Rich started writing for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as music critic for the symphony and opera seasons. Originally from Granite City, IL, he graduated from Simpson College with a degree in music education. In 1984 he received his MA in Music ...
Rich started writing for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as music critic for the symphony and opera seasons. Originally from Granite City, IL, he graduated from Simpson College with a degree in music education. In 1984 he received his MA in Music Education from Truman State. Now retired, Rich enjoyed reading, writing music and short essays. He is the director of Kirksville Community Chorus.
MCKNOTES THEY’RE PLAYIN’ OUR SONG
I’m talking about our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This song belongs to our country. It used to be that everybody sang it. Sure, sometimes a celebrity would lead the singing. At ball games the crowd used to just follow along with the organ or the band. A celebrity wasn’t needed in those days. We all sang the melody with NO EMBELLISHMENTS.
This is not about Beyoncé and her-lip syncing the National Anthem during the presidential inauguration. That’s another subject altogether. This is about the pop singers taking freedom with the melody and adding embellishments to the point that singing along with them is next to impossible. Embellishments are fine, and they’re not new at all. In fact, they’ve been around since the Gregorian Chants, though in my view, they did them better then. Not all singers have the ability to improvise melodic alterations. Whitney Houston was the ideal. She seemed to know just how much to add and what should be left alone. Let’s face it, there aren’t many Whitney Houstons. This is not about her life style, but I don’t know anyone who can fault her singing. She was simply outstanding. In the days of the Gregorian Chant, the idea was to lift the voices of all the monks. If a particular monk let his voice rise above the others, he was chastised for it.
Other pop singers have come along and have been able to twist melodies with some success, but more singers try to employ that technique than is advisable. It’s difficult to do well. Some things just shouldn’t be done halfway.
This technique, however, is acceptable, I guess, to some extent. But it is out of place with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Without dwelling on it, most of you know that I have lost the ability to sing. I am most affected by this loss when I am in a crowd that sings the National Anthem. It makes me really sad that I can’t participate.
That song doesn’t belong to an individual. It belongs to all of us. If we need to have a singer in front of the audience leading the singing, so be it. But please, just the notes that everyone knows. I mentioned the monks blending together earlier. We’ve all been in crowds that sing the anthem with someone nearby over-singing, I suppose to prove that he or she has the ability to really sing. These individuals would do well to follow the example of the monks.
The great Ms. Houston opened Super Bowl XXV in 1991 with her rendition of our nation’s anthem. It was beautifully done, but still not the song we all know. We watch the Olympics and wonder why some of the athletes accepting medals don’t seem to know the words to our National Anthem. I suggest that we don’t sing it often enough, but rather allow some pop singer or even sometimes a classical artist to sing it for us.
I believe in free speech, but I’m not fond of bastardizing a melody that has significance for our entire country. Wouldn’t it have been a powerful and moving thing to hear and see the entire crowd at the inauguration singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” all together? You can catch Beyoncé on MTV.