Alternative to the Star Spangled Banner
Date: February 27, 2016
Hi, everyone. I teach in a school district where fourth graders are required to recite "The Star Spangled Banner" from memory (first verse only). Students also have to learn the history of the song and take a test on it. Although initially, I was uncomfortable with what felt like a unit that turns my classroom into a mindless propaganda machine, I've come to see some musical value for my students in learning "The Star Spangled Banner." Through this unit, students have a great opportunity to memorize a song with challenging lyrics, learn its historical context, and become critics of the music. If the song chosen happens to be patriotic in nature, that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does cause one problem.
Every year, I have one or two fourth graders who happen to be Jehovah's Witnesses. They have always objected to their child singing or otherwise reciting "The Star Spangled Banner." They have expressed no problem with the study of its history, but singing or recitation is something that they feel bound by God and their conscience not to do.
I feel at a loss because my goal as a music teacher in this unit is to expose a student to a song with a challenging text and have them work hard to memorize it and recite it. Having a student do anything else besides that task will not help them grow as musicians, and this is a basic skill that singers use all the time. It's worthy of a fourth grader's time. I'm hoping the ChoralNet community can help me think of a song that meets the following requirements:
1. Is about 8 lines long
2. Has challenging, somewhat archaic lyrics, but is still in English
3. Does not talk about God or patriotism
4. Is textually appropriate for a 9 year old to sing about.
5. Is not too mellismatic.
If any of you have any ideas for songs that might fit the bill, I would love to hear them.
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