Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Nov. 9, 2005 - Garbed in black and silver, Mountain View High School's marching band stood proudly on the track before the start of last week's home football game against Flowing Wells.
But rather than playing their usual instruments, band members removed their hats, faced the American flag and placed their hands over their hearts.
Instead of hearing, "Please rise for the playing of our national anthem," the audience was asked to sing along and help change a sobering fact found in a recent Harris poll: Two-thirds of U.S. residents don't know all of the words to the national anthem, and many more don't know that "The Star Spangled Banner" is the nation's song.
Flowing Wells' marching band played the patriotic tune on their instruments as several hundred people sang along with Mountain View's band members. A smaller group of students from Marana's Butterfield Elementary School also joined in the chorus.
"I think it's a really nice song and we should be really respectful of it," said sixth-grader Carly Goodin, 12, who's just one of many students who've been learning about the national anthem in school this year.
Ellen Kirkbride, Mountain View's band director, is leading Arizona's charge as part of a nationwide effort to re-teach the lyrics of the national anthem to the country. It's a grassroots campaign that's starting in the schools and will hopefully spread into the community, she said.
"Every state really wants to have something to do with this particular project," said Kirkbride, president-elect of the Arizona Music Educators Association. "If all of us do something, then hopefully we can re-teach the lyrics. It's kind of like baby steps."
Kirkbride said she heard about The National Anthem Project earlier this year at a conference in Virginia and decided it was something she could bring back to Marana. The project is a program started by MENC: The National Association for Music Education.
Supporters of the project plan to make a year-long tour across the United States, starting in January, in an effort to restore America's voice through music education. The tour has a stop in Phoenix in March.
"To me it was really a great project that I really wanted to get involved in with my band program, because I felt it was a very accessible project for people to do," Kirkbride said. "I just think it can be a rather simple statement to your community and it's not that difficult."
Mountain View kicked off its own campaign Sept. 26 at a Monday morning pep assembly, with 99 students from the school's strings program playing at center court. For the first time in Mountain View's history, the orchestra led the student body in the national anthem instead of the usual band.
Singer Gabby Carrillo was supported by members of the band and choir, while sophomore Darian Douglas stepped out of his role as a violin player to conduct the orchestra.
"A lot of the orchestra students were really excited because the orchestra never really plays at anything like this, so this was a really cool thing," said Douglas, 15, president of the school's orchestra club. "And then also to play the national anthem, a few kids didn't know the words, so we had to kind of learn that … I think I kind of clarified the words."
Aside from teaching patriotism, The National Anthem Project is a way of underscoring the importance of having music educators in Arizona's schools, Kirkbride said. While music is taught in all of Marana's schools, there are some elementary schools in Tucson that don't offer general music, she said.
"I think the traditions of our country, as far as teaching what America is all about and where it came from, so much of it can be documented in music," she said. "It's not just about patriotic songs; it's about American folk songs - everything that has happened in our country's history."
Kirkbride said she doesn't think many parents sit at home singing folk songs to their children anymore. That's where music educators become important by instilling a sense of patriotism found in songs like "America the Beautiful," she said.
"People don't sit in their living rooms with their families and sing 'Oh! Susanna' and songs about the Old West. We just don't do it anymore," she said. "People get on their iPods and their computers and they're sort of losing that family tradition of singing together."
Gloria Day, a longtime music teacher at Butterfield Elementary, said she focuses on teaching her students a new patriotic song each month, so when she heard about The National Anthem Project, she immediately jumped on board.
She said October's song of the month was the national anthem, which her students will sing again Nov. 10 during a 2:30 p.m. flag raising outside the school in honor of Veterans Day.
"I'm hoping that there's an awareness of our national anthem and an awareness of music education," she said. "I hope parents will support music education for future generations and the kids we're teaching now turn around and carry that torch."
Day said she taught her students the words and history of the national anthem using several methods. For some, she used a picture book to tell the story of when Francis Scott Key wrote the song almost 200 years ago. For others, she taught definitions of the harder words and made students put sentence strips containing the lyrics in order.
"The words are really hard to sing, so they struggle with it," she said. "But the more they do it, the more they understand it."
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was written during the War of 1812 by Key, a Washington attorney, who watched the night sky as the country was under attack by the British navy at Fort McHenry.
After seeing the "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" throughout the night, Key was inspired to see that America's flag was still waiving at dawn. "The Star-Spangled Banner" became America's national anthem in 1931.
"The first verse is really painting this brilliant picture that is a great thing for English teachers to teach," Kirkbride said. "But I think the singing is something that you have to just pick apart. The students think it's funny once they realize that they're singing it wrong, just like songs on the radio."
With three former Mountain View band students currently in the military, the patriotic project may have been more than just a classroom lesson, though. Kirkbride said it was more personal to her students who lost a former bandmate this year.
Private 1st Class Sam Huff, 18, died in April after the vehicle she was traveling in hit a roadside bomb in Iraq. Huff, a drum major, enlisted shortly after graduating last year from Mountain View and shipped out for the Middle East in February.
"We've had a little bit more connection with patriotism in my band and when we played at her service, we started with the national anthem," said Kirkbride, who still keeps a picture of Huff in her office. "I think my older students are very respectful of the song and I think that's somewhat connected to some of our students who are in the military."
Mountain View's band recently qualified to compete at this year's State Marching Band Festival Nov. 12 in Glendale. The band also will perform Nov. 19 during the University of Arizona Band Day.
The band will play the same medley of songs by the rock band Styx that they showcased during last week's halftime show. At close listen, it's quite possible to hear those brass horns speaking, "Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto."