Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Star Spattered Performances

Last Sunday, Christina Aguilera joined a long line of vocalists who flubbed the Star Spangled Banner, such as Willie Nelson, who struggled with it at the 1980 Democratic Convention, Rosanne Barr, who intentionally mangled it, and Michael Bolton, who took the precaution of writing the lyrics on his hand. To really get a feel of how agonizing the National Anthem can be, check out Time magazine's top ten worst performances here.
Here's one performance that didn't make the top ten:


I've always thought of our National Anthem as a choral piece not suited for solos-especially warbling pop inspired ballads present on the Top Ten list. The melody sprawls over an octave and a half, while the 19th Century English lyrics are confusing to a typical American. There are 3 overlooked additional verses that include lines like:

Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Egoists and rugged individualists may want to add trills and stylistic wails to their solo performances, but the National Anthem is best suited to being a communal effort. Like dealing with difficult times, fellow singers can support each other with the difficult to reach highs and lows and cover the gaps in each other's individual range and memory.
My all time favorite rendition is from Disability Awareness Day at Fenway Park. You'll hear the crowd come in to assist the singer in a truly democratic effort.

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