Wednesday, February 2, 2011

O, Say Can You ... Sing ?

Although I am not a pro-football fan, I usually watch the pre-game show and at least the first half of the Super Bowl game, mainly to hear "The Star-Spangled Banner," and to see the commercials, which are usually more entertaining than the game (to me, anyway). My favorite commercials are the ones featuring the Clydesdales ...

I have already seen an Anheuser-Busch commercial for the Super Bowl, which features the Clydesdales, with a "To be Continued on February 6th" teaser. I think that's the first commercial for a commercial I've ever seen.

But the Clydesdales, as beautiful and glorious as they are, are not what this post is about today. I would like to talk about The Star-Spangled Banner, and the way it is performed at sporting events like the upcoming Super Bowl.

I don't know about you, but most of the time I find myself cringing at the way "pop stars" perform our national anthem. I don't want to "step on any toes," but I think The Star-Spangled Banner should be performed with utmost respect for our country and in honor of the lives lost in defending our flag and the freedoms it represents ... not to glorify the celebrities who were chosen to sing it.

While writing this post, I did a little research into the origin and history of The Star-Spangled Banner, and found several points of interest:

The lyrics originated from a poem called "Defence of Fort McHenry," which was written in 1814, by a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry, in the War of 1812.

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, written by John Stafford Smith for a men's social club in London. The song, with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner," it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song.

With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the song has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today, with the fourth added on more formal occasions (you can see all four verses at the end of this post). I found it interesting that the fourth stanza includes the line: "And this be our motto: In God is our Trust," from which the national motto In God we trust was adopted in 1956.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931.

I understand that Christine Aguilera will sing the national anthem at this year's Super Bowl. As a preview of what we might hear, here is a video featuring her singing it at Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals ...

Bless her heart. I'm not familiar with Ms. Aguilera's music, but when it comes to the national anthem, I prefer to hear it performed like Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Contreras sang it at an Anaheim Ducks hockey game in 2007. Be sure and listen to all of it to hear the fans sing along in a very touching performance that will give you chills.

It remains to be seen how Ms. Aguilera will choose to sing The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl this Sunday, but, hopefully, she will perform it in a respectful manner befitting Mr. Key's powerful words:

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

11 comments:

Marjorie (Molly) Smith said...

I agree with you Janie, I have often been saddened and some time ashamed at how our National Antham is preformed at different events.
I saw a program on the History Channel last week that depited the writing of the poem by Mr Keys, I pray our Nation never has to go through such a time on our own shores again.
I rarely watch the super bowl, but like you do like to watch the commericals, though in the last very years, I have been disapointed in the silliness and often time vulgarity of them. As my soon to be Grand DIL says, I can't believe they actually pay folks to write this junk...We will see how this year's go.
I loved the last video, so awe inspiring.
Molly

racheld said...

Don't the words just give you CHILLS? Especially in that heart-stopped moment, looking through the mist---hoping hoping the flag is still flying; is it? Is is not? And the next few moments will tell the tale---will we be vistorious? And the line about the morning mist "half conceals, half discloses,"---absolutely breath-taking.

The entire spirit of the song is slowly becoming a "Look at MEEE---my agent got me this wonderful job, to PERFORM for you!"---and the actual PAIN on the faces, the grimaces as they search for that next impressive note, or the so-obtrusive run-of-scale to show their prowess---it's just so sad.

Even that sweet little girl in the news lately---with her family practically suing for her "freedom of expression,"---that's such a pitiful thing to put on a child.

I'll not go into the time that Caro was performing in an Elvis anniversary tribute, and the "last year's winner" chose to sing The National Anthem---all four verses, with all those grim expressions and gestures and marching across the stage and swinging the train of her gown almost like a lasso---we stood and we stood, hoping to sit soon, hoping for release soon, as she just charged on and on, at the top of her lungs, proving her worth, vaunting her voice, whilst the beautiful words, so full of meaning, were thrown to the rafters in an agony of ego, as we, captive to our own respect, had to keep standing. That may have been one of the first sit-down ovations in the history of the stage.

Oh. My. You DO bring out the words in me, especially on such a tender subject.

I hope that gifted young man sings forever, in that pure, true voice.
The others---well, they'll go on, as well. Don't you just LOVE the MUTE button?

danthefiddleman said...

Thanks for your post about the SSB.

I want to correct one common misconception: The song from which Francis Scott Key borrowed the melody -- a song called "To Anacreon in Heaven" -- is not a drinking song. Many seemingly knowledgeable sources claim that it is, but it isn't. It was essentially the theme song for the Anacreontic Society, a London gentlemen's club dedicated to the appreciation of music. The members drank, but only in the way that baseball fans drink beer at the ball park, which doesn't make "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" a drinking song either.

By the way, John Stafford Smith only wrote the melody for "To Anacreon..."; a fellow named Ralph Tomlinson wrote the original words. As you mentioned, many people borrowed the melody before Key wrote "The Defense of Fort McHenry." F.S. Key himself appropriated it in 1805 -- see "When the Warrior Returns".

For a fascinating study of the "To Anacreon..." melody, see William Lichtenwanger's wonderful article "The Music of the Star-Spangled Banner from Ludgate Hill to Capitol Hill."

Bottoms up!

Southern Lady said...

Dan, thank you for the additional background information about "To Anacreon in Heaven." I appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight.

Beth at Aunties said...

Janie,
I loved listening to and reading each line of the SSB. I haven't read all 4 verses for a long time and think how wise for all, if we sang the last verse more often.
We are hoping for a trip to Fort Henry whle visitng the east coast this spring. I am so proud to be an American and so grateful for the freedoms we enjoy. I pray we never take them for granted.
~♥

The Hinsons said...

I agree that our National Anthem should be sung so that all of us can sing along. We all know how it "should" be sung and I just hate it when these "artists" try to make it their own. This anthem belongs to all of us-not just the person who is honored to be chosen to sing it at an event.

Jenni said...

Thanks for posting all of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner....

Oh my, I get chill bumps on my chill bumps when I hear it sung, and always try to place my hand over my heart in the old fashioned way.... so sad to see that gesture is fading away into a distant memory in some places when the SSB is sung.....
God Bless America!

Jenni

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I still get chill bumps every time I hear it sung properly. And I have read about the origins before which makes me cry. To think what they went through in the War of 1812 because until that fort held, the British were whipping us soundly. So it has extra special meaning.

XO,

Sheila :-)

danthefiddleman said...

You're very welcome (for the background information).

I'm on a mission, as we approach the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, to try to correct two common misconceptions about the SSB. The first and most common one is the drinking song issue. The second misconception is that FS Key or someone else added the melody later, after Key wrote the words. I'm certain, however, that Key had the melody in mind when he wrote "The Defense of Fort McHenry"; as I mentioned, he'd already written at least one song using the Anacreontic tune. And a broadside that appeared only days after he wrote the SSB states, "Tune -- ANACREON IN HEAVEN."

danthefiddleman said...

You're very welcome (for the background information).

I'm on a mission, as we approach the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, to try to correct two common misconceptions about the SSB. The first and most common one is the drinking song issue. The second misconception is that FS Key or someone else added the melody later, after Key wrote the words. I'm certain, however, that Key had the melody in mind when he wrote "The Defense of Fort McHenry"; as I mentioned, he'd already written at least one song using the Anacreontic tune. And a broadside which appeared only days after Key wrote the SSB states, "Tune -- ANACREON IN HEAVEN."

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

At least she got the words right in this rendition, even if they were not clear at times.
I just wish they would sing it as it was written.
I saw the young Marine sing it and it was lovely. The best!!