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A collage with the saying of "we the people" in different colors on cut pieces of paper Gail C. Keck
MORE PERFECT UNION: One of the blessings of liberty is the right to disagree, but maybe we can all agree on a few ideals.

A tune for a more perfect union

The Back 40: It would be nice to have a little harmony for a change.

I don’t claim to be much of a musician, but I do like a good singalong: a familiar hymn at church, the national anthem at a ballgame, or even a tone-deaf rendition of “Happy Birthday” at a family party. Lately, though, I haven’t been doing much group singing. Our church has switched to a spoken liturgy and is minimizing hymn-singing to keep unseen clouds of COVID-19 out of the sanctuary. If sporting events are going on, they rarely have spectators — but even if spectators are gathering, the national anthem isn’t as unifying as it once was. And the last time I sang “Happy Birthday,” it was to time my hand-washing, not to celebrate.

I’m still free to sing by myself in the barn, but it’s just not the same. The acoustics might be good, but the pigs are an indifferent audience, and they never join in.

I’m looking forward to a time when people will sing together again. We’ve had so much discord in our country recently it would be nice to have a little harmony for a change.

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCKER: The “Schoolhouse Rock” song “The Preamble” was the first professional song Lynn Ahrens wrote and sang. She has gone on to an impressive career writing songs for Broadway, TV and movies. The animated short film, which was first aired in 1975, shows her name and also the name of her boyfriend at the time (who’s now her husband of 30-plus years) on the voting booth — both names are spelled wrong. (Photo by Nathan Johnson)

However, in a country where people have the freedom to disagree, there aren’t many songs we can all agree on. Religious differences rule out most hymns, the national anthem divides people who stand from people who kneel, and some people won’t even join in with “Happy Birthday” if the birthday-person follows a different political party.

Maybe, we, the people, need a song that reminds us what it means to be citizens of this country — something that reinforces the values we all still hold in common.

‘Schoolhouse Rock’ ‘Preamble’ rocks

If you were watching Saturday morning cartoons in the late 1970s or  ’80s, you probably know a song that fits that description: “The Preamble” from “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Based on the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, "The Preamble" has a catchy tune that even children can follow, and has lyrics that are meaningful for everyone. The words of the chorus come from Gouverneur Morris, a slavery-hating founding father who believed the consent of the governed should be the basis for government.

Then, nearly 200 years later, Lynn Ahrens, a young secretary in a New York advertising agency, set those words to music, added additional lyrics, and sang the song for the familiar “Schoolhouse Rock” video.

“In the early days of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ before the network really started paying attention, we would simply find our own subjects,” Ahrens recalls. “‘The Preamble’ seemed a good idea to me because it was concise, it was an important topic of discussion in civics classes, and I had learned it by heart in high school — the founding principles of the country, in a nutshell.”

Ahrens, who has had an impressive career as a songwriter, got her professional start writing and singing “The Preamble.” She now looks back with amusement at some of the rhymes she used in the song: rhyming “THE” with “Ameri-CA,” for instance.

Even so, the song continues to help people of all ages remember the historic words of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. These days, we can all use that reminder.

“I hear all the time from people who say, ‘It got me through high school civics,’ or ‘It helped me get my citizenship,’ which makes me happy.” Ahrens says. “What better time to reiterate what we have in common?”

Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.

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