The National Anthem -- Boston style

  • Article by: CHARLES L. JOHNSON
  • Updated: April 23, 2013 - 8:04 PM

In the midst of their city's despair, the people of Boston show us how the National Anthem should be sung.

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Fans, accompanied by the stadium organist, sang the anthem before a game between the Red Sox and Royals in Boston on Saturday.

Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press

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Out of the Boston bombings, I observe a small but interesting thing. We all saw “The Star-Spangled Banner” as done at the hockey game. Then we saw the same thing at a Red Sox gameeverybody standing together, singing together — the way a national anthem should be employed, uniting all in music.

I’d much rather hear 30,000 people singing such a song together than any pop star doing it alone, no matter how good that pop star may be.

We’ve seen so many famous singers take their shots at doing the “Banner.” Whitney Houston will never be forgotten for her stirring version.

Then again, there was Roseanne, who chewed the “Banner” and spit it out — not only musically, but with a crude attitude.

There have been barbershop groups, college choirs, regionally noted musicians of all sorts, service members from all branches of the military — not to mention firefighters, police and even some athletic stars.

I can understand why the job has been turned over to the pros. Our national anthem is indeed a difficult song to sing. The lowest note and the highest note are an octave and a half apart — quite wide for even the better singers.

The words are dated, arriving to us as it were from the War of 1812 and the pen of Francis Scott Key. The melody is an obscure English song. There is strong evidence that other patriotic songs out there might serve better as our country’s musical emblem.

I taught music for 34 years, and directed our high school band in about a thousand performances of the “Banner.” I have seen our high school choir sing it. I have seen some high school kids sing it, with varying degrees of success. I have even seen a kindergarten class sing it for some of our sporting events.

My point is this: The lesson from what I saw as a music teacher, and from what we saw from our professional singers, and from the events in Boston, may be that it is best to leave the singing of the “Banner” to the people, even if it is difficult. There is a special something that happens when folks unite their voices, especially in the shadow of events like we saw on that sunlit Boston afternoon.

I put the first paragraph of this post on my Facebook page and received a good many “likes.” A few comments (echoed in conversations with friends) centered on how quickly such emotion fades, how difficult it is to keep up the flame.

Maybe here’s what we need to do. I wonder what would happen if everyone dropped a note off to their favorite sports teams — whether professional or your local school’s — and let them know that we need to have the “Banner” sung by the public. Tell them it is time to quit hiring professionals and give the song back to the people.

Suggest they announce the reason — that we need to keep this flame of patriotism going by all joining in singing with each other.

I think we could see an exciting thing happen if we all would sing the “Banner” — as best we could and as a group — every time we had the chance.

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Charles L. Johnson, of Brainerd, Minn., is a retired music teacher.

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