ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland House of Delegates committee burst into verse on Wednesday at a bill hearing about proposed changes to Maryland’s state song.
Sean Tully, a Baltimore resident who created a new version of the song “Maryland, My Maryland” by combining his own lyrics with the original song by James Ryder Randall and a poem by John T. White, was invited to sing his version.
And he did, with a chorus of delegates joining in on the familiar lines.
The performance was part of the most rousing bill hearing on the issue so far this General Assembly session. A similar hearing in the Senate last month came and went without so much as a hum.
On Wednesday, the House Health and Government Operations Committee was considering two bills: one by Frederick County Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-District 3A, that would change the format of the song to retire all but one original verse, and add a verse written in 1894 by White, a poet from Middletown.
The second bill was introduced by Delegate Christopher R. West, R-Baltimore County, which would set up a competition to find a new state song.
The proposals join a number of pitches to change “Maryland, My Maryland” during this General Assembly session.
In the Senate, Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, has a bill cross-filed with Lewis Young, his wife. Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, introduced a bill that would also set up a statewide contest.
Other lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has opposed retiring the song in the past, have expressed an openness to change this year.
Lewis Young said it is the eighth time lawmakers have contemplated changing the song in the last 43 years. She hopes today’s General Assembly lawmakers will make a change in 2016 and won’t see a ninth debate over the issue.
The nine-verse tune — written by James Ryder Randall, a native of Baltimore, in 1861, while he was living in Louisiana — has been the official state song since 1939 and critics say it is divisive for its celebration of the Confederacy.
A review of the song was started last summer by Delegate Peter A. Hammen, chairman of the House committee, and led to the state’s first State Song Advisory Group, which recommended a change.
Lewis Young’s bill would adopt one of the group’s recommendations: to combine Randall’s third verse and White’s fourth verse, to create a two-verse official song.
Tully said he also thinks it’s time for a change, though he had a different idea than Lewis Young’s proposed bill.
He reworked the works of Randall and White to include references to Harriet Tubman, the state motto and state nicknames.
Tully said his goal was to create “a song that people actually want to sing instead of it being the embarrassing, treasonous ode that is mostly kept hidden away in a dark corner of our State Archives.”
Not everyone who attend Wednesday’s hearing supported a change, however.
Anne Arundel County resident David Barber, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he is seeing fewer invitations to schools as a re-enactor and living history volunteer and worries that the state’s history is being lost.
“I’m against changing the song. ... I often wonder, in 15 years, will you be able to go to a Civil War re-enactment and all you’ll see is Union re-enactors?” Barber said.
Barber suggested that the phrase in Randall’s song “Northern scum,” which is widely criticized, could be changed to “Northern drum.”
The meeting got saucier when West spoke in favor of his bill, ending his presentation by playing the music video for “Rum,” a song by Grammy-nominated Maryland country duo Brothers Osborne. Delegates drummed their desks while the song streamed through the hearing room’s speakers, and West said he played the video simply to show that Maryland has musical talent that could lead to a modern and fun state song.
A similar contest in Virginia led to 350 entries, West said.
“I think we’d do at least as well in Maryland, because our state is more musically creative, in my view, than the state of Virginia is,” he said.