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Protocols and the National Anthem

TheNationalAnthem_NAC Last February I wrote an article about the protocol for the National Anthem. In it, I documented my research for the proper behavior during the playing and/or singing of the National Anthem. Since then, I have received many follow-up questions relating to the law contained in the U.S. Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is.

Sec. 301. National anthem

(a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music
known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.–During a rendition of the national
anthem–
(1) when the flag is displayed–
(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at
attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with
their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder,
the hand being over the heart; and
(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute
at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until
the last note; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face
toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag
were displayed.

The questions range from flag ceremonies, to discussions about the changes in the Anthem protocol over the last sixty-six years. With all these exchanges taking place in the comment section, which many readers likely would not see, I wanted spend some time and expand on the previous article.

National Anthem Protocol

The text quoted above was approved by Congress in June 1942 after the National Anthem Committee (NAC) adopted The Code for the National Anthem of the United States of America (pdf link of original document) in April 1942. What I find interesting is the differences in the two documents.

The NAC code included such details as

  • the proper keys for performances (A-flat)
  • requiring no liberty be taken in either style or substance with the approved version of the National Anthem
  • the requirement of an announcement before the anthem for the assembled to join in singing
  • mandating the tempo of the anthem, and specified that on the metronome—settings 104bpm for the verses and 96bpm for the chorus.

The Congressional version left out many of the details recommended by the committee and included the phrase—with the right hand over the heart—which was not contained in the NAC document.

A Nation’s Song

One of the biggest differences between the two documents is singing. The law approved by Congress makes no mention of singing the anthem, while the NAC centers around audience participation. To the NAC the National Anthem was our song and correspondingly, we should sing the Star Spangled Banner at every opportunity.

The very nature of the song lends itself to participation. Look at the lyrics that Francis Scott Key penned.

O, say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

 

Keep in mind there are four stanzas to the National Anthem, although only the first is in general knowledge. The NAC included three stanzas in the official version, including 2) and 4) below. There is real significance in the lesser known lyrics. The words are full of images that Key saw that morning as the sun rose and the Star Spangled Banner did yet wave.

2) On the shore dimly seen thro’ 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: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

3) 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 wash’d 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.

4) O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!

 

My concern involves contemporary renditions of the anthem. Controversy surrounds many, while others are hailed as new standards. I like to sing The Star Spangled Banner, and if the song’s performance is such that it is not singable by the audience too, I have a problem. That’s what I want to write about in Part 2—Style over Substance and the National Anthem.

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60 thoughts on “Protocols and the National Anthem

  1. […] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt… questions relating to the law contained in the US Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is. Sec. 301. National anthem. (a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music … […]

  2. […] tawon wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt… questions relating to the law contained in the US Code, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part A, Chapter 3, Section 301-National Anthem. Here it is. Sec. 301. National anthem. (a) Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music … […]

  3. My school recently started playing the National Anthem over the intercom system prior to the Pledge. However, they only play half of it and them stop and start the pledge! Common sense would say that is wrong and disrespectful, but is there anything anywhere that states the anthem should be played in its entirety?

  4. There is nothing in the U.S. Code that says the National Anthem must be played “whole.”
    But I agree with you—I think it is poor form to play half of the Anthem. I’m also pretty stuffy about “entertainment” arrangements of the National Anthem, designed to spotlight the performers instead of the Anthem.

    Thank you for writing, Deborah

  5. When the program includes the, inaddaition to the Star Spangled Banner, the anthem of a state or the anthem of a foreign counytry or a popular song such as “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful”, is the Star Spangled Banner sung first or last?

    1. At an outdoor performance when the USFlag is presented is it proper to play other music than ” The Star-Spangled Banner?” Can the colors be presented while playing any other song than the national anthem?

      1. Thank you for writing. I apologize for the delay in responding.
        The only song we salute is the National Anthem. Therefor it is highly improper for any other melody to be playing (no matter how patriotic we may consider the song otherwise). Additionally, we are supposed to stand still for the National Anthem, so the Colors, or Color Guard if the Colors are being brought in from somewhere else—should “arrive” without music, and then National Anthem is performed. This is because we salute as the Colors pass abreast of where we are standing. However a drum cadence is permissible. Also, in a parade, the music is behind the Color Guard, which is leading the parade, not following the music.
        I hope this helps.
        Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  6. What if the National Anthem is playing remotely (i.e. on a TV) in a public forum (i.e. a school auditorium.) Yesterday’s Obama inauguration was watched all over the nation. Should the standard protocol be observed? Is this any different than playing a recording of the Anthem during a ceremony? Does it matter if the ceremony is live?

