There's something about "My Old Kentucky Home" that brings tears to my eyes. Every year when I hear the song played just before the running of the Kentucky Derby, something mysterious happens and my emotions get the best of me. The same goes for "The Star Spangled Banner." The words to our national anthem really move me. When I was only about 8 or 9 I remember going to a concert in Hamilton, Ontario, and hearing the local symphony play "Stars and Stripes Forever." It was during World War II and I was attending an English prep school in that city. When the symphony was finished with that number I was standing and cheering while the rest of my classmates applauded politely. I was so proud to be an American, and I still feel the same way today.
This year's Memorial Day was a rather special event for my wife and me. That's because our son was the speaker at the ceremonies in our hometown honoring those who gave their lives serving our country. Randy had served with the Marines from 1981 through 1989 and attained the rank of captain. He gave a moving address, and we were certainly very proud of him. Of course, songs like "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" were part of the program. Coupled with "The Pledge of Allegiance," the event took on a stirring flavor of patriotism. But I have to tell you something that's a little embarrassing. I couldn't remember all the words to "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America." That really bothered me. And based on an article I read recently, it should be a concern for all of us.
A group called the Music Educators National Conference is very concerned with what's happening to our nation musically. Specifically, fewer and fewer of us are singing certain songs, which means we may be losing part of our heritage. The Associated Press story said the group represents 65,000 music educators nationwide and has been around for 90 years. It has compiled a list of 42 songs the music teachers say we must "continue singing, humming or strumming or we stand to lose an important part of our culture." The list includes "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," "This Land is Your Land" and many others I'm sure you'll remember. They include American folk songs, Negro spirituals, a Jewish celebration song and such old favorites as "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." "Home on the Range," "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "If I Had a Hammer" also are on the list. They're songs most of us have sung at one time or another, but according to Will Schmid, president of the Music Educators National Conference, "we have a whole generation that has grown up without singing songs like these-songs that are part of our culture, part of who we are."
Schmid believes it's imperative that people start singing everywhere they possibly can. That includes neighborhoods, churches, ballparks, Scout meetings and summer camps. Even the shower. The music educators feel so strongly about this that they have started a "Get America Singing Again" campaign. According to the Associated Press story, children at one elementary school in Washington, D.C., were able to recognize about a dozen songs on the list. But like many of us, they were lucky if they could get through one verse. Some couldn't get past the first line.
So let's all make it a point to sing a little more. It's fun, it's relaxing and it lets off steam. Maybe tomorrow when you get up, try singing, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'." If you can't remember the words, at least hum the melody. But before you start belting out the tune, you might want to make sure everyone else in the house is awake. Otherwise things might not start off so beautifully after all.
Sing, sing, sing
Charles S. Lauer