Wendy Gerbier

U. S. National Anthem Ambassador


Oh, Say! is a program in which young people and adults alike  are retaught the words and significance of the American National Anthem. The goal of this program is to get “The Star-Spangled Banner” back into Americans’ hearts and minds. Audience members will gain an understanding of the elements that make up the verses of The Star-Spangled Banner; and also gain an understanding of how the song can contribute to unity for citizens of the nation.

Together with the Yale graduate school of music and the Groton Naval Base, using archival documents, images, group activities, audience involvement, videos and music audience members will associate Key's words with historic events and recognize the sentiment those words inspired.

Oh, Say! has been presented to Connecticut school districts in Darien and Norwalk and business companies. Audience members have been as young as 4 years old as well as adults.

A Harris Poll found that two out of three Americans do not know the words to our National Anthem. The American National Anthem was written by Francis Scott Key during a time when he was going through the similar circumstances that the American soldiers and its people are going through all over the world now.

President Herbert Hoover designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem in 1931. And 75 years later, many of the words and phrases have become awkward to the modern tongue and do not make perfect sense even to adults who have been singing the anthem for decades. More than 60% of American adults, in fact, cannot correctly recite the anthem's entire first verse.

The Star-Spangled Banner is a song that is deeply rooted in our American heritage. It is one of the few ways we can voice our pride in our country together. And Oh, Say! is here to help do just that!

Hour Staff Writer

The 3-year-olds sitting in the front row stared with their mouths wide open in wonder as the color guard from the Groton submarine base marched through their paces with flags and rifles before stopping and standing at attention during a celebration of Constitution Day Friday.

The tiniest students at Naramake Elementary School followed the example provided by the older children standing behind them and jumped to their feet and stood quietly. Wendy Gerbier, an opera singer and parent educator, sang the national anthem accompanied by musicians from the Yale School of Music.

Written by Gerbier, the national anthem ambassador for the state of Connecticut, the program, called "Oh, Say!" teaches children the history behind "The Star-Spangled Banner." The event was part of the National Anthem Project, created in 2005, to "re-teach all Americans the words to our national anthem."

"Patriotic songs can be serious. Sometimes they are exciting. The 'Star- Spangled Banner' is both," Gerbier told the children.

As she spoke, Gerbier stood in front of a screen with an image of an early American flag. Immediately, a few of the second-graders noticed the number of stars on the flag and sat up straighter. Their fingers poked at the air as they counted quietly.

Gerbier told the children the picture on the screen was of the flag that flew over Fort
McHenry during the War of 1812. She related story of the British invasion of Baltimore and the efforts of the early Americans to defend the fort against the strongest army and navy in the world. Then she shared the story of Francis Scott Key, who sat up all night to see "if the flag was still there."

"Can you imagine how he felt?" she asked the children.

Gerbier told the children that many Americans do not know the words to the anthem. She showed them a video of two high school students walking through Stamford, stopping people and asking if they could sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The Naramake students laughed as they watched adults stumble over the lyrics or, even more amusing to the children, sing the wrong song.

"Do you know the words?" she asked. When the children yelled, "Yes!" she told them to "stand up tall and sing it proudly."

They sang loudly and confidently, showing they knew each word of the lyrics.

When the students finished, the soldiers paraded the colors out of the school auditorium to the strong beat of a single snare drum. The students watched quietly. As the soldiers marched past, one of them exhaled, "Cool."

Staff writer Joan Gaylord covers education. She may be reached at (203) 354-1005 or [email protected].