  7. M Clemens—This is a problem that has stumped Americans since the invention of the radio, and there is not an easy answer.

    If the goal of watching (or listening) to the broadcast is to include the audience in the event, then I personally think those gathered—no matter how distant—should stand and salute. If there is a flag physically present where those watching are gathered, then they should salute the flag.

    Otherwise, watch the screen and salute as those on the screen salute. It’s a small gesture, but an important one I think. Just my opinion though.

  8. Is The National Anthem sung before or after the Pledge of Allegiance?

  9. Hi Nancy—thank you for writing. The U.S. Code does not specify an order. Generally the Pledge is recited first, then the National Anthem is sung when both are done together.

    However, in most cases, we do not recite the Pledge and sing the National Anthem at the same time. Traditionally, the Pledge is recited on occasions when singing the National Anthem would be difficult. So every morning in classrooms all across the nation, school children stand, salute and say the Pledge of Allegiance, because singing the National Anthem would be more complicated. But when all the children are assembled in the gym or auditorium for a special event, they will sing the National Anthem, but not recite the Pledge.

    It seems to me that the Pledge is saved for small-scale events (club meeting, classroom, etc.) and the National Anthem is performed in a larger venue such as an auditorium, gymnasium or stadium. Just my observation however. It is certainly ok to do both.

  10. What about the band/orchestra that plays the national anthem? Do the performers have to stand during the rendition? I’ve never seen that happen, except when a marching band is playing, but a friend asked. I would think no, but I’m not sure.

    Thank you for tracking down answers!

    1. Musicians and vocalists are given latitude when it comes to performing the National Anthem. They do not have to remove their head coverings, and they are allowed to be seated while performing. Thank you Joyce, for writing.

  11. I was curious WHEN the Anthem is required to be played.
    I believe it is required to be played a the gathering of large groups. The playing of the National Anthem before sporting events is an example.
    You may be interested in the fact that your site was mentioned at a site where I publish articles about auto racing. This site also has many other sports represented on various pages.
    One article which has caused a good bit of comments to be posted [including one post the included the link to your site] is titled: “Dear National Anthem Singers: Get It Right or Get Off the Stage ”
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/296432-dear-national-anthem-singers-get-it-right-or-get-off-the-stage

    I am looking forward to your reply that will clear up WHEN the playing of the Anthem is required. Thanks.

    1. crabber1967—you have asked a good questions, and my answer will be long, but stick with me.

      Q. I was curious WHEN the Anthem is required to be played?

      A. No where in the U.S. Code are Americans told where and when the National Anthem should be played. That is a decision left to citizens, not the government. Here is a link to the entire statute as it is written, along with other information you will want to read (it’s not long).

      Of special interest, it is worth noting that the law regarding the National Anthem is not found in the same section of the U.S. Code where the laws about the flag are found (or what we commonly call the U.S. Flag Code). Because of this, many people grew up not knowing that we are supposed to salute during the National Anthem also—with a “heart” salute or a military salute, because all they knew or were taught about was from the Flag Code. I am including below, all that is written in the U.S. Code about the National Anthem.

      Sec. 301. National anthem

      -STATUTE-
      (a) Designation. – The composition consisting of the words and
      music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
      (b) Conduct During Playing. – During a rendition of the national
      anthem –
      (1) when the flag is displayed –
      (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at
      attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
      (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with
      their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder,
      the hand being over the heart; and
      (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at
      the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until
      the last note; and

      (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face
      toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the
      flag were displayed.

      As you note, we traditionally play the National Anthem at the gathering of large groups: sporting events, graduations, concerts, school assemblies, et cetera. As a school girl, we recited the Pledge each day in our classrooms, but saved the National Anthem for whole school gatherings and school games, when there was a pianist or band to play the music while we sang. I remember very few occasions when we sang it a cappella.

      I went to the website you linked to, and my sentiments are very much like those of the author and the commenters. It’s not that I dislike a soloist, but I sincerely believe that the National Anthem—our beloved Star-Spangled Banner—was never intended to be sung by a soloist. It is OUR anthem, and I believe we should sing it all together.

