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Without fudging a word

More than 1,300 middle schoolers sing The Star Spangled Banner after learning its background and studying the lyrics.

Published September 20, 2005

SAFETY HARBOR - It may be one of the most difficult songs to sing, even though all Americans know it - or should.

People forget the tune, mumble the words. And don't even get started on that lingering high note at the end.

"It's one of the more difficult songs to sing. The range is so large, an octave and a sixth. It's got long phrases and difficult words," said Safety Harbor Middle School music teacher Rosemary Collins.

But on Wednesday, middle schoolers dressed in red, white and blue tackled The Star Spangled Banner with enthusiasm.

More than 1,300 Safety Harbor Middle students assembled in the courtyard for a ceremony to honor the 191st anniversary of The Star Spangled Banner as part of the National Anthem Project, a campaign to promote both the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and the importance of music education.

"We always try to do one patriotic thing each year," said Collins, who led Wednesday's program. Collins heard about the National Anthem Project through the Music Educators National Conference, which started the national campaign.

Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino, a computer applications teacher at the school, read a proclamation to the students officially recognizing the event and declaring Wednesday National Anthem Project Day in the city.

Members of the Girl and Boy Scouts wore their uniforms and escorted the color guard to the center of the outdoor courtyard, which is anchored by an 18-foot fiberglass sculpture of the sun.

Sixth-grader Matthew Northam, 11, of Boy Scout Troop 135 was the flag bearer. "This is pretty cool," he said.

Principal Alison Kennedy said the event was an opportunity for the students to gather in one place for one purpose.

"We're spread out in our campus," she said. "The students don't get to all come together that often."

After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Collins and the 165 students in her four chorus classes led the school in singing the national anthem.

In preparation for the program, her students discussed the history of The Star Spangled Banner, studied the lyrics and defined unfamiliar words.

"For many of the students, it was kind of a relearning process, relearning the correct words," she said.

Eighth-grader Kelsie Hubbard, 12, admitted that her knowledge of the song wasn't what it should be. "I knew the words, I just didn't understand it," she said. "I didn't realize it was originally a poem."

Fellow eighth-grader Stella McEwen, 13, said she used to fudge the lyrics. "I didn't exactly know the words. I just kind of ran them all together."

She's not alone. A recent Harris Interactive survey showed that two out of three American adults don't know all the words to The Star Spangled Banner. Of those who claimed they do, only 39 percent knew what follows "whose broad stripes and bright stars." (The answer is "through the perilous fight.")

Quick history review: The words were written by attorney Frances Scott Key as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British in 1814. The poem was later set to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, a popular melody around the time of the War of 1812.

In 1931, Congress made The Star Spangled Banner the country's official anthem.

Collins said she was motivated to teach the anthem because of its historical and cultural significance. She said she is always looking for ways to make a wide range of music more relevant in students' lives.

Collins, 36, got her first chorus experience as a seventh-grader at Safety Harbor Middle School. She has taught music there for four years. Her husband, Stan, is an artist in residence at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. They have two children.

She finds music education enjoyable but challenging.

"It covers many subject areas: posture and breathing, physiology of the lungs, sound waves, reading music, rhythm," Collins said. "I believe music is an important part of a well-rounded education."

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:55:19]

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