Dorothy van den Honert: Fond anthem memories and needless controversy

PITTSFIELD — When I was a little girl in elementary school, we were taught to stand up when we heard the national anthem, and on top of that, we also had to memorize three stanzas so that even at my advanced age I can still rattle them off. The teacher told us that singing the national anthem was a token of respect for our nation, and that each country had its own special song for which its citizens also stood up respectfully when they played it.

During the second World War, there was a real advantage to having people stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner." We girls would have dances occasionally at the YMCA for the soldiers, for which we dressed up in something pretty with matching sandals. Inevitably, at some point during the evening, a couple of soldiers would get into a fight. The orchestra always broke it up by quickly switching mid-song into the national anthem. As a music student I was always astonished at the speed with which the whole band could start a totally new song in the same measure!

After World War II was over and people began talking instead of shooting, some of the finest symphony orchestras began playing concerts in countries that were no longer fighting each other as a gesture of peace and respect for the better side of human beings. I can't remember who financed transporting a whole symphony orchestra across the Atlantic but it was an inspired act. Each orchestra would play the two national anthems before the concert began, with the audience standing and singing its own anthem. For those of us with voices of even minimal quality it was a chance to belt out the high note on "free-ee" without embarrassment.

So New Yorkers had a pre-TV chance to hear a beautiful concert by the Berlin Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic would perform a fabulous concert in Berlin. After a concert, the appreciative audience would make their way out of the concert hall in a state of wonder that the countries that had so recently mashed each other up would produce such a lovely evening for an ex-enemy.

Of course, it was too good an idea to last. The Gloomy Gusses of this world couldn't comprehend the idea that you could combine respect and happiness and they got the mistaken idea that to be respectful you had to be down on your knees. I understand why you have to get down on your knees for a missing toy for your grandchild or help him tie his shoe but I don't understand why you kneel any time other than in church.

Kneeling is appropriate in church. It may accompany an iffy conscience or maybe just an urge to behave more kindly to others. It can be a gesture of humility if your pride or stupidity may have caused someone to be hurt.

NFL players taking a knee during the anthem as a sign of protest has become a major issue today. This has nothing to do with football, the point of which is to knock down your opponent hard enough that he lets go of the football. If you give him a concussion, well, that's too bad.

I personally wish the game would be abandoned. Virtually all athletic activities have some kind of risk if you get good enough to compete, but in football the aim is practically for injury. Don't expect a 93-year-old biddy like me to buy a ticket.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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