Bud Kennedy

The Legislature needs help, even to sing the Texas state song

A quartet from Conspirare, an Austin-based choral ensemble, performs “Texas, Our Texas,” at Tuesday’s opening Texas House session.
A quartet from Conspirare, an Austin-based choral ensemble, performs “Texas, Our Texas,” at Tuesday’s opening Texas House session. Texas House video

The Texas Legislature already made at least one wise decision.

House members brought in an Austin choral ensemble Tuesday to sing Texas, Our Texas, as the Legislature convened, averting what used to be the biennial embarrassment that even our own elected officials can’t sing our state song.

Now, I must admit Texas, Our Texas is not for wimps. It’s tough to sing, but so is that other anthem.

Fort Worth church organist and TCU music professor “Uncle Billy” Marsh composed it in 1918 as a World War I-era Army Camp Bowie march, Your Flag and My Flag. When Texas threw a contest for a state song, church friend Gladys Yoakum Wright came up with new lyrics.

As far as I can tell, the House hasn’t even tried to sing the state song since a disastrously off-key, mumbling effort in 2009. In 2011, then-state Rep. Vicki Truitt of Keller was drafted to sing it solo.

“And may I say, the group today did a far better job than I did,” Truitt said Tuesday, referring to Grammy-winning Conspirare of Austin.

She learned the state song growing up at Smithfield Elementary School in what is now North Richland Hills, she said: “It’s not tough to sing at all. Some people are just not comfortable singing it.”

After a day of dignified ceremony, including an elegant seconding speech for House Speaker Joe Straus by a Houston-area pastor and House member who once opposed him, the niceties came to an end with nothing but nasty ahead.

The state budget for the next two years is about $5 billion short of covering costs, meaning something has to be cut upfront. More will have to be cut to meet needs for mental healthcare and child welfare services, not to mention schools.

Gonna be a lot of huffin’ and puffin’, but this is a session about priorities.

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo

“It’s all about the money,” said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, headed for a probable seat leading the House Appropriations Committee.

“Everything else is just eyewash,” he said in what may or may not have been a reference to the Senate “bathroom bill” and the rest of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s overambitious 25-item to-do list for that chamber.

“Gonna be a lot of huffin’ and puffin’, but this is a session about priorities for Texas,” Darby said.

William J. Marsh of Fort Worth composed the tune used for Texas, Our Texas, in 1918, one year after the British immigrant became a U.S. citizen.

For now, this is a session in limbo.

The Legislature will be widely ignored for the next couple of weeks amid all the Washington hubbub, and maybe that’s good.

Expect the real work to begin about Feb. 1, after Gov. Greg Abbott presents his priorities in the “State of the State” address.

The sour notes are yet to come.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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