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Patriotic Songs

If children do not learn patriotic songs from us, they don't learn them at all.  You need to have this in mind when you approach your learning for the year.  Let's look at several patriotic songs and analyze them.  It will help you place them in your curriculum and plan your concerts well.

The Star Spangled Banner
(Grade 4+)
Previous knowledge:

  • singing a 10th in tune
  • singing semitones in tune
  • partner songs in tune
  • ternary form
  • question and answer phrases
  • "head voice" vocabulary
  • "dipthong" vocabulary
  • so-mi-do able to read at sight in stick and staff notation
New Challenges for the Song
  • range of a 12th (octave plus a fifth, do-so')
  • changing vocal placement between A and B sections
  • diction can be tough
  • memorizing words and unlearning previous mistakes
  • singing in a pressure situation
Here is a treble option.  Note the intonation problems with women singing in their chest voice (lower).  Also, the diction sounds like they are British, not quite the best for the American anthem.  Also, the crowd is NOT in the mood for a concert performance.  They want to cheer after the end of the tune.  Keep this in mind when you choose or edit an arrangement for a sporting event.  But, all in all, a lovely performance.  It's a pressure situation and they just shine.  
This example of acapella Elementary singing is impressive.  This teacher has them singing in two parts.  They lose very little in pitch and their head voices are mostly quite clear.  I tried to find other Elementary choruses, but they were throat straining for the high notes, that's the biggest danger of this song.  Good teaching, Mr. Larson!

Battle Hymn of the Republic
(Grade 2+)

Previous knowledge:
  • singing in tune in head voice
  • singing in range of an octave
  • "ostinato" vocabulary
  • singing with ostinati and partner songs
New Challenges
  • a very long song
  • different age groups singing together
  • a more old fashioned style of music, very 19th Century
  • archaic lyrics and highly religious sentiments
Note the religious (Christian) imagry behind the words, this is NOT an accident.  This song is very religious, that's one of the reasons it is no longer standard American school repertoire.  However, if you teach in an area of the country or in a school that will be okay with that, go for it.  This is a lovely song and part of American history.  
The famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the same.

Irving Berlin, composer of
God Bless America
God Bless America
(Grade 2+)
s,-l  Major 9th
Previous knowledge
  • singing an octave range in tune
  • singing semi-tones in tune
  • mimicking scales and singing scale patterns in various songs
New Challenges
  • shaping longer phrases
  • crescendi on high notes (part of shaping the phrases)
  • singing lists and using these lists to extend the phrases (see above)
Though "God" is in the title, this song is much less Christian than Battle Hym of the Republic.  Many (including me) believe that it is a much better choice for our national anthem than The Star Spangled Banner.  The smaller range, scalar note movement, and logical lyrics with modern English make it a much better choice.  Here is a modest example of an Elementary Choir singing with just a snare drum as accompaniment.   

Yankee Doodle
s,-f minor 7th
This song is wonderful for all ages.  Its history is interesting for older students (explained below), there is a Weikhart dance in the Rhythmically Moving series for the middle Elementary ages, and it's just fun and easy for younger students to learn.  
History: This song was originally a British song which poked fun at the unrefined "Yankees" in the American colonies.  At the time, pasta had just been introduced into English cuisine.  It was new, fancy, cosmopolitan.  Anything that was new, fancy, or cosmopolitan was considered "macaroni."  It's like how we call things "the Cadillac of..." today.  In that lights, "stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni" makes sense.     

  • f#  (D, E, F#, G, A, B, C)
  • drum accompaniment with recorder (imitating fife and drum)

America The Beautiful
(Grade 3+)
s,-l major 9th

previous knowledge
  • singing an octave in tune
  • d-t,-d
  • diphthongs
  • vowels vs consonants in singing
New challenges
  • changing into head voice for answer phrases
  • group diction
This song is a gorgeous one.  It begins with a kind of smooth warm-up in do, re, mi notes.  The change-over into the head voice is natural and beautiful.  It's easy to explain diphthongs with the lyrics "O beautiful," "spacious skies" (speh-ee-she-uhs skah-ee-s).  Also consonants like keeping the "p" in purple and t in mountains.  

This Land is Your Land
s,-f minor 7th
Woody Guthrie

Previous knowledge
  • singing a 6th in tune
  • outlining major triads in echoes, games, and songs
  • rhyming words
New Challenges
  • verse-chorus structure
  • rhythmic form AAAAAAB
This is a wonderful hootenanny song.  Though composed by Woodie Guthrie, the notes and words have changed as millions of people have sung it.  Now it is a true folksong.  You can sing it in unison or as part of a patriotic medley octavo.  


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