ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Life is full of unanswered questions. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, the national anthem or the sporting event? OK, so maybe no one has pondered that question until now.
There’s a saying among officials that spectators don’t come to basketball games to watch us officiate. In a perfect world, officials do their jobs without being noticed.
The same philosophy should apply for those performing the national anthem. Fans don’t come to games to see how well the anthem is performed-with the possible exception of parents who have children involved in the performance.
As a basketball official, I’ve probably heard the national anthem performed instrumentally or vocally more than 1,000 times. Usually it’s performed once a night at high school games. Other times it’s performed before each varsity girls’ and boys’ game.
As a rule the anthem is performed adequately with little fanfare.
On rare occasions, the performance is memorable for the right reasons.
Other times, performers sing the anthem in an attempt to be a show stopper. Indeed, those performances can bring tears to your eyes, but usually not for the right reasons.
To be fair, “The Star Spangled Banner” may be the most recognizable song in the United States, and one of the most difficult songs to perform.
The vocal range causes difficulty for many singers with more limited ranges, according to Bill Thomson, a Wichita State University School of Music professor.
“Amateur musicians are especially affected by this obstacle,” said Thomson.
“It’s also easy to confuse differing rhyming stanzas and sing them in the wrong place – for instance, bombs bursting in air before the rockets red glare.
“If one has negotiated the words comfortably, there’s always the pitch or key that can truly suffer before it’s over.”
Depending on how it’s performed, Thomson said, the national anthem can be inspiring and a source of patriotic pride or an uncomfortable experience for all concerned.
Perhaps the biggest national anthem blunder of all time was performed by Roseanne Barr a few years ago. In case you missed it-and you can thank God if you did-Barr gave an off-key performance at a professional baseball game, and ended her performance with a crude gesture.
The safest way to perform the national anthem is usually to have a band play the song. Over the years I’ve also heard some wonderful a cappella renditions and a great arrangement played by trumpets. There have been some impressive soloists and others who tried to do more with the song than their ability allowed.
As Daryl Popkes wrote in a column once, “I long for the old days when these songs were sung ‘straight’ without the singers flying up and down the musical scales like butterflies on crack.”
When the anthem is performed poorly, some of the blame lies with the event organizers.
Thomson said, “If you choose to feature a vocal or instrumental group, consider the challenges of the national anthem and the experience level of the performing individual or group.”
Thomson said performers also need to “remember to sing with accompaniment if possible. If you have any doubts, sing with the music. And in performing, if it doesn’t go well, keep going. Don’t stop.”
Playing a tape is usually a safe alternative, but you better make sure you have the right song cued up ahead of time.
On rare occasions, an anthem performance gone awry can turn into a positive, memorable experience. Take for example the time NBA coach Mo Cheeks walked over to help a young girl finish the national anthem before a basketball game when the girl forgot the words to the song.
The trouble with performing the anthem is that all eyes focus on the music and the performer. A noisy gym is suddenly quiet and the pressure can be considerable.
I don’t know of anyone who wants to be known as someone who flopped while performing the national anthem.
If a performer has the misfortune of a miserable anthem appearance, he or she would do well to remember the following anonymous quotes: “Honesty is the best policy, but insanity is a better defense,” or….
“May all your mistakes be new ones-at least then you know you’re still learning.”