O's fans know anthem is not a prayer [Letter]

September 21, 2014

I read with interest Roy Valiant's letter ("Stop desecrating the anthem," Sept 18). As someone who routinely shouts, "O!" when the song is performed at Orioles games, I'd like to offer a different perspective. I won't dwell on how ironic it is that a song associated with independence has become the focus of so many "authorities" laying down the law about how it must be sung.

Instead, I'd like to point out that Francis Scott Key did not write a hymn or a dirge or a prayer. He wrote and published a poem — a poem that became so popular that someone eventually set it to music. The tune chosen was "To Anacreon in Heaven." This was an English drinking song, which suggests that the first performances did not take place in a chapel or a courtroom or while people stood around a flag with their hands on their hearts. It was sung in taverns, by patrons who were no doubt pounding down the early 19th-century equivalent of Natty Boh. As the evening grew late and the voices grew loud, they sang the song that was then called, "Defence of Fort McHenry" any which way they pleased. If you had told them then that they were singing it disrespectfully, you could probably count on being booted out at a minimum. They didn't sing in these taverns to show respect for the flag or the nation. They sang the song because it was enjoyable and because it filled them with pride.

Two hundred years later, it still is and it still does.

Steve English, Clarksville

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