Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bring Back The National Anthem

What is it about performers that prevents them from putting aside their egos long enough to sing their country’s song of praise?

Why are singers determined to use our National Anthem as a stage upon which to prove that they are more vocally dexterous than the person who last sang the National Anthem on national television and before thousands of sports fans?

As is so frequently the case these days, I was yet again repulsed by the disgraceful performance of LeAann Rimes at the Rose Bowl. Having had the stage appropriately and professionally set for her by a talented group from the U.S. Air Force Academy that sang a musically fine and respectfully tasteful a cappella medley of patriotic songs, Ms. Rimes proceeded to show off her vocal pyrotechnics as if she was in a karaoke bar somewhere. I’ve heard more reverent versions of “Kum Bah Ya.”

Ms. Rimes, along with a disappointingly large number of other singers and more than a few sports fans, apparently haven’t a clue as to why The Star Spangled Banner is performed prior to sporting events, which is a little odd because if you ask them why the American flag is displayed in schools, government building, sport venues, and thousands of public places, there’s a fair chance that most entertainers will actually know why: It’s a symbol of our nation deserving of reverence and respect.

But the National Anthem is viewed as an opportunity not to celebrate our love and respect for the United States as a place we are grateful and fortunate to live by performing it in a dignified (and respectable) musical manner. It is viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate the singer’s command of every conceivable trill, turn, arpeggio, highest note, yodel, and vocal firework, designed more to impress the audience, to convince the doubting that they are the most nimble singer on the planet, than to show the deserved respect for their country.

Giving the girl her due, LeAnn Rimes is lovely, has a great voice, and can truly sing well. It isn’t her talent I question; it’s her taste and judgment. Those are in dramatically short supply.

Most Americans detest it when some yahoo burns the American flag, but don’t object—and, indeed, seem to enjoy—the destruction of the National Anthem when some self-absorbed entertainer thinks they can do a better job of crafting the melody than Francis Scott Key. But doing what LeAnn Rimes did to The Star Spangled Banner is comparable to modifying a photograph of Brett Favre so that he's dressed in pink lace panties and a push-up bra, or by using a magic marker to black out a couple of teeth on a photograph of Michelle Pfieffer. It just isn’t right.

A little advice for future singers who are offered the opportunity to sing The Star Spangled Banner in public: Sing the song straight and unadorned. If you can. It’s a difficult song to sing as written, spanning a melodic range that is a challenge for even talented singers.

So, if you can’t sing it as written, don’t sing it with ruffles and flourishes to cover up your lack of range, or to impress the world, just politely decline the offer to perform it in public. And if you can sing it as written, you don’t need to show off. Be proud enough of your pure vocal ability to sing the song as written, confident enough in your professional reputation to sing it as intended by the composer, and be respectful enough of your county to sing its song of praise in a dignified and musical manner.

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Buffalo said...

I didn't hear her rendition. I can't imagine her doing anything poorly. She is a tremendous talent.

I think the emotion, and the fact it is being sung, is all that is truly important - as long as they aren't making a joke of it.

Loved Hendryx's version.

James Shott said...

Why am I not surprised? :)

Are you as "liberal" in the treatment of the flag, Buff? If someone changed the colors to purple, yellow and black, would you attribute that merely to "creative liscense?"

If they changed the stars to marijuana leaves and the stripes to waves would that be okay? Would you say that what is important is the fact that they display the flag?

I eagerly await your answers.

And ... nice to hear from you, and thanks for commenting.

Buffalo said...

Again, I did not hear her rendition. I have heard it sung rock, blues, operatic, et al. None of them offended me.

Changing the appearance of the flag is an entirely differt thing.

Apples and boxcars, my friend

James Shott said...

Changing the appearance of the flag is an entirely differt thing.

Apples and boxcars, my friend

How so? Both are symbols representing the same thing. Why is it okay to change the "appearance" of a song, but not a flag? Is it okay because we have more control over the song? Well, in my opinion, that's not a good enough reason.

The flag looks like it does because someone deliberately designed it that way, and it was approved that way. The Star Spangled Banner was deliberately composed to sound like it does, and it was approved that way.

Buffalo said...

The words and the music don't change, only the style of the delivery.

I suppose I should qualify that statement by saying I've never heard anyone change anything other than the delivery. When Hendryx did his famous, or infamous, rendition he merely played the song in a different way. At some televised sporting event a few months ago they chose a blues singer to sing the anthem. The words were the same, he changed only his delivery.

The genre of the singer is of no consequence. It is still the same song. That is quite different from altering the appearance of the flag.

That said, it wouldn't surprise me greatly if the flag was not changed at some point in the future. This obviously isn't the same country that existed when the flag was first designed.

James Shott said...

Actually, the music does change, and that's my primary objection. Everybody seems to think they can change the music--the melody--to suit their own selfish desires, and the song hardly sounds like itself anymore.

It has been embellished into non-recognizability.