Gearing up for the annual Super Bowl Star-Spangled Banner debate

With January and winter snowstorms comes the Super Bowl and the annual debate about the proper way to sing the Star-Spangled Banner. This year, the American National Anthem will be sung by Idina Menzel (or, as John Travolta calls her, Adele Dazeem).

Menzel is a wonderful singer and a pretty middle-of-the-road choice for the event. My guess is she’ll stay pretty close to the melody and add a few embellishments at peak moments. And true to form, she’ll find one or two notes to hold out indefinitely. (Too bad there’s no “go” in the lyric, as in “Let it go-o-o-o”.)

The debate centers around whether to sing the melody exactly as written or to embellish it. People on both sides feel very strongly about this and the emotions go right to the heart of what it means to be patriotic. Instead of taking sides, I’d like to describe two people I know; one on each side of the fence. I won’t use names, but they are real people who I know very well and respect. Good, decent folks.

Person #1:
This individual is in her 70s, grew up singing classical music in choirs, and loves Broadway songs as well. She lives in a town near a military base and feels very strongly that the Star-Spangled Banner needs to be sung exactly as written. She feels that any variation on the part of the performer is unpatriotic and disrespectful, both to military personnel and to the country as a whole. She herself is a wonderful singer.

Person #2:
This individual is in her early 20’s and grew up singing gospel music in church. She was taught to put her individual touch on songs she sings by embellishing them and changing the phrasing as a means of self-expression. She also enjoys singing classical music, and when she does, she sings it exactly as written. When she sings the Nation Anthem at sports events, though, she treats it in a gospel-like manner, freely embellishing the melody. She considers this an indispensable part of doing her best in this context. And to do less than her best would be, in her opinion, unpatriotic.

What I find interesting is that both performers are trying their best according to their deeply-held beliefs. They are both good people and want to sing the song in an honorable way according to their worldview. I’m not saying that any of us should change our opinion, but I do find it fascinating to look at both sides.

Now on to the big game!

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