      Those who can reach the high notes will be held aloft by those who can sing the low notes. Someone who stumbles over the lyrics will be carried along by the person standing along side. This is what Americans do. I think the Star-Spangled Banner is much more beautiful and stirring when we all sing together, and my fondest hope is that someday—at a large gathering of national significance (the Super Bowl for starters) someone will stand before those assembled and say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, would you all rise and join me in singing the National Anthem.” And then LEAD everyone there in singing the anthem. Now wouldn’t that be something!

      And I don’t mean to criticize soloists, but when the “performance” is all about the performer, not the National Anthem, I lose patience. If we sing it together, we will sing it like it was written, and each time we will be refreshed and reminded again that we are Americans. (rant over 🙂

      Here are a few more articles I wrote on this same topic.
      Protocol questions—Parades, the Pledge, and the National Anthem

      The National Anthem—Style over Substance

      And last but not least, because you mentioned that you are a veteran, you might be interested in this topic on veterans saluting, which has been the most popular article ever posted on The Daily Flag.

      As always, the comments are much more interesting than what I wrote.

      Thank you for writing crabber1967, and best wishes—Deborah Hendrick

  12. Is is a violation of protocol to “Present Colors” by a color guard to a song other than the National Anthem? The song was the “Negro National Anthem” at a cultural diversity program at a high school. While I do not care what the song was, the American National Anthem was not played and they presented colors to the alternate song. I am thinking that The National Anthem should have at least been played prior and the guard could have remained at present arms through the next song. My son is offended (Marine) and I am trying to prevent conflict.

    1. Maria, thank you for writing, and I apologize for the delay in answering. Yes, it was a breach of protocol.

      A color guard can present the colors without the National Anthem being performed. Boy Scouts do it every week in their regular meetings. The National Anthem can be performed without a color guard—schools do it every day. But there is no substitution for the National Anthem. We don’t present the colors to God Bless America or Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Negro National Anthem). These are wonderful patriotic songs, but they are not accorded the same honor as The Star-Spangled Banner.

      1. There is an substitution for the National anthem. The Bugle call: “To the colors”

        It’s commonly played when a full band or orchestra is not available to render the national anthem.

  13. When the Negro National Hymn and the Star Spangled Banner are both being played/sung, which one goes first?

    1. Joysetta—I am so sorry. I wrote a response to you very early yesterday morning, but this morning I see that it did not post for some reason (a problem with not enough coffee in me, perhaps).

      You have asked a very good question. The Star-Spangled Banner is performed first, and as a courtesy, it should always be announced so that guests have time to stand and prepare themselves to remove hats, and salute with a heart salute or a *military salute as appropriate. After the National Anthem, then you would sing the Negro National Hymn, and/or any other patriotic American songs (such as America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and et cetera.)

      The only exception to this rule is if the national anthem of another country were going to be played at the same event—if a foreign dignitary from France or Japan, for example, was a guest at the event. Then the U.S. State Department instructs us to play the foreign national anthem first in honor of the guest/country, and the Star-Spangled Banner second.

      *military veterans and active-duty veterans are now permitted to salute the flag with a military salute anytime, anywhere, without wearing uniforms or head coverings.

      Thank you for writing, Joysetta, and Best Wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  14. Have a question for you, title 36 US Code does not mention if there is a difference if the National Anthem is played outdoors or indoors. Is there a difference protocols that should be taken. Normally if the National Anthem were played in indoors then military in uniform would stand at attention. Should military in uniform render a salute (without headgear) or should they continue to just remain at attention. Also do veterans surrender a salute or remain at attention ?

    1. Dear Sgm. Johnson—The change in the law that permits veterans and active duty military personnel to salute the flag out of uniform has raised more questions than it answers. It is my conclusion that unless the law is further clarified (which I seriously doubt will ever happen), then veterans and all military personnel are free to render a military salute to the flag indoors or outdoors, in uniform or in civilian clothing, bare-headed or covered, regardless of the covering. This means saluting during the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, when the flag passes in review, and when the flag is raised or lowered on a flagpole.

      If comments to articles on The Daily Flag mean anything, then the veterans themselves have spoken, and this is their decision. I do strongly believe however, that veterans and active-duty military personnel should comport themselves as though they were in uniform, and refrain from singing and saluting both, during the National Anthem, and or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In other words, be silent if choosing to salute. But then there are some veterans who disagree with me on that fine point.

      Thank you for writing, and I hope this helps.
      Deborah Hendrick

  15. In our Black History program, the colors were presented and the National Antheim was sung, using correct protocols. Everyone sat down. After the MC’s gave their opening lines, they told everyone that the Black National Antheim would be sung. The first line was sung and a teacher started waving her arms around and telling everyone to rise. Half the crowd stood. What is the proper protocol?

