Sep 26, 2007

The Power of Music

by Anna Arnett

They say no great movement ever gained true greatness without at least one rousing theme song. Be that as it may, it’s still obvious to me that theme songs do rouse emotions. That’s why schools adopt their own special pep songs, and their ‘alma mater’. Political conventions gain unity and work up enthusiasm with singing. States and nations each legislate their anthems, which are played or sung at widely varying events. Where can you find an American who does not thrill when the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” indicate another gold medal for America at the Olympics?

Why is music so powerful? There’s something about the rhythm, rhyme, cadence, melody, and harmony that combine with stirring words to speak to our senses with great force, enhancing that which our minds embrace. Religion, or worship, is no exception. Scriptures are necessary; listening to sermons and following commandments both help us learn; prayer is essential. However, singing somehow binds all these together to forever stir our bosoms.

Think of your favorites, the songs, hymns, or anthems that form your emergency-room refuge to which in mind and spirit you can flee when sorely tempted, or when soul-shattering or mind-perplexing problems threaten to overpower. Which ones best express your joy in living? With what music do you achieve that special, deep feeling of worship?

I spoke in church last Sunday, on the assigned topic of worshiping through music. I wish I had written this before I spoke so I could have used it, instead of rambling on in another direction. (My best talks are not the ones I prepare, or deliver, but those I think out after the fact.) A youth speaker and I spoke, and about half an hour was left for anyone to come to the podium to tell which was their favorite number in the hymn book, and why. Then the congregation sang at least two verses of that hymn. What a very stirring meeting -- less preaching and more music. Members introduced, and we sang, at least half a dozen hymns.

One especially stirred me. A young mother whose husband is in the Air Force, and away on duty, told with tears in her voice of how greatly she appreciates our national anthem, especially the verses we seldom sing. We all stood and sang with fervor. I needn't copy the first verse here. Every red-blooded American knows it. The second verse, to a large degree unknown, tells of the joy Francis Scott Key felt when, after a long night of battle, dawn dissipated his greatest fear.

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 on the stream.
‘Tis the Star Spangled Banner, Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Then comes the verse that I wish we would always sing—even when we only sing one verse. This, for me, is the epitome of patriotism, and I can seldom sing it without a catch in my throat. I’m actually crying right now as I type this. I recall the poignant feeling, and see in the back of my conscience, a base in Japan, where I stopped my car along with every other car in the vicinity, placed a hand over my heart and watched uniformed drivers get out and stand at saluting attention as “The Star Spangled Banner” blared out over the speakers. We watched our glorious flag and the Japanese flag descended simultaneously. Somehow this is etched in my mind as a symbol not only of patriotism, but of enmity turned to brotherhood.

Here it is, the most stirring verse of all, and in my mind the most appropriate:

Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the battle’s confusion.
Blessed with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is Our Trust.”
And the Star Spangled Banner in Triumph shall wave,
O’er the Land of the Free, and the home of the brave.


  1. Anna, I am so glad to read your essay on the Star-Spangled Banner. I once commented at a sports event, sort of under my breath, that we should sing all the verses, particularly the last one. THe fellow next to me said, "Ah, why? No one knows the first verse!"
    I love that last verse. It's devotion, thankfulness and a pledge all at once. I couldn't agree more. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Anna for bringing a renewed reverence to my day. I think I need to have another FHE on flag etiquette and teach my younger children the last verse...actually...I think there is a 4th verse that we don't use anymore because of its references to Great Britain that are no longer applicable. Hmmm...maybe that's a different song. Lovely essay, Anna!

  3. Thanks for a wonderful post. I always use the first few lines from the "Thus be it ever" when I write thank-you notes to our soldiers. Because that's what they do!

  4. Beautiful, stirring post, Anna! I agree, I wish we would all memorize ALL the verses to the Star-Spangled Banner. I make a point of at least singing it (all verses) in Sacrament Meeting on the 4th of July, but my sister says they never sing the Star-Spangled Banner in her ward, even on the 4th of July. Sad.

  5. Hmmm...I just heard a parent complain on the radio that his child was sent home from school because he was wearing a red, white and blue striped shirt. The principle said that in light of the current political situation, the wearing of those colors could incite trouble. When the parent went to the school, red white and green flags were displayed everywhere and some of the classrooms were singing the Mexican National Anthem to start the day. I am speechless.....

  6. The third verse:

    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.


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