Billy disses the national anthem

Well, it does have a wide range, and it does get slaughtered on a regular basis. But the people who do the most harm are not the people who can’t sing. No, it’s the “ahtistes” who, after vocal stylings and noodlings that would be excessive in a torch song, go up to the tonic at “Free….EEEEE!” It’s not about you, assholes, it’s about the country. So just sing the thing.

This summer with Community Band, I gave them the lecture: “It has words! Play the words! You wouldn’t sing “Oh-ho say can you see…” I also sing along while conducting…because I can.

My favorite version of SSB is the version from the Dodworth Saxhorn Journal, recorded on some old Nonesuch LP. It’s a lot closer to Smith’s glee, with a lilt to the 3/4, and big cadenzas at “wave”. It’s pre-Civil War, when we took the country a little less seriously than we do now. #2 is probably Stravinsky (so much for “just sing the thing”), which was banned in Boston.


5 Responses to Billy disses the national anthem

  1. kishnevi says:

    I’ve always suspected that the SSB’s range is a product of its original incarnation. In a properly sung drinking song (ie, with beer mug in hand), one’s vocal chords are already somewhat relaxed by the liquid refreshment, and if you can’t the high notes, both you and the audience will have imbibed enough to not really care.

    Though, speaking of a country that didn’t take itself so seriously, the fact that the song was a drinking song should say something in and of itself.

  2. Mell says:

    There’s another Cleveland area low brass/band/early music guy who has transcribed the Stravinsky arrangement for band.

  3. jeffreyquick says:

    SSB always gets described as a “drinking song”, where in fact the original was a glee inviting Anacreon to be the patron of musicians. I recall the last line “…to entwine/the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine. I think there’s a recording by the Hilliard Ensemble with all kinds of cadenza fun on “entwine”. Granted, your typical catch/glee club was well lubricated.

    Mell — who? Schaufele? Betts? If it’s anyone else, I need to know about them, as those are the only two that come to mind, and there’s a vacancy in Burgundy, my band.

  4. rwp says:

    “It’s not about you, assholes, it’s about the country. So just sing the thing.”

    Thank you. That’s exactly how I feel about it. Please, no personal spin or “originality.”

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