    1. The Black National Anthem is an historic, patriotic song in the same category as America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee). The strictest protocol says that we stand only for the National Anthem, and that protocol is found here: http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/36C3.txt

      Since 9/11, it has become very popular to play God Bless America at many sporting events, and invariably the announcer encourages the crowd to stand. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I am not in favor of it because I think it takes away a certain amount of respect for the National Anthem. I feel the same way about the Black National Anthem—there is nothing wrong with standing for it, but I am not in favor of it.

      But, as far as I know, there is no written protocol in the U.S. Code, or instructions from the U.S. State Department that address the Black National Anthem.

      Thank you for writing, Allison. This was a good question.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  16. I read that applause is not appropriate at the end of the National Anthem.
    Is there any authenticity to this claim?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Eileen—The portion of the U.S. Code that addresses the National Anthem does not mention applause, but it clearly describes personal comportment during the Anthem. It is undoubtedly a violation of the Code to begin applauding before the Anthem is finished, but unfortunately it is quite common now. There is nothing in the Code that would prevent applause after the Anthem is finished however. I am including a link to the National Anthem “code” below, so you can see what it says. Thank you for writing.

      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick
      http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/36C3.txt

  17. When an acapella group sings the National Anthem,do they face the audiance or the flag?
    Hands over the heart or at their sides?

    1. Clark, I apologize for the the delay in answering you. Those who perform the National Anthem are (by tradition) exempt from saluting the flag during the performance. Singers should leave their hands at their sides. It may not be possible for the singers to easily face the flag; they should be positioned in what is the most logical configuration. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  18. Thank you so much for this resource. I am a retired public school choral director. I have always “known” the protocol for performance, but have had trouble finding the “proofs”. I always had my choirs sing the National Anthem at every opportunity, preceded by an announcement to “join us in singing Your National Anthem.” I despise “soloists” and their butchering of the Anthem. I resent being closed out of singing when I am in the audience. I am giving a program on the National Anthem next spring at my DAR chapter. Thank you again, Karolyn Sailer

    1. Thank you for writing, Karolyn. I’m like it best when we all get to sing the National Anthem together, and I’m glad you feel the same way. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  19. I need some clarification on what is correct protocol for ensembles/bands that are seated at an event where a choir group is singing the Narional Anthem? If memory serves me, the ensemble may remain seated but the director stands and salutes for the group. This is obvious for the care of personnel and instruments; am I correct or not? I can remember even in the military remaining seated while our officer in charge (director) would stand and salute while we remained seated. Please clear this up for me and thank you for your assistance.

    1. Thank you for writing. Yes—the customary protocol is the way you have described it.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

      1. Thank you for the prompt response but would you be able to assist me with documentation of this? Is there a published directive I may reference? Thank you again and have a blessed day.

        1. Gus, there may be military directives, but there are none for civilians. Much of what we civilians do is predicated on military protocol, because the Flag Code, and the National Anthem Code are silent except for instructions on personal comportment. The first rule is always, to show no disrespect to the flag, and much of what we do is based on tradition. I am not always bound by tradition, but I am utterly sold out on the idea of “no disrespect … .”

          If you are challenged for your stand on this particular instance of etiquette and protocol, your fall-back can be videos of the Marine Corps band, of which there are many to be found on YouTube, and on their own website. I wish I could be more helpful, but it’s hard to beat the Marines.

          Best wishes, Deborah

  20. When I was growing up we were taught to stand at attention during the National Anthem and to put our hands over our hearts when we Pledged our Allegiance to the flag. Did I just grow up with a bunch of rubes, or has the protocal changed

    1. Nancy—If it helps at all, you are not alone in not knowing that we are supposed to stand at attention, and salute during the National Anthem (salute with a military salute, or by placing the right hand over the heart—a “heart salute.”) The etiquette and protocol for the National Anthem was passed by an act of Congress on March 3, 1931. That portion of legislation (which I call the National Anthem Code) is found in Title 36, Chapter 3 of the U.S. Code. I have included it at the bottom of this comment so you can read the entire text, which I copied and pasted from the government website.
      http://uscode.house.gov/browse/prelim@title4&edition=prelim

      The etiquette and protocol for the Pledge of Allegiance (passed by Congress on June 22, 1942) is included in the section of law called the U.S. Flag Code—found at Title 4, Chapter 1. Unfortunately, too many people think the “Flag Code” is all there is. The difference is that the Flag Code is all about the flag, and the National Anthem “code” specifically addresses personal comportment during the National Anthem. The focus is on the Anthem, not the flag. In fact, we can sing and perform the National Anthem without a flag present. But the Pledge of Allegiance is recited only when there is a flag in sight.

