Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oh, Say Can Ye Sing - a Modest Proposal

College football begins tomorrow. The NFL opens the following weekend. My son Zachary has already played in two high school football games. The dog days of summer are over. Baseball, America's pastime, might still be in full swing - but now is when America's passion kicks off! (I've been flagged for excessive gratuitous sports-related puns!)

But whatever sport floats your boat, I do have a modest proposal; one I've been meaning to address for some time. In fact the seed for this proposal was quite possibly planted in my mind on July 25, 1990.

Where were you on that date?

Doesn't matter. You remember it. Even if you don't remember that you remember it yet. That was the inglorious day that comedienne Roseanne Barr screeched out the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres baseball game. Her irreverent rendition of the Star Spangled Banner set off a firestorm of criticism that plummeted her popularity as a person while her television career continued to soar to new ratings heights. What's the saying? There's no such thing as bad publicity - even if it is off key and boorish.

My proposal really doesn't have much to do with Roseanne other than the fact that she is just one of hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been asked to perform the National Anthem before a sporting event.

My question is this: whatever happened to someone standing up and leading the whole crowd in singing it together? Have we become so passive and lazy that even the National Anthem is strictly a spectator sport? Have we been turned off to group singing forever just because international soccer fans sing "Ole, Ole, Ole" over and over - and in South Africa they do so accompanied by that horrible device of otic torture known as the vuvuzela?

I occasionally take matters into my own hands - or my own vocal cords - and sing along with the performer, even if not invited or encouraged. But there are two problems with that.

First, performers like to ... well, perform. They like to show what they've got talent-wise. After all, America has talent according to Englishwoman Sharon Osbourne - and after allowing husband Ozzy to perform "Take Me Out to the Ballpark" at Wrigley Field, she would know. But I digress. My point is that a simple, recognizable, minimalist approach to the National Anthem doesn't showcase a performer's talent. That means performers select elaborate arrangements with pauses and holds and undulating flights from one octave to another - and often with less than stellar results. But again, I'm not concerned with the results of the performer. I just know I can't follow along if it's the first time I've heard the tune.

The second problem is that I'm not a very good singer. Some would say I make Roseanne sound pretty darn good. If I'm one of ten thousand singing in Section 3, it's no big biggie. If I'm the only one from Section 3 singing along with the performer, well then, Houston, we've got a problem.

I think the whole crowd should be encouraged to sing along with our National Anthem.

So I make my appeal to high school band instructors, college athletic directors, pro sports producers, and church softball league commissioners to move away from a performance-based approach to the Star Spangled Banner - though I know there are rare breakthrough performances of the National Anthem that launch careers (though I can't remember whose).  But between bad acoustics and the general apathy of those not included in the exercise, most of us can't remember who performed  before the coin flip at last year's Super Bowl (and maybe not after the coin flip either), while we can all remember singing "Living On a Prayer" with everyone else in the room the first time we saw Jon Bon Jovi on a Duracel commercial. Heck, he even pointed the microphone in our direction, which ironically made us sing even louder.

So next time the Vienna Boys Choir is called upon to sing the Star Spangled Banner in an acapella soprano voice that would make opera star Kiri Te Kanawa wish she could hit the high notes, nudge the person on your left and on your right to lift their voices loud and strong with you in an attempt to inspire the whole crowd to sing along.

If that doesn't work, maybe you can start the wave.

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