Author Francis Scott Key might have been proud|[9/16/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 16, 2006

The celebration was delayed by a day, but hundreds of students at Warrenton Elementary weren’t going to be deterred Friday from a schoolwide rendition of &#8220The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Roughly 500 kindergarten through sixth-graders gathered behind the school to sing the anthem and hold up squares of red, white and blue paper to simulate Old Glory as part of the second annual National Anthem Project, a creation of the National Association for Music Education to foster better awareness of the song.

The schoolwide sing was scheduled for Thursday, before a rupture in a city water main shut down water service across the city and temporarily closed every elementary and secondary school in Warren County.

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That put an entire day between the practice Wednesday and the &#8220official” performance – not a big deal for the older kids, most of whom have known the words for a few years, but for the younger ones, the recall was less automatic.

&#8220I’m really proud of them,” Charisse Brown, one of the school’s three kindergarten teachers, said of her 25 students after their &#8220Star-Spangled” debut. &#8220They were able to stay in line – they fidgeted a little bit, but they did great.”

Poet Francis Scott Key was inspired by Sept. 13, 1814, British naval attack of Fort McHenry in Maryland. By dawn, he expected to see Baltimore burned by the British. Instead, he saw the American flag raised as British ships retreated.

Key’s original poem was titled, &#8220The Defense of Fort McHenry,” and its lyrics were later set to an English pub tune, &#8220To Anacreon in Heaven?,” to create the song sung today.

President Herbert Hoover designated &#8220The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem in 1931.

Seventy-five years later, many of the words and phrases have become awkward to the modern tongue – what, for example, is supposed to be &#8220gallantly streaming?” – and don’t make perfect sense even to adults who have been singing the anthem for decades. More than 60 percent of American adults, in fact, can’t correctly recite the anthem’s entire first verse, according to a Harris poll cited by the Anthem Project’s Web site.

The goal of the Anthem Project is to get &#8220The Star-Spangled Banner” into schools sooner, to help it become more imprinted in kids’ minds at a younger age, said Warrenton music teacher Tracy Gardner, who said she usually begins teaching the anthem to second-graders. This year, though, the second year of the Anthem Project, but the first time Warrenton has participated, she broadened the approach to all of her students, including kindergartners.

&#8220They don’t understand the words,” Gardner said of her youngest students, who she sees for 40 minutes once a week, but who also practiced every day on the anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance with their regular teachers. &#8220Repetition is the thing that works with the little ones.”

Well, mostly: asked if they got the whole &#8220Star-Spangled Whatever It Is,” as it was dubbed by 5-year-old Tristan Adcock, the kindergartners gave a resounding and honest, &#8220kind of.”

&#8220Not quite,” said Tristan, one of Brown’s students, also clad in a black cowboy hat to commemorate the letter of the week, H. &#8220When they go to another part, I just sing that part, too.”

&#8220It was kind of hard,” agreed his classmate, Danielle Phelps, also 5. &#8220I learned a little of it.”