June 9, 1917
Page 34
Contest Instituted by “Globe” for a New National Anthem

“Star-Spangled Banner” Falls Short of the Mark, Is Consensus of Opinion Among Prominent Musicians—Messrs. Parker, Farrow, Sousa and Erskine Selected as Adjudicators in Competition

REALIZING the shortcomings both poetically and musically of the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a national anthem, the New York Globe recently instituted a contest for a new national anthem. The Globe points out that the United States went into the War of 1812 with “Yankee Doodle” as its only patriotic · air, remarking that it is therefore not surprising that the “Star-Spangled Banner” was an instant success. “The poverty of our patriotic music,” points out the Globe, “was as dismal as ever at the outbreak of the·Civil War. ‘John Brown’s Body’ was the only addition. In May, 1861, a month after· the firing on Sumter, a committee of New Yorkers sought to remedy this condition by offering $500 for a suitable national anthem.” Thousands of melodies and lyrics were submitted, but nothing has survived.
In conducting its contest the Globe has obtained expressions of opinion from noted musicians as to the genuine need for a new national anthem. Excerpts from these expressions follow:
What Musicians Think
Dr. Frank Damrosch: “The poet, not the composer, is the man you seek. We will not have a great national anthem until someone first writes a great national poem; such a one as will inspire American composers to give it a worthy vehicle. . . . ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is a bad poem squeezed into a drinking song.”
Albert Spalding: “The words of our national anthem are not wedded to the music, and the music is agonizing to the average voice. Any public attempt at singing it ends ludicrously. But it must have redeeming qualities to have secured the hold it has. ‘Dixie’ is the real air. Now that North and South are one again we ought to appropriate the Confederacy’s song. It ranks right along with the ‘Marseillaise.’ Notice the instant and joyous response of any crowd to it. No one can sit unmoved at ‘Dixie.’”
David Bispham: “I’m not quite satisfied with it (the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’) as a national anthem because the thought of it isn’t quite broad enough. But I find no objection to the music. It is quite simple, and not as difficult to sing as it is supposed to be. It has survived more than ·a century. That evidences its merit, for the competition is keen. Everyone who has put a note on paper has attempted a national anthem. I have thirty or forty around here now. One came yesterday. The music was bad and the lyrics were terrible. They usually are.”
George Barrère: “It is not proper that I, a Frenchman, should criticize your national anthem, but the best one can say of it is that it is dignified. It lacks verve and inspiration. I am sure it must, for American audiences sing it in the most perfunctory manner. It is too much a name. Americans rise and pretend to sing it, much as if the minister were to say, ‘The congregation will rise and sing No. 87.’ The ‘Marseillaise’ really is too sanguinary. It breathes defiance and demands blood. I think there should be a middle ground somewhere between its violence and the passiveness of what is it called?—’I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.’”
Dr. William C. Carl: “The theory that national anthems are accidents and cannot be written premeditatedly, as other music is, is a fallacy. No special rules govern anthems. But, like all work of value, a really great national anthem will require time, thought, and hard work of the composer. The reason, I believe, that we have not had this anthem before is the reason that so much we Americans do in all activities is of so fleeting value; a lack of time, thought and hard work. American musicians, as a class, are no exception to this rule. Their work is hurried and thoughtless. We are in the midst of a remarkable musical development in this country that may change that. In the meantime we have half a dozen composers who can give us this national anthem if they will give it the time and effort it demands. These are days that should stir men’s souls. The Globe’s action is timely. Do not drop your agitation until you have your anthem.”
Dr. Miles Farrow: “A national anthem must have dignity. Spirit is essential, too, but the composer must bear in mind that it is a hymn and not a march that he is attempting. For instance, ‘Dixie’ never would do as a national anthem. It is one of the most stirring melodies ever written. No one can resist it, and the nation that numbers it among its patriotic songs is fortunate. But there is a sharp distinction between patriotic music in general and national anthems in particular. We have any number of patriotic songs. It might be added that ‘Dixie’ is as difficult to sing as the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ Our anthem should be as easy to sing as ‘America.’ People can and like to sing ‘America.’ Had it not been borrowed from the British, I think it would be the anthem to-day. Certainly it is time that we had a national hymn entirely the creation of Americans.”
The judges for this contest were lately announced as follows: Dr. Horatio Parker, dean of the department of music at Yale University; Dr. Miles Farrow, organist and head of the choir school at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; John Philip Sousa, the noted bandmaster, and Prof. John Erskine of the department of English at Columbia University. All are native-born Americans.
The contest will be open until June 15. It includes both lyrics and music. No prize is offered, and title to music and verse remains absolutely with the authors. Manuscripts must be sent to the (Globe, addressed, “National Anthem Contest.”


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