      Thank you for writing, Nancy. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

      §301. National anthem

      (a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

      (b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

      (1) when the flag is displayed—

      (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

      (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

      (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

      (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

  21. My son is in a high school marching band. Normally, when another band is playing the National Anthem, our members stand in the bleachers and place their hands over their hearts. The hats and instruments are placed on the bleachers in front of them. Recently, we were at a game and were not in the stadium when the National Anthem began. The band stood at attention in parade rank, facing the flag. My son removed his uniform hat, but it was very awkward to do the heart salute, while also holding his instrument. Is a marching band required to remove their uniform hat for the National Anthem, when someone else is playing it? What is the correct protocol in this situation? Thank you!

    1. Hi Amy,
      The band’s Drum Major renders honors to the National Anthem and the flag on behalf of the entire band by saluting with a heart salute (hand over the heart). The Drum Major (with a small amount of crisp style and flair) should signal the band to (rise in unison, and) stand at attention. The band should stand with their instruments held in marching position, not playing position. They do not remove their head covers and they do not salute. The Drum Major salutes for all of them. The band director should render an appropriate salute. When your son’s band is playing the National Anthem, the Drum Major should also face the flag and salute on behalf of the band. He or she can verbally—loudly—count down the start to the Anthem, or the band director can do it. Alternately, the highest ranked first chair in the band can count down the start, which is also appropriate. (In an orchestra, the concert master does this, while the conductor salutes.)
      This was a good question Amy, and thank you for writing.
      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  22. I saw a response to a previous post stating that there is nothing in the U.S. Code that prevents applause after the National Anthem. You posted a link for more information on that, but I cannot access the link. We were asked at my daughter’s high school graduation to not applaud after the National Anthem because it was inappropriate. The high school choir sang it, and many found the request, made by the principal, un-American and inappropriate. Can you please give me resources to address this with the school?

    1. Hi Michele. I’m sorry that my post has broken links in it. The missing document link is found here: http://starspangledmusic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/1942AnthemCode.pdf

      As you see, neither this document or the statute that was eventually enacted make any reference to clapping after the Anthem has been performed. (Notice also how Congress declined to legislate most of the highly detail and specific ideas from the National Anthem Committee.)

      I am certain there are many performances of the National Anthem in the National Archives. That’s one of the things to look up on my list of research ideas. We could perhaps back-track until we found the earliest recorded performance of the National Anthem and “hear” what occurred immediately afterward. Much of what we do regarding the etiquette and protocol is predicated on tradition, and not on what is actually written in the U.S. Code—which is silent on a lot of our practices regarding the flag, the National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance.

      In the absence of specific instruction to NOT clap, I personally find no reason to “forbid” it. However I think it is wrong, and extremely impolite to start clapping before the Anthem is finished, and that is one reason why I strongly advocate that we sing the Anthem together. And obviously there are occasions when clapping would be unthinkable, but I don’t believe one can say for certain that clapping is forbidden.

      Here is a link to part 2 of the post to read. https://www.thedailyflag.com/2008/03/12/the-national-anthem-style-over-substance/

      Thank you for writing. I hope this helps.
      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

  23. We are a minor league baseball stadium. When the national anthem is played inside the park, is it necessary for people outside the park to stop and sing/salute? I understand protocol calls for observance of the national anthem once inside the park and not outside. Please clarify. Thanks.

    1. Hello Clint. Thank you for taking the time to search for information about the proper etiquette for the National Anthem. Shown below is absolutely all the U.S. Code has to say about the National Anthem. As you see, it addresses personal comportment only. We are not told when or where or how we should play the National Anthem. My personal practice is to observe the honor if I can hear the music. So if I am in the parking lot, hoofing it for the inside of the ball park, I stop and salute (with a heart salute). If I’m in the line for nachos, I turn in the direction of the music and salute (assuming I can’t see the flag from the refreshment stands). Note that we are not told to sing, only to salute. But I believe those who wrote and codified the Flag Code and the National Anthem Code assumed and believed that Americans of goodwill and honor would naturally want to sing the Anthem, too.

