Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why The Star Spangled Banner Gets So Abused

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There it was another Sunday afternoon sporting event in the USA. This one happened to be the almost weekly NASCAR event that takes place every Saturday or Sunday through a large part of the calendar year. NASCAR folks are pretty proud of their country so the event is always started with a rendition of the US National Anthem—The Star Spangled Banner. Hands on their hearts, hats removed and lots of flags in plain view. But you can never be quite sure which version you are going to get.

I applaud the drivers for not wincing in pain when the latest singer (chosen by the local organizers, most likely) starts their audition for the latest season of American Idol or The Voice. They are all over the map in tempo, phrasing and even sometimes the words. And I think I have a better handle as to why that happens.

I remember a late night talk show where Tom and Dick Smothers (who are normally not real serious folks on stage) were lamenting about their displeasure about how the song gets abused. They said “It is not about the performer, it’s about the song” and you could see that the audience really didn’t understand the frustration that these talented musicians and comediennes were displaying.

So I tried Googling the American National Anthem and landed on the page for the link above. In it I learned that the words are written by a patriot named Francis Scott Key and they can pin it down to the very day that the words got written in his poem (September 14 1814) and the circumstances that triggered Mr. Key's stirring words as he wrote it during his imprisonment on a British ship that was off shore of Ft. McHenry where the American flag still flew.

But here is where the problem lies (in my opinion)—Composer: unknown. So even this site will sell you the sheet music for $4 a copy, you really aren’t sure if you are going to get the right tempo there or the “original” musical score because there isn’t one. Now since I am Canadian, I’m not likely to buy a copy of the sheet music so I don’t know if the tempo is even listed. I have never been asked to sing the anthems at a hockey game in Canada where both get played so I don’t think I need the sheet music, but I think I can do a pretty good job of the words without need of a cheat sheet.

I still think that a better patriotic song would be America the Beautiful as sung by the late Ray Charles which you still hear around Independence Day on the July 4th holiday in the USA. Ray actually sings the original words and then sings the ones they learned in school and he only really adds a lot of soul and true feeling that augments the song as opposed to abusing it. I used to sing that song sort of like Ray around the campfire at night in the lake country of Ontario. A few brown pops made the soulful styling’s of Ray come out a little easier. What a great song. Truly inspiring!

If you are a singer and you have been selected to sing the Star Spangled Banner at an event, take Tommy and Dick’s words to heart and do the song justice. Think of Mr. Key and park the trills and riffs for another song. Show him the respect he so richly deserves.

I tried to send a copy of this story to the Smothers Brothers but the email on their site is no longer valid and they are listed as retired. The AOL story here does a good job explaining why? They sure made me laugh and I thank them for that. I just wanted to show proper respect as they did.

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