a series of stop work orders—Craig races to finish the house. Hauled into court and facing jail, Craig takes a final stand against all odds in a truly inspirational story.

Still Mine isn’t really about the battle against the government it’s about the grace and dignity of aging. Craig and Irene have been married for six decades and it’s about their desperate desire to lead the rest of their years in the privacy of their own home. Written and directed by Michael McGowan, he has been able to deliver a film with an uncommon straightforwardness. Still Mine is understated yet truthful.

Filmed in rural, St. Martins, New Brunswick, the scenery is breathtaking. The cast is phenomenal. When the film was over, I felt like I had spent the time sitting across the handmade kitchen table from Craig and Irene, not watching them on a screen.

I love this movie. If you are young and think you may not relate, get over it! Still Mine is beautifully written, exceptionally acted and truly about the best in all of us. In a time when couples give up on their marriages when things get a little tough, this couple has stayed true to their family and to each other year after year. I challenge you to rent it and see how life can be lived. As always, I welcome your comments at chastings@rockcliff.com