"Star-Spangled Banner" in Yiddish (with reverse translation back into English)




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Published on Jun 23, 2014

Original English words: Francis Scott Key
Yiddish translation: Berl Lapin
Melody: John Stafford Smith
Choral arrangement: 1918 "Service Edition" (slightly edited)

Filmed live in performance
June 1, 2014 • Symphony Space, NYC
Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus
Binyumen Schaechter, conductor

Website: http://www.TheJPPC.org
Contact: information@thejppc.org

In 1943, two Yiddish translations of "The Star-Spangled Banner" were published in an anti-Nazi poetry collection. While most of the several hundred poems in this collection had nothing explicitly to do with the Nazis, all of them -- the editor explained -- promoted freedom and liberty. In fact, by the end of the 1940's, at least four different translations of the "Star-Spangled Banner" had been published in Yiddish, helping Yiddish-speaking immigrants to express -- and also absorb -- feelings of national pride in a country that promised freedom and liberty for all.

In 2009, our conductor, Binyumen, selected his favorite translation of the "Star-Spangled Banner" from this book and combined it with an anonymous choral arrangement that he'd found in an English-language collection of patriotic choral music. It turns out -- unbeknownst at the time to Binyumen -- that this "anonymous" arrangement was almost identical to what may have been the first-ever choral arrangement of the "Star-Spangled Banner": the so-called "Service Edition," prepared for the use of American military choirs in 1918. At that time, the "Star-Spangled Banner" had not yet been legally recognized as the American national anthem -- that would wait until a congressional vote in 1931. So there was confusion in the military about what song to play at official events. To solve this problem, in 1917, the Military Department amended Army Regulations to declare the "Star-Spangled Banner" our official national anthem (even though Congress had not yet voted on it), but that only led to another difficult question: if the military were to consider this our "official" national anthem (at least for military purposes), then what would be the "official" arrangement of it, to be performed at military events? So, a committee of composers was organized, and the "Service Edition" was prepared. And lo, these many years later, the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus performs it in Yiddish translation.


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