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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

'I won't clap for that.'

Posted Thursday, August 30, 2012, at 11:02 AM

I was in the Celebration press box, and the night's national anthem singer was somewhat operatic in style.

"I won't clap for that," said another reporter as the last notes faded away. I know from years past that this person has strong feelings about how the anthem should be treated.

On the one hand, the performance we'd just heard was a little bit over the top for my tastes, too. We'd heard a performance a few nights earlier that was very simple and unadorned, and it sounded just great compared to this one.

On the other hand, I tend to have a lot of sympathy for national anthem singers. It's a hard song to sing, even for professionals, and I have no singing talent whatsoever, so it's not really my place to tell someone else how to sing it. Just as our country reflects many different cultures and viewpoints, there's room for many different interpretations of the anthem. One person may prefer a restrained and modest performance, another may prefer something soulful with a lot of personal flourishes. But it's still our country's anthem, regardless of the style or the singer.

I once got in a letter-to-the-editor battle in the late and lamented Nashville Banner with someone who disliked personal flourishes and insisted the anthem should always be sung "as written." But Frances Scott Key wrote only the lyrics. The melody to which those lyrics were set came from "The Anacreontic Song", also known as "To Anacreon in Heaven," the theme song of the Anacreontic Society in London in the 18th Century. Wikipedia calls the original lyrics "bawdy," and while the common description of it as "a drinking song" may be overstated, it was clearly meant to be sung lustily. So "as written" would be the exact opposite of what my letter-writing opponent, and my pressbox colleague, would prefer.

Of course, I do not mean to excuse anything that's deliberately disrespectful of the anthem, but the only example of that I can think of would be Roseanne Barr's performance at a baseball game some years back. I'm merely saying that it's appropriate for the anthem to be performed in a variety of musical styles, and that vocal flourishes may just represent the performer's personal style and enthusiasm. Everyone's entitled to their own personal preference about how they enjoy hearing the anthem sung, but temper that with some compassion for the person who's agreed to stand behind the microphone and in front of the crowd.


Comments
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Well said John. That is always a challenging song and at a usually a challenging venue. I don't remember much about Roseanne Barr's performance but I do remember that whomever chose her must have been.....mmmm how do I say it nicely, out of their mind!

And as you said, it IS our National Anthem, so the clapping could be for the performance or our Nation.

-- Posted by stevemills on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 1:11 PM

I noticed that the Fox new staff at the convention Tuesday night talked right over the anthem. To me that seems very disrespectful. Did anyone else notice this?

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 1:45 PM

The "personal fluorishes/preferences" are, in most cases, done only to bring attention to the performer, rather than the song, and what it's supposed to represent for us. While many of us spent time in an unfriendly part of the world pursuing an America that gives the performer the right to sing it as he/she pleases, I cast my vote for the "I won't clap for that" person.

And thanks for the background info on the melody, John. While I suspect the folks who chose to adopt the melody didn't have lustily and drinking-song in mind when doing so, it would be interesting to know their perspective, wouldn't it?!!

-- Posted by dkd57 on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 2:56 PM

John, I have stated many times the National Anthem is not a rock song nor a jazz song, yet, just as in the military we respected the uniform and not necessarily the person in it, I think we as citizens should always respect and applaud the Anthem no matter the the proclivities of the presenter.

-- Posted by cmcclanahan on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 3:50 PM

John,Just remember if you feel strong that our National Anthem should be sung as it was in years gone by,you and I are in a minority.What is right and should be done has long gone.To me singing the Anthem other than the notes and keys it was written in is the same as burning or dragging the American Flag on the ground.This Country has fallen in the depths of despair.

-- Posted by mytaxesaremine on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 7:18 PM

I could care less how a person sings the anthem as long as they sing it with respect in their heart and a understanding of what it means. I don't think America has "fallen in the depths of despair" just because someone sings the national anthem a little different than the norm. That is just plain silly and anyone who believes such garbage evidently don't have anything important to worry about in their own life and should devote their time solving the real problems of the world. When the anthem is being sung, each and every person should be focusing on the words and what it means to be an American and not critiquing the vocal styling of the singer.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Fri, Aug 31, 2012, at 10:35 PM

mytaxesaremine,

Unfortunately, your good intention becomes sullied when you specify the song be sung in its original key. Please forgive me but musicians equate your statement to perhaps being misinformed since there are many voice types, each requiring a different key to accommodate their natural range. Simply put: A bass shouldn't be expected to sing the same range as a soprano.

If the key does not accommodate the singer's particular instrument, it is impossible to sing the song with expected decorum; therefore, a wide range of keys to accommodate a particular singer's voice becomes necessary. Anyone possessing an adequate voice should be able to sing in honor of our nation; not exclusively those specifically capable of performing in an "original key."

-- Posted by dmcg on Sat, Sep 1, 2012, at 1:49 PM

Well while I had no formal music education, and can not carry a note in a bucket, I do have an opinion.I was not speaking of the bass,tenor,soprano ranges.I was speaking of the hip-hop,rap,rock and other butchering of the song.I may not can sing,but I could sing a traditional National Anthem if I had to.No matter how many dogs howled while I did so.

-- Posted by mytaxesaremine on Mon, Sep 3, 2012, at 12:45 PM


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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.
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