Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day Reflection: The Agony of National Anthems

Some of the most excruciating moments I’ve endured throughout my life have been listening to various renditions of the Canadian and American national anthems. These moments typically occur at athletic events and drum corps competitions.

One such moment took place about twelve years ago at a minor league baseball game in Jamestown, New York. A gentleman in his sixties, with a vocal range of perhaps 6 notes, tried to sing the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Dave and I, realizing that, for all we knew, we were sitting by the man’s family or best friends, tried our darnedest to hold in our laughter. It was a struggle that was doomed from the start.

Last week, at a drum and bugle corps competition in Erie, Pennsylvania, a Men’s Glee Club tried to sing both the Canadian and American anthems. I believe O Canada took the worst beating in that affair. At times, the tune was barely recognizable. I must give the men points, however, for diction and articulation, because I understood every word, if not the tune, they sang.

I think the worst such event in my life occurred last night at another drum corps event in Bristol, Rhode Island. The recorded version of O Canada that was played over the loudspeaker system is quite possibly the worst arrangement of that song that I have ever heard. Dave, Christian and I looked at each other, smirked and rolled our eyes. Little did we suspect that the anthem ritual was about to descend to the deepest, darkest depths of musical experience any of us had ever known.

The Star Spangled Banner was presented by, of all things, a bagpipe band from Scotland. Those of you who know me pretty well know that I loath bagpipes. I can’t imagine what those seemingly nice Scottish guys, dressed to the nines in their colorful kilts, have against Americans that they had to bring their implements of torture clear across the ocean to inflict them upon us in person! When they began playing the anthem, it was incredibly difficult to pick out the tune. What I thought was an introduction turned out to have been the first four bars of the tune. I realized that when I picked out part of the next four bars, surprised that they had already gotten that far into the song! Upon reflection, it seems that they were either
  • playing in the key of M, or
  • trying to circumnavigate the entire Circle of Fifths by changing keys every four bars.
It was excruciating, to say the least.

Over the years, and I've lived quite a few of them, I've heard many other versions of The Star Spangled Banner that should have been called The Star Mangled Banner. If I could be granted one wish on this Independence Day, it would be that all renditions of national anthems at public events be required, at a minimum, to be
  • tasteful,
  • in tune,
  • up to tempo and
  • less than three minutes in duration
Such a proclamation would be worth celebrating every day of the year. Well - it would be worth celebrating at sporting and other competitive events anyway.


Jenn said...

hahahahaha!!! i seriously need to figure out how to get a copy of the girl who sang o canada at kevin's grad onto my was truely painful

Christian Camuti said...

Both of those were indeed hideous! First of all the voices on the Canadian anthem were awful. Having been at a few sporting events both in the US and Canada where both anthems have played, I know the Canadian anthem well enough that I know the tune, maybe not all the words, but I know the tune well enough. It was plain bad!

As Aunt Evie said, the bagpipers were playing the US antem too fast and it did sound as if they were mudding their way through various keys. I thought inititally, before they started playing it, that perhaps this could be unique. I imagined the scene in NY following the events of 9/11 where bagpipers often played Amazing Grace at NYPD, PAPD, and FDNY funerals. That didn't sound so bad, but these kids from Scotland were pretty bad!

Surely the Bristol, RI school we were at had a suitable CD in their press box to play an anthem worthy of not just the event, but a celebration of our country's 231st independence.

Note to self...when I do get an I-Pod, load up all the Central Territory Accompaniment CD's on it, for just such occasion! The Chicago Staff Band has a decent arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner on disc 1 or 2.

Dave said...

I did not sleep well that night. I kept having the same dream over and over and over and over...the pipers playing. Word to any police officer who wants to skatter a crowd quickly...get a copy of that group mutilating the US National Anthem and play on your loudspeakers (just have earplugs for yourself).

Stephen said...

Great reflections! Brings up many, many memories of such occasions!

Catharine said...

I like an anthem best when it is sung or played straight, simple and proud - no extra notes that go on forever. The Canadian anthem is more of a hymn and should be sung straight. To sing it any other way is butchering it.