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