Friday, February 11, 2011

Anthem of One

Some members of the extended family gathered last Sunday for that quintessentially American event, and our hosts being DVR fans, we bypassed most of the prefatory gab and several commercials - but not the rendition of the National Anthem by Christina Aguilera.

It's been around forty years since both Jose Feliciano's rendition and Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful", both unabashedly colloquial statements of patriotism - not to mention effective and groundbreaking performances. By now, the pop-via-R&B stylings of "Star Spangled Banner" by those like Ms. Aguilera are almost old hat, but I confess I will probably never like those stylings. So with that admission out of the way...

My sister-in-law, who didn't think Aguilera's fumbles at the Super Bowl mattered that much, sent some "rules of the road" for would-be performers of the song courtesy Eber Lambert on the American Idol forum:

1) Start as low as you can go. 2) Remember all the words. 3) Only two Whitney notes, no more.

As a longtime singer familiar enough with this range-pusher, I'd rate these very helpful - well, at least if the "Whitney notes" refers to show-offy high notes. And I tend to agree with the sentiment behind them; it's not very plausible that this particular singer would make such glaring errors unless a) she just got her wisdom teeth out b) got horrible news right before taking the mic or c) was underprepared.

Assuming things like a) and b) don't apply, I had to think about what c) meant, that is, what does it mean that a very experienced singer who has sung before huge audiences for quite awhile, and is very familiar with the rehearsal/performance mechanism and tradeoffs, makes mistakes this obvious in one of the arguably highest profile performances she's likely to give? And, of course, what does it mean for someone observing it or learning of it from abroad, that a famous American singer flubs the national song? Here's a clue of what it meant to her:

“I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through.”

- alas, what came through for me was her love of technique.

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