      (Note also that the National Anthem Code is found in a different location from the Flag Code, which is under Title 4 of the U.S. Code.)

      Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

      Title 36 §301. National anthem

      (a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
      (b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

      (1) when the flag is displayed—

      (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

      (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

      (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

      (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

  24. Hello: I am the Music Director/Chorister for our Church congregation, and I presented The National Anthem as the opening song (it is in our hymnbook) for our Chapel Service on July 3rd, to commemorate Independence Day on July 4. I am getting flack from the Church’s local leadership about doing this song at the beginning of the meeting. They want to do it at the end. I had planned on having the congregation stand. There will be no color guard. The instrument will be an organ. I was appalled that they want it done at the end rather than the beginning. Can you clarify what the protocol is for this sort of thing? There will be a hymn in the middle of the meeting, unrelated to Patriotism, and then one hymn at the end, “America the Beautiful”. The leaders over me want the order reversed. I am seriously uncomfortable with this. They say it “doesn’t matter”. I think it matters a great deal. Can you please clarify and provide sources? Thanks very much.

    1. Hi Melanie. I’m glad you searched for information and found me. I hope what I have to say will help and encourage you. I have included the National Anthem Code at the bottom. As you see, it addresses personal comportment only, but it doesn’t tell us when or where, or even how to sing the National Anthem. This is our only written instructions—our only source—on the National Anthem, and those who wrote and codified the Code have purposely given us freedom in how we choose to use the National Anthem.

      We Americans do a lot of patriotic things by tradition, when what we do is not addressed in the U.S. Flag Code, or by the National Anthem Code. So while we traditionally sing the Anthem at the beginning of an event, the text does not tell us to do that. I’m a purist at heart, which means I want the National Anthem performed as written with everyone singing together, but that’s not what the text says either.

      Singing America the Beautiful first will soften the hearts of the congregation, and you create benevolent mood for the rest of the service, which may or may not address patriotism, Independence Day, and so on. If the church service closes with the National Anthem, that gives you an opportunity to send the congregation out feeling especially blessed. While ” … bombs bursting in air … ” is not exactly a benediction—if you sing all four stanzas, you will find that the last stanza IS a benediction, and an excellent closing to the church service.

      Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
      Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
      Blest 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!

      I hope this helps. Let me know what you think.
      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

      §301. National anthem

      (a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

      (b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

      (1) when the flag is displayed—

      (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

      (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

      (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

      (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

      (Pub. L. 105–225, Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1263; Pub. L. 110–417, [div. A], title V, §595, Oct. 14, 2008, 122 Stat. 4475.)

  25. Good afternoon! I have a question that I hope is not too silly. Here goes; Is it inappropriate or in bad taste to play the National Anthem at my tailgate parties? We have a very organized tailgate, and a fairly large number of people that come to our gameday celebrations(anywhere between 50-100) for our team’s college football games. We have a loud speaker system we play music on and I’m wondering if it is appropriate to have everyone pay a moment of respect and face our flag pole before we kick off the party. Our people are a very patriotic bunch, and I think it would be well received by them. It feels appropriate to me to reflect on the strength and freedom this country provides that allows us to do things like celebrate every Saturday.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Joel, thank you for writing. It’s not a silly question—it’s a great question. The National Anthem “Code” does not tell us when, or where, or under what circumstances the National Anthem should be performed; the Code addresses personal decorum only. Assuming you and your friends are willing to stand at attention, face the flag and/or the source of the music, and salute as appropriate (and I’m certain you all are, or you wouldn’t be asking this question), then certainly you are at liberty to play the National Anthem at your tailgates parties. I think it’s a lovely idea. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  26. I sing and play guitar at nursing homes. I normally don’t do any commentary between songs and go from one to another. I wanted to add the National Anthem to the list of songs I do. Most folks I play for are on wheel chairs or in beds, some may be able to stand most can’t. Is it appropriate for me to go directly to the song, without comment under these circumstances? Should I ask these folks to stand? I plan on singing all 4 verses of the song. Next question is I’ve never seen anyone play the National Anthem on guitar and sing at the same time. I would think it’s acceptable?

