Sunday, February 01, 2009

Super Bowl: The National Anthem

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

Why are they 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?

A large number of 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 buildings, 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, which one should demonstrate by performing it in a dignified and respectful musical manner, it is viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate the singer’s command of every conceivable trill, turn, arpeggio, high 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.

It isn’t the singers’ talent in question; it’s their 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 some of these yahoos do to The Star Spangled Banner is comparable to modifying a photograph of Ben Roethlisberger 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 ability, 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.

This year Jenifer Hudson was chosen to sing The National Anthem. As usual, I was suspicious; history was heavily against Ms. Hudson doing an acceptable job. But she did pretty well, mostly avoiding the temptation to “get fancy” with the song. She has a big, pretty voice, and more than enough ability to rise to the musical challenges of the song.

I give her an A- for voice and ability, a solid B for interpretation, and overall an unequivocal B+. And my thanks for maintaining the dignity of the song and showing a reasonable level of respect for it.

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