Today’s conversation centered around the mythology of the SSB that is listed here.
We took the Metro into DC which is about a 25 minute trek. College Park is the next to the last stop on the Green Line. Seeing the Nation’s Capitol with a crowd of people who have never been here before is kind of neat. The day started out beautifully, in spite of Hurricane Albert hitting the east coast of NC close to my house. All the times that I’ve been to Washington DC I had never been to the Library of Congress. It is a magnificent building with beautiful sculptures and paintings in the Grand Gallery and houses many different exhibits.
Thomas Jefferson was a far bigger bookaholic that I am. He had a massive collection that he offered to the federal government after the British burned down the capital in 1814 during the War of 1812. You can read more here.
This original collection is on display at the museum.
The main buildings opened in 1897 with artistic decorations relating to literature, knowledge, creativity and intellectual achievement. It was the first building in DC to be constructed with electricity installed.
There are all kinds of exhibits featuring performers and writers. The Ira and George Gershwin room houses their piano and many examples of music.
I particularly enjoyed the Bob Hope room which featured a lot of his memorabilia and photos/videos from his time period. Lots of USO Christmas shows, movies, news etc. from the time period when entertainers were taking risks with humor involving the government. Hope received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
We spent about an hour with Library curators who displayed and talked about original documents relating to the SSB. The tune for the SSB is the Anacreon, and many of the original pieces they showed us came from the 18th century. The very first published copy of the SSB is behind glass.
Francis Scott Key’s lyrics were originally titled “In Defence of Ft. McHenry.” Mark Clague points out that songwriting was a money making venture in these days. It wasn’t long before the title was changed to the “Star Spangled Banner” and images of the flag attached, to give the sheet music less of a local Baltimore flavor and more of a nationally universal appeal.
So did you know that there is no official “legal” version of the Star Spangled Banner? And that when it was made the official National Anthem in 1931, that was a deliberate choice so that each military division’s band could make it their own. We talked about how pop stars can butcher the Anthem at sporting events, and perhaps when the NFL makes the choice who will sing it at the Super Bowl they are making the decision based on what kind of press they’ll get after the game. How long will America be talking about Beyonce in that outfit singing the SSB?
The day ended with a concert from Thomas Hampson, Mark Clague and chorus from University of Michigan. Many different versions of the SSB were performed as well as historical pieces. The concert was free in the Coolidge Theatre at the Library and the 500 seat house was packed.