Poetry

Previous ] Home ] Up ] Next ]

      

Out of Many, One

by Lionel E. Deimel

 

From many peoples we have come,

From every tribe and every race—

The native and the immigrant,

Each one has sought a better place,

Forsaking that which once was dear,

A brand new order to embrace.

 

A Union born of many states,

A nation under law we made.

We strive to make it just and fair,

Despite the price we’ve often paid.

Though ever strong, we long for peace,

Yet face the future unafraid.

 

To our Republic, this we pledge:

For every challenge that awaits,

Free men and women will come forth

Whose work a better world creates.

With banner raised, with grateful hearts,

We honor these United States!

 

 

Banner with stars

 

 
 

On a recent Sunday, I did not go to church, as I had to leave town just after noon to attend an event in Johnston, Pa. This gave me the opportunity to listen to a public radio program I seldom hear. PRI’s Studio 360 was running a “Redesign July 4th Competition,” and invited listeners to submit contemporary replacements (or updates or re-conceptualizations) for Uncle Sam or the National Anthem. Winners are to be announced on the July 4th weekend.

I had no ideas about updating Uncle Sam, and, lacking graphical skills, I would have been unable to instantiate them had I had any. A new National Anthem, however, seemed within my grasp.

I put on my poet’s cap and got to work. In particular, I began composing a poem as I drove to Johnstown. (This was not the first poetry writing I’ve done driving between Pittsburgh and Johnstown. See “How Can I Miss You?”.)

I wrote what I intended to be the first verse of an anthem text. Its inspiration was “American the Beautiful” or perhaps “This land is your land”:

From Alaska’s icy waters

To Hawaii’s newest land,

From California’s coastline

To Carolina’s sand,

The beauty of our country

Can be seen at every hand.

Over the next few days, I began creating additional six-line stanzas with end rhymes in lines 2, 4, and 6. I sat back and took stock after completing four stanzas, at which point I recognized that (1) most lines had 8 syllables, (2) the lines of the original stanza were especially irregular with regard to line length, and (3) the first stanza was largely unrelated to the sentiments expressed in what followed. I fixed these problems by dropping the original stanza and making all lines 8 syllables long.

In composing my anthem, I had several goals in mind. I wanted to emphasize the nation, rather than something only symbolic of it, such as the flag. I wanted to keep God out of the text, since we are a secular state, despite the “Christian” claims of some. I did not want the text to be about military might, which has never been foundational for the United States. Oh, and I wanted an anthem that was explicit about what country was being sung about.

Whether I wrote a good text or not, I think I largely fulfilled my content requirements. The title, of course, is taken from the Great Seal of the United States. The two Latin mottos of the seal inspired the last line of the first stanza and the first line of the second. I was talked out of using “E Pluribus Unun” for the title, settling for the translation “Out of Many, One.”

The Great Seal of the United States

It is worth mentioning that I had some problems with the last line of the first verse. “Brand new” at first seemed very commercial and contemporary, but I needed a one-syllable word before “new,” and “brand” worked well as far as the meter went. As it happens, “brand new” seems to have originated in the sixteenth century, when “brand” referred to a branding iron or some such. That usage seemed sufficiently venerable for me to use the phrase in an anthem for a country established in 1776.

Music was trickier. I have composed a few tunes—see, for example, “O Lord the Invisible”—but I am a writer, not a composer. I began by checking the metrical index of the Episcopal hymnal for tunes that might work with my text. Nothing  worked well, though “Melita,” the tune of the Navy Hymn, was not awful. It was at this point that I realized that a more conventional text would have been constructed from three rhymed couplets. (I was unmoved. by this insight, however.) I concluded that I would have to write my own tune.

Again, I set certain constraints for myself. The tune should be singable, having notes neither too low nor too high. It should be coherent, but not too repetitive. (Some very good tunes are repetitive, however.) Finally, the character of the tune should be stirring, more martial than pastoral. We sing our anthem at sporting events, which is no time for sweet and lovely. The meter, I thought, should be 4/4 or, more likely, 2/4.

I quickly found a first line, but what seemed like the “natural” second line had too few notes; I had to insert more notes. It took some time, but progress was steady, if not quick. I finished the tune in a day once I sat down at a piano. I am mostly satisfied with the final result. I think it is not boring, has a bit of drama, and is reasonably singable, though its range is slightly wider than I might have liked. Originally, the tune was pitched a fourth higher; I lowered the key to make it easier to sing. I named the tune “E Pluribus Unum.”

Once I had a tune, I looked into how my anthem was to be submitted to Studio 360. I was dismayed to discover that it was to be submitted via YouTube. In general, I don’t do video. I felt a bit conned. I was writing music because I’m not graphically talented, a deficiency that includes video production. Eventually, I realized that I could do a slide show with music. In the end, I used a piece of software that had been sitting unused on my computer, Microsoft Photo Story 3. No doubt there is much that this software doesn’t do, but it was perfect for the task at hand, which was a slide show with music.

Doug Starr, the organist and choirmaster at my church, arranged my tune and played it on the church’s organ. I sang the anthem in a not totally embarrassing performance and recorded the result. A corrected version of what I submitted to Studio 360 can be seen below. (The original version was missing a comma.) You can see submissions from other contestants here.

You can view the sheet music for my anthem here.

As it happens, Studio 360 didn’t quite play fair with contributors. You can read how they handled submissions to the National Anthem redesign challenge on my blog.

— LED, 6/22/2010, rev. 7/3/2010

Previous Home Up Next

 
Send mail to Lionel Deimel with questions or comments about Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.
Copyright © 2000-2017 by Lionel Deimel. All rights reserved.