Thursday, June 16, 2011

Drawing Music :: "The Star-Spangled Banner" Origin Story

Mystic in June

On the last drawing trip to the Mystic Seaport, CT, my friends and I found ourselves in the midst of the Shanty Festival. Sea shanties were shipboard working songs.

It's a yearly event at Mystic. Everywhere I turned, there was music. Performers and folk singers from other countries came as well. They came to share their folk traditions through music. A beautiful thread that connects history to the present, and preserves the storytelling from the age of sail.

Probably the most curious thing I found out during the festival is … the origin story of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner". Who knew that the melody of the anthem is an old popular British drinking song?! When the time came to pick a melody for the United States, someone said "Hey, let's use this one! Everybody knows it!" As a matter of fact, the melody is so hard to sing (it spans almost 2 octaves), that it was a sobriety test in pubs. If you could sing it, it meant you weren't drunk enough. Bah!
Singing popular British drinking song that became "The Star-Spangled Banner"

It was hilarious when the man who told us this story and began singing the original, stood up half-way into the song and said: "I feel like I should be standing while singing it." He placed his right hand over his heart and resumed. He sang with powerful and bright voice. He was definitely sober. (That's him above)

Here are a few portraits of other performers. 

Man with Banjo

Guests from Netherlands
Denise with mandolin, singing a medieval ballad


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