Identity, Power and Music presents:

"Our Star-Spangled Banner" 

Program Notes

Identity, Power and Music is a Play On, Philly! Academy class that creates space for students to discuss issues of race, gender, and identity, especially in the context of media, art, and classical music. The objectives of class this year were for students to gain the vocabulary to discuss histories of classical music, to learn and practice discussion facilitation skills with their peers, and to see themselves as agents of change in our world.

At the beginning of this year’s IPM project, my students analyzed three different pieces: The Star Spangled Banner, Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk, and The Chinese Tea Dance in The Nutcracker - in their historical and political context. Through studying each piece, students explored how music has had the power to perpetuate structural racism and social injustice. Students chose to use music as a tool to break this cycle and communicate a vision for a world where all of their stories are represented.  Students decided to focus the final project on the Star Spangled Banner because of the relevancy of the controversy in popular discussion. Their goal isn’t to protest the national anthem, but to educate people on the words they’re saying, or to be more exact, the words they are not.

In the end, and in the tradition of the melody used to tell the story of the time, my students arranged the music to reflect tensions between messages of freedom and slavery, and wrote a fourth verse to speak their truth of historic and present racism and to imagine a better future together. The lyrics in the 4th verse deal with the effects of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. The intent isn’t to condemn individual police officers, but to show the larger history of systemic police brutality and racism in our country and the view that we can work together to make positive change.


History of the National Anthem

Written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, the Star Spangled Banner is a piece of American patriotism. During the War of 1812, Key was on a ship watching the Battle of Fort McHenry unfold. When he saw that the American flag was still waving the next day, Key was struck with inspiration and decided to write the lyrics that we now know as the Star Spangled Banner. The words of the National Anthem and the actual music have two different histories, however. The melody was a British drinking song, used with various sets of lyrics to tell the story of the time, and was popular well before Key wrote the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. As for the third verse, during the war, the British promised freedom to African American slaves who joined their military. In this context, the third verse conveys satisfaction in the death of slaves who fought on the British side in order to gain their freedom.

The Star Spangled Banner

Lyrics for Verses 1, 2, and 3 by Francis Scott Key
Lyrics for Verse 4 by POP Academy IPM Students

Verse 1

O Say, can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets' red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


Verse 2

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream
Tis the star-spangled banner o long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

Verse 3

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps pollution

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

Verse 4 (written by POP Academy IPM students) 

O say can you see the blood of our children
Who are slaughtered by those who vow to protect us?
And from shackles to shame we still wear on our frame
Incarcerated, they enslave our men in a cage

And from whips to police, they keep us on a leash
No proof, no rights; it’s a battle we fight
Let us join together and strive for a change
Stand tall and proud; we’re the home of the brave