May 27, 2011

Getting the National Anthem Right

The Pirates are playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field this afternoon, and I just heard the national anthem sung before the start of the game.

Why is it that we often choose popular singers to sing our anthem at sporting events? More to the point, why do we choose people (1) who don’t seem U.S. flagto know or understand the words of “The Star Spangled Banner” and (2) who insist on augmenting the tune with ornamentation designed to show off, rather than to honor the nation? Why, in fact, do singers largely embarrass themselves when singing the national anthem, rather than taking the opportunity to enhance their reputations by displaying their competence, rather than their “originality”?

I raise these questions because the anthem was sung in Chicago today not by a soloist, but by a women’s chorus—not a girls’ chorus—of about 20 singers. (Unfortunately, the chorus was shown on television only briefly, so I neither caught the name of the group nor had time to count the singers.) The group used a straightforward choral arrangement whose only surprise was the last chord. The performance was, however, the most exciting rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” I have heard in a long time.

If you are responsible for selecting singers of the national anthem for a sporting event, please take note.


  1. Good for whoever made the choice and good for the chorus. Of course, we could have chosen a national anthem that was a bit more singable for ordinary folks without great singing skills.

  2. Grandmère Mimi,

    Right. And we could have chosen one less militaristic. (Francis Scott Key did, however, do a fine job of celebrating a particular moment in American history.)

    You might be interested in checking out my own crack at writing a national anthem. My song is called “Out of Many, One.”

  3. And I thought I was the only one so disturbed by the coarsening of the Anthem. If I had my way, the official arrangement (and thus the only one authorized) would be that played by the US Marine Corps Band. Call me old fashioned. Thanks.

    Norris Battin

  4. Norris,

    I like the idea of an offficial arrangement.

    Just in case you didn’t know, by the way, I am a former Army bandsman.


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