Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How not to perform the National Anthem

This was all touched off by a letter to John Schneider.

When you work in baseball, we hear the National Anthem some 140 to 160 times each year.  Sometimes we hear it performed well; most of the time we do not.  Yes, it can be painful.  I've been known to grimace, cringe or shake my head every now and then.

A common consensus of the two biggest complaints I hear from fans about poor National Anthem performances would include the following:

1.  Do not slow it down or put your own spin on it.
2.  Do not perform it on electric guitar or any other such disrespectful instrument.

Hmm.  Poor examples there.

Hey, it's impossible to be negative when Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix enter the conversation.

But, look, it's the National Anthem, it deserves the utmost in respect and attention.  If you don't mind, I'd simply like to add two further points to the conversation:  Context and Diversity.

Context.  The tune for "The Star-Spangled Banner" originally comes from "To Anacreon in Heaven," a British drinking song that was specifically tremendously difficult.  Why?  So that you could see how drunk you were.  (If you could still carry the tune reasonably well, you needed another drink.)  In other words, anyone demanding that the national anthem be performed solely by a military band is similar to someone demanding that Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" be solely performed by the Choir of King's College.  I humbly doubt that someone is disrespecting the National Anthem if they happen to convert a saloon melody to a jazzier vibe, or perhaps give it a honky-tonk feel.  This leads us into...

Diversity in Music.  The United States is an immense nation in terms of the remarkable varieties of people who live here, with myriad styles and standards of singing and instrumentation favored based on wherever you travel.  In my home state of Maryland alone, southern Maryland is different from DC/Metro Maryland which differs from the Baltimore area which is quite different from the northwestern part of the state, and we haven't even reached the Eastern Shore yet.  Michigan is a hugely diverse state.  So is California, and New York, and Louisiana, and off you go.  People don't talk the same way around the country -- they don't even talk the same way throughout Georgia -- so how on earth could they sing the same way?  That's why I don't mind if a singer beautifully performs a drawling National Anthem, same as I don't mind if it's sung at a much quicker tempo or in an operatic fashion.

With this in mind, here are my honest, polite requests of singers/musicians performing "The Star-Spangled Banner":

*  Know the words.  (Heck, write them on your wrist like The Rock if you need to.)
*  No crazy trills for your own benefit that only make you sound silly.  (Admittedly, a difficult request for certain divas.)

That's all.  We're all ready for the game, and we're all ready to cheer you.

The last word on this topic belongs to the lords of the National Anthem conversation, Chicago Blackhawks fans and Vancouver Canucks fans.  For entirely opposite reasons, I love you guys.

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