On OH! Say
Love your column and read it faithfully every day. Actually, the “Star-Spangled Banner” is a glorious and thrilling and quite triumphant melody and, if you think about it, is a pretty potent anthem, while “God Bless America” (tune I’m talking about here) is the worst sentimental garbage. The problem with “Star” is that it is difficult in that it has an innate theatricality, a grand opera quality, that is totally destroyed if you “pop music” it in any style; gospel, R&B, country, whatever. It takes a well-trained, classically-produced tone to reveal the melody in all its glory. If you can sing something “straight” and in tune and you have beautiful high notes, you’re in. Now, Aaron Neville can do that – I didn’t hear the performance but it sounds like too many cooks spoiling the broth – unnecessary. Aaron Neville has a beautiful voice and is representative enough of New Orleans – why were the other two even necessary – so much of these big spectacles is overdone and worthless from a sheer performers’ point of view. I wonder what kind of mess they will make of the Grammy’s this year.
Two points: (1.) When I wrote “God Bless America,” I meant “America The Beautiful.” Mea culpa. (2.) An evaluation of Mr. Neville’s vocal quality is a matter of taste and stylistic preference. At the Super Bowl, whether because of nervousness, bad luck or bad material, he used his voice poorly.
John Shaw says
I agree that “Star Spangled Banner” has a beautiful melody. And — it’s in
3/4 time! Such a virile waltz! The lyric is a series of questions — is
our flag waving? Can you see it? Has the fort been taken? Very dramatic
“America the Beautiful” is beautiful as well. I certainly wouldn’t object
to a switch.
I never liked “God Bless America” until it started getting played at
baseball games in the aftermath of the horrible events of September 11.
Then I realized: It’s a prayer for guidance. And I’m always up for some
mountains, prairies, and oceans white with foam. And despite all my
disagreements with this or that government policy, it is my home sweet home.
Anyway — thanks —
john shade says
As is (perhaps not so) well-known, the melody for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was not original to Key, but was taken from a rousing old drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” I once heard the original lyrics sung in a tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, and it was great fun. I think the “grand opera” feel to the tune is something that we’ve engrafted on after the fact through unconscious association with its newer, higher-falutin’ lyrics, not something innate in the melody.