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Are performers of the National Anthem required 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.

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.

portion of Key's SSB manuscriptThe 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  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 generally dislike solo performances of the National Anthem, and it places a terrible, unnecessary burden upon the performer to be perfect, especially since these command performances are generally sung acapella. Moreover, I want to sing too, and rarely do soloists offer a sing-along version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

It is my fondest hope that one day, a musical performer of incandescent talent and international fame will walk out to the middle of a sporting field and say to the stands filled with fans, “Will you all rise, and join me in singing the National Anthem,” and then conduct the song for the crowd. Never is the National Anthem more beautiful than when we are all singing together.




4 thoughts on “Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute?

  1. Love that answer. As always, Deb, you are spot on!!

    I remember this frequently and fondly. Seems close to what you said you wished they would all sound like.

    1. Thank you Jon. That was a balm to me heart. So proud of the soloist to invite the fans to sing, too.

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