Anniversaries can serve as times of reflection. Lately, on the 200th anniversary of the Francis Scott Key’s "The Star Spangled Banner", I’m thinking back on a particular moment the song touched my heart.
Growing up in St. Paul, MN, I attended a small, pre-k through 12th grade school -- Mounds Park Academy (MPA). Throughout my education, students experienced various milestones; we looked forward to those ahead of us, and enjoyed seeing the younger kids grow up to encounter the same educational landmarks. Fifth graders got to perform the Odyssey, seventh graders got to go on a class trip to Washington DC, and seniors got to argue Supreme Court cases in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. But it was the fourth graders who got the most-prized experience: singing the national anthem at a Minnesota Twins game.
I didn’t attend MPA until 5th grade, so I missed out on the annual event. However, in the eight years I spent at the school, my peers referred to the monumental event so often that I sometimes felt like I was missing out on an inside joke. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I understood why my peers looked back on that experience as such a pivotal point in their educational career.
My senior year of high school I was both the yearbook editor and the babysitter for many families with children in the fourth grade class. Canon Rebel in hand, I attended the baseball game, planning on snapping a few pictures for the yearbook and leaving before the game even started. But when I got to the game, I encountered something much more exciting than some cute kids singing a song they learned in music class. This wasn’t a classroom or auditorium -- it was the Twins stadium, and it happened to be the brand new Target Field. And, this wasn’t any song -- it was the song of America, The Star Spangled Banner.
I surveyed some kids I knew, looking for a quote. Some said they were nervous, others noted that they were excited. Some were worried about singing the right harmonies, while others were in awe of the new stadium itself. But as I watched the kids sing, I soon realized that this wasn’t about the performance or the interdisciplinary education these students got by learning about history through music. Instead, it was about participating in an American tradition. It was about the camaraderie the kids feel by partaking in something they usually only watched from the sidelines. Yes, students learned about Independence Day and developed their musical skills. But a lot of these kids grew up watching baseball, and if they didn’t watch baseball, they watched their older peers sing the national anthem with excitement every year. They were proud of it. And, I was proud of them.
The song has a historical context and significance. But, more than that, it embodies an American ethos of tradition and community. And, that feeling they shared as 10-year-olds while singing the national anthem at the Minnesota Twins game -- stadium lights on and fireworks blazing in the background -- will stay with them for years to come.
What memories do you have about the Star Spangled Banner? Are you reflecting on anything around this monumental anniversary?
Laurel Schwartz is a summer intern at American Experience. She is majoring in American Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.
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