Kamis, 13 September 2012

The Irrational National Anthem

The National Anthem is the song every American singer is most likely to sing at least once in public, as long as there is a sporting event on the horizon. The ubiquitous Happy Birthday may rival it in popularity, but Happy Birthday usually turns up on a singer's menu as a group effort. With the National Anthem you are pretty much left to your own devices -- to sing it a cappella, no less! There are plenty of good reasons why The Star-Spangled Banner terrifies singers.

It's a bear to sing; the range is so wide (an octave and a fifth above that) that a singer of modest capability can barely scan the notes. And it's written in such a way that the phrasing invites the singer to breathe at inappropriate junctures.

The words were written by Francis Scott Keyearly in the morning after witnessing the all-night bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. His poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith.

I'm going to give you some tips for taming the beast. For now, I'd like to concentrate on the words. You may never have taken a close look at them. Do you realize there are only two sentences in the entire song? And that the first sentence is probably the longest sentence in the history of sentences? Nevertheless it does actually mean something. It's not just a bunch of gibberish -- the words tell a story that makes sense if you phrase it correctly.

"Oh say," Hey you guys over there.

"can you see," What can you see from your vantage point?

"by the dawn's early light," Now that the sun's come up?

"what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming," That flag that we are so proud of was still visible on the fort ramparts as daylight drew to a close.

"whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly gleaming," We could see the flag there waving.


"and the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air," Every time a bomb burst

"gave proof through the night that our flag was still there." We could see that the flag was still flying.


End of first sentence. Now remember, that was ONE sentence. And not written in Albanian. In English (well, English as it was spoken two hundred years ago.)


"Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave," Is our flag still flying over the fort this morning? Were we victorious in the battle?

"o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." Over our new country?

So, when you phrase the anthem to fit the contours of the meaning of the words you will find that you sing with the commas instead of just anywhere.

Example: Sing "Oh, say, [breath] can you see... "

NOT "Oh, say, can [breath] you see... "

To interrupt 'can' and 'you' is unnatural phrasing

I've heard very few people sing the national anthem like they believed in what was written. If nothing else, if you make it a patriotic song that means something of special value and pride, then you should make a notable impression.

And, you know, It's funny how just thinking about what the words mean makes your voice sound better.

Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams helped make stars out of many top artists: Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, Miley Cyrus, Huey Lewis, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Jason Aldean, Christina Aguilera...

Click Here to receive her free weekly Vocal Video Lessons and PDF of "Answers to Singers' 7 Most Important Questions."

Author of "Voice Power" AMACOM (NY). She offers insider's information via on-line lessons at cybervoicestudio.com.

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