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.
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
- in tune,
- up to tempo and
- less than three minutes in duration