I’ll admit it. I haven’t taught my elementary kids to sing the National Anthem for many years. Please refrain from calling me un-American.
In my early days as a music teacher I thought I was my civic duty to teach ALL my kids to sing the Anthem. I tried really hard. Surely I thought by the end of 3rd grade everyone should know all the words and be able to sing a lovely rendition of our National Anthem. But after 3 years of hearing my first graders struggle with words like ramparts and twilight and listening to my 3rd graders strain to hit the high notes correctly or, even worse, just switch to a lower key in the middle of the song, I gave up. It was a hard choice to make. I love our Anthem. I have so many great memories of singing it in my High School chorus and singing it solo during many sporting events starting in 6th grade. But our National Anthem is hard – it’s hard to sing because the range is very large and because the words aren’t ones commonly used today. Actually language is a problem I have with teaching many patriotic folk songs to my students. “Amber waves of grain” creates some beautiful imagery but 1st graders just don’t get it!
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I CAN’T teach my elementary kids to sing our Anthem. I am saying that perhaps that particular song isn’t one that developmentally appropriate for students this age. I DID manage to teach all my k-3 students the whole entire Anthem in those first 2 years of my career. It wasn’t a pretty process and I’m not sure it was the best use of the few educational minutes I’m being given each year. What I’m saying is I won’t teach my k-3 students the Anthem. I’ll discuss with them the proper behavior when it’s sung. I’ll expose them to multiple listenings of different recordings it but I won’t require that they can sing it.
When DO I think students are ready to learn the anthem? For my program the Middle School Chorus was a great time to learn it. Mastering the Anthem was a great beginning of the year project. Those students are ready to understand the vocabulary and learn the proper technique for singing a song a wide range. Doing this song at the beginning of the year also presented the group with many opportunities to model and discuss proper breathing, phrasing, consonant and vowel formation. These are all things that needed to be discussed early and often anyway! Plus I got the opportunity to do a little range testing when each chorus member came to sing the song for me solo for the test. When I started to teach it at this level instead of the elementary the process was much smoother. And the kids enjoyed it! They have a better understanding of why learning this song is important.
I have a feeling that unearthing things in my “Bag of Excuses” is going to become a regular series on this blog. What’s in your bag?