Letters to the Editor

Anthem plea

August 31, 2008


To the editor:

For those who served these United States of America, for those of us who lost loved ones from World War II, the Pacific Theater, the European Theater, and family who served in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq, those of us with blue stars and gold stars in our windows, respect for "The Star Spangled Banner" is absolute. It is beautiful, moving and a part of us.

Yet more often than not, as I wait holding my breath, the singer, band, performer puts in an extra note toward the end. Then the vocal and instrumental embroidery follow, and I cringe. The same applies to sporting events.

Do be informed the hymn is sacred. Hearing it as written is glorious. Do save your cadenzas in your singing and playing this anthem, minus the note you impose on the melody, and do sing this sacred song of America's as written. If you want to have your own aria, do so in your shower at home or in opera.

This critique is long overdue; somebody had to say it. Your artistry may be great but out of place. Scratching fingers on a blackboard sounds better. Thank you.

Sue Hess,


kansas778 9 years, 7 months ago

God forbid anyone use their talent to creatively express themselves when singing a song about their country.

more_cowbell 9 years, 7 months ago

Oh fiddlesticks! It mentions God in the fourth and last stanza. Just before it says "Now give us this day our daily tea"...I stand corrected... yet for some reason I have never heard that fourth stanza sung. If this is our official anthem, shouldn't we be forced to listen to the whole thing in excruciating accuracy?Must be that darn ACLU. ;-)

more_cowbell 9 years, 7 months ago

(lyrics, "To Anacreon in Heaven")http://www.potw.org/archive/potw234.html(Tune not necessary. You know it already!)To be sung at taverns. Usually to celebrate the consumption of alcoholic beverages.Cheers.

more_cowbell 9 years, 7 months ago

The food here is really bad......and the portions are sooooo small!Moving, yes.Sacred, no.Doesn't even mention God. How dare that Francis Scott Key leave God out of our Anthem!Oh, and you do know that the music (not the lyrics) is based on an English (as in merrye olde England) drinking song?If you want sacred music, go to church. The Anthem is patriotic and SECULAR music and as such is subject to multiple interpretations. And it can often vary by context and audience, but still be moving in those different contexts and settings, even with prolonged notes or flourishes--if the artist is skillful and emotionally involved in performing the anthem.I myself prefer Jimi Hendrix's version, but then again I'm an aging hippie liberal d**che. ;-)

labmonkey 9 years, 7 months ago

I agree with the LTE writer. You will usually hear me say "sing it right!" when they add that note. It all started with that damn Whitney Houston version of the anthem. Billy Joel did an excellent, low key version of the anthem at SB 41.

dandelion 9 years, 7 months ago

Right, Marion. And it helps if everyone else is loaded too.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 7 months ago

Absolutely correct Sue hess. What you are noting is the general degradation of our society. and, M_CB, I have heard that eeeeeevil fourth verse sung, many times. as an aside, by your comment apparently you wish Saddam were still ruling over Kuwait. typical liberal, don't really care about human rights and freedoms of other peoples around the world. just hate-bush! The genocide and human disaster of 1992-2003 in iraq was far larger in scale than is Darfur! bet you want us to ignore the u.n. and go it alone and jump into Darfur. Marion,you are correct, when sung right, our national anthem is one of the most difficult pieces to sing. and the fact it is set to the melody of a drinking song, well so what. you can find hymns based on secular melodies.
I did wonder, as I read the LTE, was there a "last straw" that set off Ms. Hess? that's one thing that would have added to her letter.

Ragingbear 9 years, 7 months ago

A lame song, made from a poem that is 5 times longer, and rambles, with the melody from an old English bar tune... And you call this thing a "hymn" and "sacred"? Get a life and stop whining about everything.

UFC_FAN 9 years, 7 months ago

carl lewis has to be the worst. he added his commentary during singing the anthem.

more_cowbell 9 years, 7 months ago

The Whitney Houston version was sung at Super Bowl XXV (that's 25 for the Roman-challenged) as the nation marched to war against Iraq (the first time, in 1991). Actually at the time the crowd seemed quite pleased with her rendition. Or maybe they were cheering the Stealth Bombers doing their fly-over at the end. In which case, problem solved. X-DIn the end, the purists will want it played the same every time. In that case, there are orchestral versions (such as those used at the Olympics) where you don't have to worry about anyone messing up the words or the notes... except the athletes or the crowd. ;-)

fuel_for_the_fire 9 years, 7 months ago

While taking liberties with the anthem's melody is annoying, I don't find it offensive. What I do find offensive is the irreverent practice of changing the final word of the song to the name of a sports team. This practice stopped for a brief period following the attacks on September 11, 2001 and people oozed with pride at how classy the fans of Kansas City were. What happened to make these people revert to their classless ways?

ndmoderate 9 years, 7 months ago

"The anthem incorporates a key change which requires the singer to have exceptional range or be loaded to get it right."Although the vocal range needed to sing the Anthem is unusually wide, there is no key change; the piece begins and ends in A-flat major (traditionally).

