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Why the US national anthem is terrible — and perfect

If you’ve ever tried to sing the star spangled
banner, “You see”
You know it’s not easy. “And the rockets’ red glare. Can’t go that high.” The lowest note and the highest note are an octave and a half apart. That’s 12 full notes. For comparison, God Save The Queen spans seven
notes. Oh Canada? It’s nine. Yes exactly Estelle, this is why we need a
new national anthem. What? No. Joss, This is why the national anthem is so
great. Nonono theFfrench anthem is great. And it’s got a range of nine notes. Nine notes is enough to make Yvonne cry
in Casablanca. “Viva La France!!” But 12 notes? That just feels like failure. I know the words to it but I’m so aware
of how bad I sound that I have to stop right now. Ok so it’s not just the overall range,
The whole song feels like it’s trying to lose us, starting with the first line. So you go “Oh say can you see.” I’ve already traversed an octave from “say”
to “see” That’s music theory expert Paula Telesco. But from “see” I have to go up to “by the.” So now I’ve traversed a 10th, and we’re only
in the second measure. And then right here, you’re also hit with
a chromatic note, which means it’s not in the same key that the rest of the notes are
in. And that comes right after this dive. An “Interval” is the distance between
two notes. If they’re right next to each other, they’re
called “steps.” Most music moves by step, meaning a smaller
percentage of skips. But the star spangled banner is full of skips,
including fourths, fifths,
sixths, a tenth! So you know it’s kind of treacherous. That’s why music teachers in the 30s opposed
the law that officially made the star spangled banner our national anthem. And a writer in the 1920s said that “No one with
a normal esophagus can sing it without screaming.” And in 1906 the Washington Post called it
“perhaps the most …unlovely tune that was ever wrung from the quivering bowels of
a horn.” Are you done? Yes. I’m just saying.. Shouldn’t the national anthem be something
we can all sing? Exactly. Ok but how often do you really need to do
that? I mean consider the context where most Americans
even hear the song. The super bowl, NBA finals, the World Series. Why shouldn’t the national anthem performance
be just as challenging and anxiety ridden as whatever sporting event it’s commencing? What happens when you start too high? You’re screwed. You’re totally screwed. That’s Matt Farnsworth. He’s a vocal coach and teacher in New York
City. People think I should just start in a comfortable
range, like “oh say.” That would be my comfortable range. But really I need to start down here. “Oh say” Otherwise, I’m going to be
very very high by the time I get to the end of the song. “Land of the free” And the vowels in these lyrics make it even harder. “O’er the land” — open vowel. “Of the” and then all of a sudden you
have to go to a closed vowel, which is i: — i: and u: are closed vowels. “Free.” So you got to figure out how to sing the e
vowel with an open throat, but close it on top. Talented singers pull this off by mixing their
chest and head voice. So chest voice is like your Ethel Merman. “Give my regards to Broadway.” Head voice is when we think of like opera
singers. If you’re just using your chest voice at
“the land of the free” It’ll sound like this. “Land of the” and then you feel the “free”
and it just feels like it’s not going to go. But if you incorporate your head voice just
a little, it’s like hitting a game winning fadeaway
jump shot. And notice how Jennifer Hudson went up even
more on “Free” That’s not just an octave and half, that
two octaves. There’s one person who did it so well that
a recording of the song peaked at 20 on Billboard Hot 100. “Land of the free. And the home of the brave.” If our anthem was easy to sing, Joss, we would
not get these moments. Ok I’m not saying I don’t have goosebumps,
but let the record show that that microphone was not on. Wait wait wait wait wait. That was pre-recorded? You’re killing my heart right now. Are you positive? But let’s talk about the lyrics, which were
written by a slaveholder and, in the 3rd stanza they celebrate the death of slaves who sided
with the British in the war of 1812. But the song is about Fort McHenry in Baltimore,
which withstood a 24 hour attack from the British navy. So the big inspiring idea here is that the
country …. still exists. Is it the ramparts yet? I keep going to the ramparts. Oh. Whose bright stripes. Perilous…night? Um. Brave. These words are more descriptive than motivating. They’re also phrased really awkwardly,
so it’s no wonder that they just don’t stick in our brains. “Whose bright stripes and bright stars … and
the heavenly light.” [checks hand] “Were so gallantly”
“You know I had a really good laugh about it and you know you get over things and you
know you get back up again.” Christina you deserve better. No no no. Hold up. America loves watching people publicly fail. “And the rocket’s red glare.” “Written by Francis Scott off-Key.” We should be grateful that the Star Spangled
Banner gives us those moments. “Banner yet wave” Yeah I don’t know quite what it was I was watching, but I think that’s another example
of I think she really tried to do something new with it and it just wasn’t as successful
as she hoped it would be. Yes, it’s risky to for performers to try
something new. But when they do it well, it’s amazing. Let’s rewind back to 1968. It’s game 5 of the World Series and José
Feliciano, a 23-year-old blind Puerto Rican folk singer is there to do the anthem. “Oh say can you see” Now it’s immediately apparent this doesn’t sound like the star spangled banner. It’s the height of the Vietnam War, and
our national anthem sounds like a peaceful folk tune. “And the home of the brave”
He finishes it and then listen closely. There are boos. One woman was so angry she said she was going
to write a letter to her senator to complain. But RCA released the the live recording as
a single. And it was the first time the national anthem
made it on the Billboard charts. Fifteen years later Marvin Gaye walked up
to center court at the 1983 NBA Allstar game with a shocking amount of swagger, and took a cue
from Feliciano. “By the dawn’s early light”
By the end the crowd was clapping with him. “O’er the land of the free”
We don’t need a different National Anthem to feel something. We just need the right singer. Like maybe these singers? “Of the coming of the lord” “Oh beautiful for spacious skies” “May we forever stand, true to our god and
true to our native land.” Oh so you want one of those to be our national
anthem? To be honest they’re a little religious
for my taste. See! People have tried, in vain, to replace the
star spangled banner for a really long time. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So just enjoy it when it’s good. And enjoy it when it’s bad too.

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