Tuesday, September 6, 2011

6 Classical Music Pieces to Commemorate 9/11 - #6 The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner
The National Anthem of the United States of America
Lyrics from Francis Scott Key's poem "Defence of Fort McHenry"
Music from John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven"

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Why it was influenced by September 11:  The national anthem provides a great sense of national pride in Americans.  Of course, we associate it with the Olympics and many other sporting events.  After the attacks, musically, the national anthem went through a brief transition away from popularizing the tune.  In 1968, Jose Feliciano became the first to sing the national anthem in a pop style during the World Series.  Since then, many of the great pop, jazz, blues, country, and other genre specific singers applied the national anthem to their style.  This caused controversy initially, however it has since became a part of an artist's prerogative.  After the attacks, the country responded by preferring the strength of the classical, militaristic form of the national anthem and to more classic pop songs, like God Bless America, than to any more modern pieces like God Bless the USA.  By programming the national anthem in such a way, it allowed the public to vent and live their pain, anger, and fortitude through the power of the universally recognized, stately version of song.  Just like a little folk tune, everyone could participate and unify in the same melody - something difficult to do in popularizations.  This was our song.

What to listen for: The bass line (each of these examples have slightly different versions). I know we all know this song pretty well.  Essentially, when we hear the national anthem, people concentrate on the melody and the words (especially stuff about rockets and bombs - and the home of the brave - or the home of the Chiefs if you're from Kansas City).  This time, notice the bass line along with the melody.  See how it colors the melody differently; how it provides gravity into the unison parts on "twilight's last gleeming" etc. and how it provides great tension until the very end.  This is the beauty of chorale tunes.

Here is an example played at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London after the attacks.  Try to forget that they don't repeat the first phrase...give them a break! They're British!


Here is a stunning example of one of the world's greatest orchestras, The Cleveland Orchestra, in they're tribute concert in September of 2001.  Notice how vigorous the audience is belting (as well as the conductor).



This even spilled into church services.  Here is an example of the National Anthem played at a memorial service at St. Paul's in London.



Finally, one of the greatest moments, and one that I have never forgotten.  The 2002 Winter Olympics were in Salt Lake City, Utah only a few months after the attacks.  The Opening Ceremony was a gigantic tribute to our country in a grand spectacle that since that time we have yet to replicate.  However at the moment of the National Anthem, the whole ceremony stopped and this is how it played out...



We learned a lot about America because of the events of 9/11.  In music, our collective hearts were warmed to an idea that the simple form of our National Anthem provided a great expression of our sorrow, fear, and pride.  This simplest form, without any added artistic desires from pop stars or others, became a healing power for us all.  There was nothing more comforting than our song during such a terrifying and traumatic time.

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