    1. Hello Mr. Tobmoc.
      Yes, playing the National Anthem on the guitar while you sing the lyrics is perfectly acceptable (and especially lovely, to me). I do think you should let the staff at the nursing home know that you plan to sing the Anthem—they may want to keep a closer eye on particular patients—and I think you should tell your audience, too, and then let them know that it’s fine for them to remain seated. It is quite likely that some of your audience will want to sing the Anthem with you, so I while I would never offer you musical advice in the ordinary way, I encourage you on this occasion to keep the Anthem simple because of your audience.
      What a sweet thing to do. I know the folks will enjoy the Anthem very much.
      Thank you for writing and best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  27. We play youth baseball in a complex with 4 baseball fields, a couple football fields and at least one soccer field. Are players and others present required to respond to each fields’ playing of the National Anthem with different starting times?

    1. John, the short answer is no. But I’m going to use your question to write a new article which I’ll put up later today or tomorrow at the top of The Daily Flag News. I’ll explain my answer in greater detail there. Thank you, Deborah

  28. My question is : Some years ago in working with the Boy Scouts pamphlets stated that “When the National Anthem is sung live, you should not salute but should stand at attention.” Is this still correct etiquette?

    1. I apologize for the delay in responding to your question.

      The federal statute for the National Anthem makes no distinction in how the Anthem is performed—live by musicians and/or with a soloist, recording, sung a capella, etc. Nor does it tell us when, where, or under what circumstances to perform the Anthem. The point of saluting the Anthem is to render honors to the Anthem, so it should not matter how the Anthem was performed. Civilians have more latitude regarding the Anthem: we are permitted to sing while holding a hand over the heart (what I call a heart salute). Those in uniform and veterans are permitted to salute as appropriate, but do not sing (as per military code).

      Scouts render honors to the Anthem, to the flag passing in review, as the flag is raised on a flag pole, etcetera—by saluting to the brow with a Scout salute. Not singing while under salute is a logical protocol, provided of course, that the Scout is in uniform.

      I hope this helps. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  29. I’ve recently been tapped to sing the National Anthem at a law enforcement appreciation event later this month. I’m a deputy sheriff and a member of our honor guard. My question is regarding my attire during performance. My uniform is is a standard dress uniform with dress coat, duty belt, and a Stetson style headdress. When not singing, I of course would normally render a salute during the playing of the anthem. However as a focal point singing the anthem, hopefully accompanied by the crowd, would it be more appropriate to wear or remove my hat while singing? Saluting while singing with a mic in my left hand seems highly inappropriate, but not saluting while in uniform with headdress on also seems wrong. Looking for input. Thanks.

    1. Hi Joel. Thank you for writing to The Daily Flag. You have asked a good question. For my answer, I will repeat parts of a post I wrote previously. It’s a long answer but it contains a lot of information. (Short answer is no—you don’t have to salute).

      Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute? Those in attendance when the National Anthem is performed are asked to stand at attention and salute as appropriate, with a military salute or a heart salute [hand over the heart]. However, by tradition, performers of the National Anthem are given some latitude in saluting.

      Here is a recent comment to The Daily Flag, left on a post dated February 13, 2007, about the protocol for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. The person wrote:

      Here is a copy of the “official code” from April 1942. It seems to be an official document.
      http://www.bostonleadershipbuilders.com/0political/patriotic/nationalanthem.pdf

      It does not say the hand needs to be over the heart during the singing. Of course, this may have been changed. All I know is that when my choir sang at a MLB game recently we were told we did not have to place our hands over our hearts. I see very few soloists do this.

      The linked document was the result of the National Anthem Committee (of 1942) with representatives of the Music Educators National Conference, members of the War Department, music publishers, and others interested the protocol of the performance and a standardized version of the music.

      The United States was a country at war, and those charged with teaching and performing the National Anthem—school teachers, band and orchestra directors, professional musicians and vocalists, et cetera were seeking codified guidelines. The National Anthem Committee of 1942 provided that.

      I wish the document had a different title, because is not legislated law (i.e. “U.S. Code”). Nevertheless, the results of the committee meeting determined how musicians and vocalists have performed the National Anthem ever since.

      In summary, those who are performing the National Anthem are not required to salute. Certainly bands and orchestras may stand as so desired, but they do not have to. Individual musicians (who may or may not be standing) and vocalists (who are normally standing) are exempt from saluting during their performances.

      It is not mentioned in this document, but it has become a custom for the “conductors” of bands, orchestras, choirs, chorus, et cetera to stand at attention and face the flag (if possible), and render the appropriate salute on behalf of the entire musical ensemble. It is a lovely gesture, and I am always pleased to witness this act of honor.

