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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Am I The Only One Tired Of A “Stylized” National Anthem?

Just Sing It, For Gawd's Sake!

A good Italian girl, Lady Gaga, sang the National Anthem at Super Bowl 50. And it was said that some people were moved to tears by her performance. I know I was, because in spite of an inspiring voice that soared to terrific heights on “the rocket's red glare,” she did the same damn thing “artists” do all the time: she turned the National Anthem into a stylized performance piece. And that makes me weep.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. In and of its own right it is a powerful song of majestic beauty and feeling. It is the anthem of our nation, representing us as a people. It is not a bluesy jazz number, a twangy country hoedown, or a screaming rock opera aria. It is a song that should be sung with utmost dignity and respect for the music and for the ideal it represents.

Various dictionary definitions of “anthem” cite it to be “a song of loyalty or devotion,” and “a rousing or uplifting song.” Taken from the Old English “antefn,” an anthem was originally a song sung antiphonally, or in turns by two groups of singers. Today's anthems, when sung by a group of people, represent a devotion to a particular cause espoused by that group. Some anthems are raucous and rowdy while others are staid and dignified. Our national anthem should always be the latter.

Vocal gymnastics are completely uncalled for when singing the National Anthem. Trills and frills and ruffles and flourishes are fine for lesser compositions. If you want to jazz up or rock out “America the Beautiful,” go for it. Knock yourself out reaching for octaves above the score. Change up the melody and the tempo to match your musical “style” and identity. Make the song “your own.” Stamp it with your stamp, mark it with your mark, sing it with all the acrobatics your vocal cords posses and leave the audience gasping at your unparalleled artistic virtuosity. Just don't do it with the National Anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not a performance piece with which to showcase your style. It is our song, not yours. So you can go up an octave on the phrase “land of the free.” I don't care and I'm not impressed. The song is not written that way and you have no right to “interpret” it. Just sing it, for gawd's sake!

I have sung the National Anthem at sporting events myself. And I have never been tempted to show off my range or otherwise screw with the traditional arrangement. I don't have that right. It's not my song. It is the song of my country and its people, and when I sing it, I sing it with the respect and honor that that country and those people deserve. I don't "perform" the anthem, I just sing it.

In fact, I remember the days when the singer on the field led the people in singing the National Anthem. When these ego-driven “artists” start screeching and squalling and stretching the high notes, who the hell could follow them? To them, it's not about the song or the people, it's just about them and their “performance.” Remember when Christina Aguilera butchered the lyrics? She didn't care enough to even learn the song. But she sure as hell performed it, didn't she? And I shouldn't even dignify the Roseanne Barr disgrace with a mention.

When they let opera singers, school choruses, or military chorales sing the National Anthem, nobody messes with the arrangement and the results are awe-inspiring. I get chills from hearing a solid, strong, well-performed note-for-note rendition of our sweeping, powerful national song. When I hear country, pop, or rock “stars” bellowing out their horrid interpretations, I just get sick.

"Artists" take note: you are being called upon to sing the National Anthem, not to "rock" it. Its purpose is to inspire the listener, not to stroke your ego. It doesn't require your "styling"; it demands your respect. Singers who turn the "Star-Spangled Banner" into a performance piece are a large part of the reason nobody respects the traditions associated with the song anymore. People are supposed to stand at attention facing the flag when the anthem is sung. Men are supposed to remove their hats. If not singing the anthem, people are expected to remain in respectful silence until it concludes. Look around at any sporting event and you'll see these rules flaunted regularly.

A few years ago, Carolina Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey was quite vocal about how proper etiquette for the singing of the National Anthem is necessary to show respect for the flag and those who fought for it. He criticized opposing players for not putting their hands over their hearts as the National Anthem was performed. I wonder if he noticed current Panthers quarterback Cam Newton standing on the sidelines with his eyes closed, holding on to his shoulder pads and swaying from side to side as Lady Gaga "performed" the song? Peyton Manning, on the other hand, was seen standing at attention with his hand over his heart. But in Newton's defense, why should he show any special regard for the song when the singer has turned it from a national anthem into a pop ballad? After all, nobody takes off his hat and stands at attention when Elton John sings "Rocket Man," right?

My heartfelt congratulations to Lady Gaga for proving to her detractors that she does, indeed, have a wonderful voice. And the next time she's called upon to sing the National Anthem, I hope she will stand straight and tall, eyes fixed on the fluttering banner for which the song is named, and belt it out with that outstanding voice in a way that will reflect the true glory of the anthem and the nation for which it stands. That would move me to tears.

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