What makes a great state song

It all started at our town’s outdoor Symphony in the Park. The community band played “Oklahoma,” the state song. Before “Okla” got to “homa,” most in the crowd, including me, were standing up and clapping to the music.
My husband could only sit there and wonder why.
Dear Husband, who came from Pennsylvania by way of Florida, couldn’t understand the reason for standing and clapping during the state song. Maybe it’s because his soul wasn’t stirred by:
“Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,
Mighty is your name,
Steeped in glory and tradition,
Object of acclaim,
Where brave men fought the foe of freedom,
Tyranny decried,
‘Til the bell of independence filled the countryside.”

However, the Florida part of him surely would stand for:

“Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away.
There’s where my heart is turning ever.
There’s where the old folks stay.”

No, he said. He never stood for “Swanee River.”
I polled friends on Facebook to see where they stood on standing for a state song.
The Oklahoma friends all immediately said they’d stand.”Why wouldn’t we stand and take pride in our state?”
But, my Texas FB friends were strangely silent, perhaps worried about being drowned by the “Oklahoma” fans.
When I asked them specifically if they stand for “Texas Our Texas,” their replies were “What state song?” and “haven’t heard it since seventh grade Texas History Class.”
Maybe if the state adopted “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Who could resist clapping after: “The stars at night are big and bright…”
No response from my cousin in Colorado or my friends in Missouri or Kansas.
Surely people in Kansas know their song by heart:
“Home, home on the range.
Where the deer and the antelope play.
Where seldom is heard
The name of our state in this song.
And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

The author, one Brewster M. Higley, obviously never saw a Kansas tornado.
Colorado’s song also glories in the landscape while leaving us guessing on the state’s name:
“Tis the land where the columbines grow,
Overlooking the plains far below,
While the cool summer breeze in the evergreen trees
Softly sings where the columbines grow.”

Beautiful tune. Unfortunately, for too many, “Columbine” evokes not a pretty flower, but the Columbine High School massacre of 1900, when 12 students and a teacher were killed.
In 2007, Colorado adopted a second state song, a John Denver tune:
“It’s a Colorado Rocky Mountain High….”

The Missouri state song is “The Missouri Waltz.” Do people get up and dance when it’s played?
“Tennessee Waltz,” a 1950s pop song about a two-timing sweetheart and a mate-stealing friend, was Tennessee’s state song for about 17 years. It was replaced by “Rocky Top” in 1982 and by two other songs since then. Tennessee has had seven state songs, so far.
I wished I had some Kentucky or Indiana friends to poll. The Derby and The Indy 500 can’t start without people standing and getting weepy-eyed at “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Back Home Again in Indiana.” (Which is not the real Indiana state song. That honor goes to “On the Banks of the Wabash,” which is eerily similar to “Back Home Again.”)
What makes a good state song?
A mention of the state would help. Hear that Kansas, Colorado, Florida?
It needs images and sensations that make one proud of the state, happy to be there.
Must it make you stand and clap?
The loveliest state song, “Georgia on My Mind” doesn’t inspire standing, much less, clapping.
I suspect we Oklahomans stand and clap not only because “Oklahoma” is our state song. We do it because it’s a great song.

It’s a pep rally set to music. The only state song that comes close to such vitality is “On, Wisconsin,” a sporty tune co-opted by high school football teams across the country.
The spirit builds with not one, but two lead-ins. Then comes that rising instrumental bridge before the pride hits with “OOOOk-lahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.”
A good choral version would climax with a second reprise in tight harmony, descants soaring above everyone else.
I doubt I’d stand if I heard it the song some place else, like in Omaha or Des Moines. And I’m not standing for the “Gonna give you barley, spinach and pertaters” part.
But when that song starts stirring, and others start getting up, expect me to be one of the first.
The land I belong to is grand.


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