The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: The Star-Spangled Banner Part II

image.jpegLast week I delved into the murky waters of Super Bowl performances of the National Anthem. It turned out to be rather fascinating, at least to me, and I was amazed at how many of the past performances are available via YouTube.

The National Anthem has been performed at every single Super Bowl except one—Super Bowl XI. Vicki Carr sang “America the Beautiful” instead.

One thing which has changed over the years is, sadly, audience participation. The National Anthem was never intended to be a showpiece, despite the title “anthem,” which people tend to think of as something other people sing, unless they themselves are in the choir.

It is a great pity, given the idea is for the National Anthem to be participatory, that Francis Scott Key’s patriotic poem wasn’t set to an easier tune to sing. Its antecedents aren’t all that inspiring, either. Known as the “Anacreontic Song,” the tune had British origins but was popular in America. Here’s some of the history of the tune, from the Wikipedia article:

“The Anacreontic Song”, also known by its incipit [first line] “To Anacreon In Heaven”, was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th century gentleman’s club of amateur musicians in London.

The Anacreontic Society was a gentlemen’s club of the kind that was popular in London in the late eighteenth century. In existence from approximately 1766 to 1792, the Society was dedicated to the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, who was renowned for his drinking songs and odes to love. Its members, who consisted mainly of wealthy men of high social rank, would meet on Wednesday evenings to combine musical appreciation with eating and drinking.

You can see that this would be an appropriate anthem for gentlemen who fancied themselves to be musicians and who planned to drink a lot. Unfortunately, the majority of attendees of the Super Bowl in these degenerate days most likely fall only into the latter category.

The singing of the National Anthem at sporting events is something to which we are so accustomed that it’s easy not to question it. But after I wrote the words above about the “purpose” of singing the national anthem, I realized that I was making an assumption, and started looking for answers.

Google “the purpose of singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl” and all you come up with is a list of the performers, or rankings of the performances, or similar results. It seems most people, like me, take for granted that one sings it, without thinking about why. After a bit of experimenting with search terms I found an article on a website called “Mental Floss”, which gives some of the history:

After America’s entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

At least since I’ve been noticing, the singing of the National Anthem has been part of honoring the military prior to the game. Personally, I think this is a good thing, and perhaps it would be best if, at least for the Super Bowl, one of the military choruses be brought in to sing the anthem. Heaven knows there’s plenty of other opportunities for stars to strut their stuff.

Although this would seem an obvious thing to do, military choruses have been used only twice—at Super Bowl VI (the U.S. Air Force Academy Chorale,) and Super Bowl XXXIX (the combined choirs of the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy (2), and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.) Here is a performance of the latter, complete with flyover, former U.S. Presidents, and more.

Here’s a video of the Super Bowl VI performance, along with an awesome flyover. And unlike the previous video, you won’t have see any shots of Tom Brady looking smug:

Finally, I would like to share this video. If the purpose of the National Anthem is to honor the military, especially those who have lost life or limb in combat, perhaps everyone on both teams should watch this video as well.

I suppose this post should have gone up last weekend for Memorial Day, but how easy it is for us to set apart one day and forget, for 364 of them, those who allow us to live our lives more or less as we please. In fact, how many of us even look at Memorial Day as something other than a holiday weekend? I’m as guilty as the rest of you, despite having a father who served in the Korean War and a son-in-law who served in the Persian Gulf—I’m preaching to myself here.

So perhaps we can all make a small start. Perhaps, when the National Anthem is sung at a Steelers game, or a Pirates game, or a Pens game, or whenever, we could pause for a moment and think what it means. We could stop worrying, just for an instant, about the game to come, or, (if you’re me at least), stop internally critiquing the person(s) singing it. Instead, maybe we could actually sing ourselves if we can, ignoring the curious looks from those around us, and truly honor in our hearts the men and women who give their lives so that we can care about something as ultimately inconsequential as football.

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