[Caveat lector fortis: If you're a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, or if you feel your brand of patriotism is the only authorized brand, or if you have close ties to the military, or if you're otherwise annoyed by people who take unpopular opinions (why read this blog?), you might want to skip this post.]
This all began with commentary on the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it began on Facebook, not on WordPress. I was just blowing off steam, but the steam blew too high, and in too many directions. The meat analogies are to be saved for the end, by the way.
I gave far too much attention to the performance of the national anthem this past week, having spent some good hours with the World Series, and having been subjected to typically poor renditions of the anthem a few times. It all started with what I thought was an innocent, entertaining Facebook status update on Monday night, after hearing Demi Lovato sing the national anthem:
Brian Casey … thinks the national anthem is a stupid song and isn’t sure why he gets upset when would-be singers butcher it at the World Series.
This touched off a near-firestorm of response from people I know, or sort of know, or used to know. Most kind of agreed, or at least knew where I was coming from:
“It’s the American Idol mentality. They have to make the song their own. NOPE!! Just sing it.”
“Well, she did butcher it!!!”
“Stupid a capella!”
I got a few requisite “Like” clicks. But a few were upset, and this quip came from an old friend:
You think our National Anthem is a stupid song? Sometimes you are an idiot, really.
Gee. You must be having a day–sorry to have ticked you off, but yeah, I do think it’s a stupid song. It senselessly glorifies war and is vocally untenable; my opinion is that “America, the Beautiful” or would have made a better national anthem.
That reply was a big mistake. The non-musicians started crying, “Flagrant moving violation! You’re just talking like a musician.” (You hear this kind of thing in church circles whenever you use some modicum of your expertise to try to improve something for the masses, no matter how careful you’ve been not to sound like a know-it-all. The defensive idea that we can’t gain from hearing someone else speak out of his experience and knowledge hurts us all.)
I even got an opera-singer friend (I have more than one of those … odd variety, they … but they do exist!) to register that singing the “Banner” is really as easy as “Twinkle, Twinkle.” To which I had to rebut:
Mark, we could talk about the fact that everyone puts an extra note in on the word “banner” and feels called on to improvise melodically and rhythmically in styles that are for me cliché and even embarrassing. Or the range of an octave and a fifth (Canada’s anthem’s range is a 4th more manageable, for instance), and the fact that so many people have no idea where to start our anthem, so that they can be heard with reasonable tone on “say” as well as on “free.” Or the practice of “belting,”–or, as last night’s World Series singer (Chris Daughtry, apparently a quasi-celebrity in Missouri) did it, “chickening” by shorting out and crackling in a faux “stylism.”
You’re right, of course, that a trained singer typically does it well. I would add that I’ve heard it sung with class and skill and artistry–and that a trained singer has more than an octave and a half of useful vocal range. I’m moderately vocally trained, as you know, and have almost that much range, but most people don’t. Maybe I’m off base on this, but I figure an anthem needs to be singable by “the people,” which is what makes something like “God Save the Queen” (is it the British anthem? I’m not even sure) a better choice, in my estimation. Haven’t you heard enough soloists butcher our song to agree at least with the suggestion that it’s not in the “doable” range of the common person? If not, maybe you haven’t heard enough of us non-vocalists recently! :-) Or, we can just disagree.
To be continued (the meat analogies are at the end) …
P.S. Decided to take the plunge and read this, despite falling into one of the categories listed at the top? Not sure what there is to be upset about yet? Well, the musical stuff kinda stops here, and the controversial material begins tomorrow.