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Oh, say can you see?

by James Logue

News editor

We've been hearing "The Star Spangled Banner" a lot since Sept. 11 and that's great. My beef is over people who want to mangle the song by adding their own little flourishes. Just sing the song as it was intended.

I can't stand watching the World Series and seeing some pop star come on before the game and start warbling his or her own interpretation of the national anthem. Must they sing, "What so puh-row-ly we ha-i-a-i-a-i-led, (deep breath) at the twilight's last (dramatic pause) gle-a-e-a-m-m-m-m-ing."

It's at this point I find myself praying for a commercial.

My feelings about the national anthem go back to when I was a drummer in the Washington Irving High School band. We would play it at the start of every football and basketball game, and because we played it so often, we got to be pretty good at it. Plus, we stood at attention when we played it, and anytime we didn't have to march while we played, I was all for it.

We played all kinds of songs in the marching band, but our director, Glen Goodwin, was partial to Sousa marches and the like. "Stars and Stripes Forever" is perhaps the best known of the Sousa works, but it was difficult to play. You had to play loud one minute (crescendo) and soft the next (pianissimo) and you always had to keep up the tempo (uh, er, tempo).

What impressed me about Mr. Goodwin's philosophy is that you played the national anthem or the Sousa marches correctly, just as they were intended to be played. "The Star Spangled Banner" especially was something you didn't mess with.

That idea has always stayed with me. That's why, to this day, I prefer to hear that tenor on the New York City police force sing the national anthem rather than listen to Jimi Hendrix's version that he played at Woodstock. (A little known fact about that performance: Hendrix was reportedly so whacked on heroin that day that he later professed to not knowing he played the national anthem. He thought he was playing "Foxy Lady.")

Of course, there are those folks like Robert Goulet who try to sing the song correctly but only screw up the lyrics to the point that you wished he had scribbled the words on the back of the umpire's head.

Those lyrics, which are so hard for some to remember, were penned, of course, by Francis Scott Key. After the British had bombarded Fort McHenry at Baltimore one night, he was impressed that the rather large American flag was still flying over the fort the next morning. Key wrote a poem about the battle and set it music.

Key later admitted that he didn't know the tune was an old British drinking song. He thought it was the music to "Foxy Lady."

It was not until 1931 that Congress finally gave its OK to make "The Star Spangled Banner" the national anthem. Since that time, we've heard many variations on the theme, but it still sounds best when played or sung with the respect it deserves. Old Jimi must be spinning in his grave.

News Editor James Logue can be reached at 626-1031 or by e-mail at jlogue@exponent-telegram.com

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