Press Coverage


San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Oh, say, can you sing...

The key to our national anthem

"The Star Spangled Banner" may be the most mouthed, rather than sung, national anthem ever. Ask any Padres fan.

There's no evidence that Francis Scott Key belted out the high notes – "the rocket's RED GLARE," "the land of the FREE" – as the bombs burst in air over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. But according to historians, he might well have been humming them, for he wrote his poem to fit the meter of "To Anacreon in Heaven," written by members of London's 19th-century Anacreonic Society, named for a Greek poet known as "the convivial bard of Greece." It was, in short, a drinking song, and previously attached to early American political prose.

Whatever key Key hummed in, 11 years after Congress proclaimed "The Star Spangled Banner" the national anthem, the War Department proclaimed its official key as B-flat. And flat is how ordinary people sing it.

Which brings us to Dr. Edward Siegel, a Solana Beach psychiatrist who started a community sing-along 18 years ago and has led a lonely campaign to change not the national anthem but the key in which it is officially rendered. G-major, he has found, brings the high notes into more normal range without bottoming out on the low notes, so more people can sing it. Or risk trying, anyway.

After a thwarted lobby to Congress several years ago, Siegel has, well, lowered his sights for lowering the anthem's by petitioning the Solana Beach City Council to decree that G be the official key for city renditions of the anthem. The council is to vote on Monday. Given its recent accolades for being the first California city to ban smoking on the beach, Solana Beach seems to be the right target for Siegel in taking his crusade to the home of the brave.