Friday, December 28, 2018

How to Find Harmony in the Congress

Quite enough ink has been spilled, and lips flapped, about how our country is bitterly divided politically. I will not add to such analysis but will instead suggest a modest idea that might get us off on a better foot for 2019.

The 116th Congress will convene January 3, 2019. All 435 Representatives will assemble in the House. They will be sworn in, their families looking on. There will be a prayer and then important business to transact, such as the election of the Speaker. But before that business, I suggest the House -  Democrats, Republicans -  pause to join together in song.
There are numerous studies that outline the benefits of singing. Some are scientific in nature.  It is widely believed that singing releases endorphins, the chemicals that affect the sense of happiness in one’s brain. Singing relieves stress by reducing muscle tension. These and other benefits are magnified by singing in a group.

A 2015 article in Open Science, a journal published by the Royal Society (UK) entitled  “Singing and Social Bonding” suggests evidence of “an ice breaker effect of singing,  in promoting fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals, which bypasses the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction.”  That certainly fits the situation in the ceremony of gathering and swearing in of a new Congress.  Lots of ice is ready and needing to be broken.

I call upon Speaker-In-Waiting Nancy Pelosi and the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to demonstrate a simple act of bipartisanship and set the tone for a new Congress by agreeing to schedule group singing by all attendees at the ceremony on January 3, 2019. They might even  find making the decision a distraction from the government shutdown crisis. 

What to sing? An obvious choice is a patriotic selection. Not,  I say,  the “Star Spangled Banner.” Our national anthem, because of its wide vocal range, is difficult to sing for the ordinary person, thus the need for a trained soloist to render it before events. Cameras catching crowds at stadiums during its rendition will see some singing part of it, some lip syncing and some blank faces that want to shout “play ball” instead. If you want an example of a crowd getting into singing its national song, check out on YouTube 70,000 Welsh fans before a rugby match belting out “Bread of Heaven ” (Cwm  Rhondda).
The music for the “Star Spangled  Banner” was first composed for a British men’s social club in 1773. Called “Anacreon in Heaven” It soon became a popular drinking song, which may have it made its musical challenges less daunting to its original singers.  It became well known in the U.S. Amateur poet Francis Scott Key, inspired by the flag still flying at Ft. McHenry during a 1814 naval battle in Baltimore wrote the lyrics to fit  with “Anacreon” that ultimately became  our National Anthem. 

For the congressional group singing I suggest instead the patriotic song and hymn  “America The Beautiful.”  My reasons have to do the ease by which its lovely melody can be sung by amateurs and by its lyrics, which were composed originally as a poem in 1895 by Katherine Lee Bates, then a professor of English at Colorado College. She was inspired by the views she enjoyed from a visit to Pikes Peak (“O Beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain”).  It was later set to music originally composed in 1882 by a New Jersey church musician Samuel Augustus Ward .

As contrasted to the militaristic nature of the Star Spangled Banner (“rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air”) America the Beautiful, as its title suggests, celebrates the beauty of our vast land (“…for purple mountain majesties. Above the fruited plain.”)  In its clearly patriotic emphasis it also several times calls upon the Almighty for help: “America! America! God shed his light on thee.”   Surely that appeal would be welcomed these days, especially in the House Chamber.

All four verses should be sung (when was the last time you heard or tried any but the first verse of the National Anthem?) as they have important messages for this ad hoc choir. Consider these excerpts: 
“ America, America, God mend thy every flaw, confirm thy soul in self control. Thy liberty in law”
“And crown they good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea” 

The singers may need some initial encouragement so I suggest finding a chorus in support. To avoid partisan bickering over which one or where it’s from,  let’s settle on the glee club from The U.S. Naval Academy from nearby Annapolis. But its participation must not take the place of everyone in the chamber singing together.
I guarantee a robust rendition by all.  And maybe this way there will be a few minutes of harmony in the U.S.  House of Representatives. 

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