Confrontation 9 years, 7 months ago

Here I was, worried about the economy, gas prices, the increase in HIV cases, and the extreme rate of child abuse in America. Little did I know that one note of the national anthem was the reason America is doomed. Thank goodness Sue had the time to obsess over this for me.

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

Amen to that, Sue Hess! Who cares if it is a hymn or not, or was originally a drinking song, or whatever. I get so tired of supposed artists (and, kansas778--your definition of "talent" and mine vary significantly!) making changes to all manner of good traditional songs, just so they can be different. This includes Christmas carols, as well. WHY must these people think it is so cool to be "original" with everything. Someone who has a really good voice will be enjoyed more if he/she sings a fine song in the regular way. The others can't possibly change things enough to make their singing sound better!

cds 9 years, 7 months ago

Agnostick (Anonymous) says: I'd offer a link to Maya Rudolph's wonderful rendition from "Saturday Night Live" a couple of years ago, but NBC has stripped it from the web. Bastages!!-Ag__Lol, this is exactly what I started thinking when I read this LTE. That skit was great.I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of the "artistic freedom" some take when singing the anthem either. It's amazing how some can do an incredible job for the most part, then slaughter it at the end.

beatrice 9 years, 7 months ago

The idea that expressing human emotion and feeling about the love and joy ones feels for one's country through song is somehow a sign of "the general degradation of our society" is laughable on the surface. Dig a little deeper, however, and it is downright scary that some people truly believe that there is only one way to be a true American. Express it as you wish, sing it loudly and proudly, and shout it if you must -- just don't disgrace the meaning of the words. Suggesting that there is only one way to show love of country is disgracing the sentiment of the very song you claim to want to protect. Some of us take seriously the concept of the "Land of the Free," and feel that those who express their freedom, even those who do so in as simple a way as in an expressive rendition of our national song, actually strengthens our "Home of the Brave."

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

I would add that the conservatives today are the ones that are not goosestepping. It has simply become fashionable to follow the liberal lies. That will eventually change.

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

Will Durant (who, with his wife Ariel wrote the massive works, Civilisation--the "s" is correct, because it is British!)) says "The conservative who resists change is just as valuable as the radical who proposes it." I guess he should know!

davidsmom 9 years, 7 months ago

Francis Scott Key did not leave God out of the anthem. It is in the 4th stanza, one you almost never see or hear. One line says, "And thus be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'"

canyon_wren 9 years, 7 months ago

pywacket--I copied that quote from Will Durant from some book of quotations over 15 years ago and it has been one of my favorites. I could swear that I have seen the Durant books somewhere with Civilization spelled with an "s" and ASSUMED that it was British. Sorry about that.I think two of the quotations you mentioned are pretty significant as well--the fact that "moral codes adjust themselves to environmental conditions" is kind of a sad statement--but then I am not a relativist. Also, the "every vice was once a virtue and may become respectable again"--could well describe my comment about things eventually changing back to a more conservative point of view in the future.One of my favorite sources of quotations--Emerson--said "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know!" so I guess one should never fall back on them! BUT I didn't google for mine--I have a very precious copy of Bartlett's Familar Quotations that I read just for entertainment--in fact, I have several editions and it is interesting (telling?) to see what the new editions leave out that we once thought was meaningful! Shades of George Orwell!BTW, if any posters reading this saw my reference to the black professor of economics at Stanford that I said I would vote for in a heartbeat, the other day, I misspelled his name--it's Thomas SOWELL, not Stowell. Worth looking up--even "Google-ing"!

Ragingbear 9 years, 7 months ago

Francis Scott Key did not write the anthem. He wrote a poem that was later adapted. The melody is from an old English bar song, and the Star Spangled Banner was not even adopted officially until 1931.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 9 years, 7 months ago

ndmoderate, I am glad you corrected that notion, that there is a key change in the anthem. Obviously someone who is not knowledgable in music theory.I absolutely HATE it when some diddly-bop alleged professional singer butchers the National Anthem. I know that a lot of folks do not regard this savaging of our National Anthem as any big deal, but I do. It orettty much goes along with respect for the flag and what it stands for. However, in a free society, we are accorded the right to be incredibly stupid, ignorant, classless, clueless, and gauche.Did anyone catch the chippie who just sung the National Anthem for the Republican Convention?? Not as offensive as Rosanne, but still leaving a lot to wonder about who is behind that (mercifully) truncated exposition of political BS.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 9 years, 7 months ago

I hate it when they intentionally screw the anthem up. It happens every year at A Capitol Fourth! I dread it when I know someone is going to sing it because I know they will ruin it. I totally agree. Thank you, Lynn

Kathy Theis-Getto 9 years, 7 months ago

There is no modulation in the National Anthem- ndmoderate is correct. From a musical standpoint, putting all of the argument for "individual expression" aside, the song should be sung straight. By straight - I mean HIT THE NOTES AS THEY WERE WRITTEN! While the song has a pretty simplistic melody - it has a range of one and a half octaves making it difficult to sing. Most singers who butcher the music in the anthem with their little embellishments don't know the meaning of glissando nor portamento - they simply can't hit the note straight on because they don't have the "pipes" to do it.

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