Monday, February 27, 2012

The Super Bowl, Star Spangled Singers, and Sulphuric Politics

Kelly Clarkson at Super Bowl XLVI

When I watch a professional sports playoff game, my anxieties peak at the singing of the national anthem, before any play begins.   I worry that the selected singer may falter on some of the more challenging passages, and I hope the singer will retain enough of the standard version to appeal to all viewers.  The Star Spangled Banner, with its interval jumps and register extremes, can challenge many singers.   As Tom Everett of the Harvard Bands observes, “Our national anthem, with the exception of the middle section, is not the most lyrical or easiest to sing.”

With that said, most (but not all) of the performances at major events, like the Super Bowl and the World Series, are quite passable.  One exception that comes to mind might be Christina Aguilera’s version for last year’s Super Bowl, which I found pretty painful.

However, this blog post isn’t about how  The Star Spangled Banner ought or ought not to be sung.  It grew out of an e-mail I received from my friend,  Jim.  Apparently,  Jim had received an e-mail from one of his friends, forwarded from someone else, which he then forwarded to me.  The title of this e-mail was: “National Anthem at the Super Bowl--an editorial.”

Jim simply introduced it to me with these words: “Thought you would appreciate this.”

I can’t say whether the original writer of this “editorial” was referring to our most recent Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis in his critical remarks.  In my opinion, Kelly Clarkson’s rendition earlier this month was just fine, even if not as positively memorable as Whitney Houston at XXV.... 

Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV

Jennifer Hudson at Super Bowl XLIII

However, I do think that the writer has a point.  Here  [in red]  is what he wrote, preceded  [in blue]  by a remark by whomever had forwarded this e-mail to Jim:

Don’t know who wrote this, but I totally agree. I wish some of these pop star divas would read this and take it to heart.

Our sentiments EXACTLY… AMEN!

“So, with all the kindness I can muster, I give this one piece of advice to the next pop star who is asked to sing the national anthem at a sporting event: save the vocal gymnastics and the physical gyrations for your concerts. Just sing this song the way you were taught to sing it in kindergarten — straight up, no styling. Sing it with the constant awareness that there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines watching you from bases and outposts all over the world. Don’t make them cringe with your self-centered ego gratification. Sing it as if you are standing before a row of 86-year-old WWII vets wearing their Purple Hearts, Silver Stars and flag pins on their cardigans and you want them to be proud of you for honoring them and the country they love — not because you want them to think you are a superstar musician. They could see that from the costumes, the makeup and the entourages. Sing “The Star Spangled Banner” with the courtesy and humility that tells the audience that it is about America , not you.”

If you agree, please pass this on. The entertainers need to get the message!

I never met a U.S. Veteran who fought for socialism. 

Having read the above, I replied to Jim’s e-mail as follows:

Dear Jim:

I concur with the sentiment expressed in the “editorial” to our pop singers.  What they do is often questionable, and sometimes less than musical.   I, too, usually cringe at some point in the singing.

On the other hand, I was totally unprepared and thrown for a loop by the writer's final sentence.  What a foolish non sequitur.   What does the singing have to do with "socialism?"   If the writer is implying that, because the singer is "butchering" our national anthem, he/she must be a "socialist,"  (and thus not a true American),  then the writer falls into a related form of "self-centered gratification" of which he is accusing our pop singers.

So, sadly, after writing a piece that could have won over almost every reader (at least of those over 50), Republican or Democrat, the writer then adds a totally unrelated sentence that turns off at least 50% of his readership.   With 9 ill-chosen words, the writer manages to undermine the somewhat justifiable purpose of his plea to respect our national anthem and calls into question his own status as a thoughtful person.   And "thoughtful" is the operative word here, because any person who actively thinks for herself/himself would never fall for the insane nonsense that our right wing tosses out, so egregiously, in its attempt to villify the word "socialism" and then pin it onto the democratic donkey.

Thanks so much for sending me this.  I truly do appreciate your interest in keeping me informed.  But I'm also saddened to realize that even honest efforts to sing our national anthem fall prey to the dishonest vitriol of political name-calling.

Sincerely yours,


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