      What does this mean for those of us who are not the “performers,” but are singing the National Anthem anyway. It means we are still supposed to stand at attention, salute, and sing. There is a delicate thread of tension between what is codified law (since 1931), and a practice that exists by tradition but without legislative backing.

      Congress has made it very plain that it has no desire or intention to regulate the performance of the National Anthem, even though the committee made specific recommendations about the music. We are at liberty to perform as we wish. This freedom occasionally results in some disastrous renditions, but the court of American approval is swift. Make hash of the Star-Spangled Banner and the public will never let you forget it.

      I hope this helps. I am delighted that you plan to invite those in attendance to sing the Anthem with you.

      Best wishes
      Deborah Hendrick

  30. Hi – We’re having an autism charity walk with opening ceremonies that will include comments from elected officials and some of our top family fund-raisers. We will be having a soloist with autism sing the National Anthem. I’m wondering if it is more appropriate to have him sing the National Anthem at the beginning of opening ceremonies (right before the elected officials come up to speak), or at the end of opening ceremonies to inspire participants as they head out on the charity walk. Thanks in advance for your guidance.

    1. Hi Steve, thank you for writing. Under the circumstances (people eager to get started on the charity walk), I do think it would be best to put the Anthem at the front of the ceremony while those gathered together are the most attentive. However, it is perfectly fine for the Master of Ceremonies to make some brief opening remarks then introduce the soloist, and invite the gathering to observe the Anthem by saluting as appropriate to who they are. Best wishes and I hope the Walk is a roaring success. Deborah Hendrick

      1. Thanks very much for the prompt reply, Deborah!

  31. At a Fall Festival I recently attended, the first band opened with the song God Bless the USA to start the days activities. This song touches many peoples hearts and has become a go to song for many to show pride in the freedoms we have. While this song was being sung I seen a lot of people covering their hearts, and taking their hats off to show respect. The flag was not present at the festival grounds but as a Veteran that song hits me in my feels each time I hear it, just as the National Anthem does. I was a bit confused as to why they placed their hands over their hearts but I figured they did it to show respect or was confused as to how to render respect since it is such an iconic song.

    I would like your opinion on the opening for a festival I am a part of that gives all the proceeds to helping homeless Veterans. The National Anthem will be sung by a very talented female, but it was arranged to have spoken parts about the American Flag within the verses to the song by a male voice. I feel that this will take away from the song and would be a little bit disrespectful to stop the complete song being sung to speak between verses. How do you feel about this version being performed in front of an audience of spectators who the majority will be Veterans?

    The arrangement for the opening ceremony is set to be the National Anthem with the male voice speaking about the American Flag in between verses, the Preamble to the Constitution will be spoken, and then the Oath of Enlistment will be last.

    In my opinion, I feel that the Oath of Enlistment should have no part in the ceremony at all, the male voice between the verses should be removed, and possibly the Preamble can be spoken. But if it is an event to support Veterans I think the National Anthem should be sang in its entirety, the Preamble possibly, then a testimony from a Veteran or recognition to Veterans should be given.

    Sorry so lengthy but this is important to me. What are your thoughts?

    1. Thank you for writing, Racquel. Maybe I can help. The National Anthem was always intended to be performed as a “whole,” and not combined with anything else, like other patriotic songs or poetry. As you know, we stand at attention during the Anthem, and salute the flag as appropriate to who we are. You, being a veteran, are permitted a military-style salute, and since I am a civilian, I offer a heart salute—which is to say I put my right hand over my heart, and we hold these salutes for the duration of the Anthem.

      By tradition, usually only the first stanza of the National Anthem is sung, but certainly we may sing all the verses as desired. However, it would be highly improper and disrespectful to stand and salute extraneous patriotic material inserted into the Anthem. Your feelings are right on target.

      The Preamble to the Constitution would make a lovely opening, but the Anthem stands alone—always—where ever it is in the program. I know that someone thought combining all these elements and voices, and recitations would make a stirring and heart-felt event, but we just don’t tinker with the National Anthem; it’s bad form. We honor the flag in a variety of circumstance and events, but honors to the National Anthem are singular: we stand and salute.

      Hopefully you can be elequoent and persuavsive and get the planned program changed. As for standing and saluting during God Bless America: I don’t understand how or why this became a practice. Because the only song we Americans honor with a salute is the National Anthem.

      Best wishes. I hope this helps. Please write again if you have more questions. Deborah Hendrick

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