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The Star Spangled Banner


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Not the traditional tune that everyone knows - from the English drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven" - but an American tune composed by James Hewitt (1770-1827) in New York in 1817, only three years after Francis Scott Key wrote his famous poem about the British bombardment of Fort McHenry.


Hewitt was the orchestra leader of the Old American Company and was one of the leading musicians in New York City. His composition had been lost to history until a copy was discovered in Philadelphia and a facsimile reprint issued in 1930. A copy of that reprint just happened to be in a big box of old sheet music that I bought at a junk shop in Hobbs, New Mexico, many years ago, and this grand tune definitely deserves a wider audience.


For those of you brave enough to give it a try, I've attached the pdf with tablature since I made a couple of minor changes since it was first published in Anglo Concertina in the Harmonic Style ten years ago. The music notation shown is exactly from the original Hewitt score, so the Anglo button numbers shown are best approximations. The fingering is fairly difficult, requiring lots of shifts out of normal positions. Originally in the key of G, I transposed it to the key of C to better fit a C/G Anglo. If you have a G/D Anglo, then you'll be in the original pitch.


The video was recorded today, on the 4th of July, 206 years after it was written, and it took me almost that long to learn it!




P.S. I've updated the version in the book, so all copies from here on out will have the newer tab - one of the beauties of print-on-demand publishing.




Star Spangled Banner-Hewitt-C-ANGLO.pdf


Edited by gcoover
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Of related interest is the excellent 2022 book, O Say Can You Hear: A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner by Mark Claque. It places the song in the culture of topical songs quickly dashed off and set to popular tunes and traces its evolution to its current status of national anthem (officially recognized, people stand). As Gary points out above, other tunes were in the mix. In tracing the song's history, Claque points out that "To Anacreon in Heaven" was not a drinking song but what we might consider an "art" song, and both it and the "Star-Spangled Banner" were originally performed by trained soloists, not by the audience.

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7 hours ago, Mike Franch said:

... both it and the "Star-Spangled Banner" were originally performed by trained soloists, not by the audience.


Audiences couldn’t generally sing a song with a range of an octave and a fifth. They still can’t.

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