Oh Say Can You…SING??!!?

I recently went to my local baseball team’s game and heard another BAD performance of the Star Spangled Banner. I was hoping to write about it so baseball goers don’t have to go through more torture next time. My husband and I both counted on our fingers how many times the singer had changed keys. The song was hardly recognizable when it was finished.

I looked up the Star Spangled Banner on youtube and got a lot of feedback on famous people who forgot the words or whatever, but the most common issue I hear from amateurs is the key change problem—that is almost as irritating as forgetting the words. This has got to be my “pet peeve”—people who put themselves out there to perform the Star Spangled Banner who cannot perform it well! It is a tough song to sing, but if you have not trained and done enough work to have the range for it, DON’T SING IT! I have 3 different versions today. Watch each of them and I will comment on each and what the singers can do to make it better next time.

The first one is Ashley. If you count, she CHANGED KEYS at least 6 times in the one song! Unlike most unsuccessful SSB performances, I think she might have the range for it; she just does not have a good tonal center. If I were to wager, she has probably not spent much, if any, time in a good choral music program or music theory class. She changes keys because she does not have accompaniment to tell her what notes to sing. I would suggest she sing in a well-directed choral group in order to work on developing a good ear for tonality. She also shout-sings which causes tension, making the pitch sound flat. I had some suggestions on that problem on last week’s blog.

Joy is the second example. She does not change keys, but she hides her lack of control behind melismas or “fancy runs”. If she is going to have runs in the SSB (which many would suggest she sing it straightforward and not play with the melody), she needs to practice each run SLOWLY with consonants like “ta” “ta” on each note to clean it up. Then she can do it faster and insert the practiced runs into the song.

In the 3rd example, Jenna had an overall fine performance, however, did you notice the GIANT key change just before “the rockets red glare”? This is the most common place where MANY people change keys because they do not have the octave and a half range it takes to sing this song. When my students sing the SSB for games, I make SURE they know what their first note is. It is very important you do not start too high or too low. They take a pitch pipe with them and start on the same note they always sing it on. Jenna started too high then realized she had to take it lower to get through the “high section”. Jenna also has too much tension in her voice. If she were more relaxed vocally she could have gotten through the “high part” in the original key I believe.

Next week I will post one or two of my favorite Star Spangled Banner performances. There are some AMAZING performances of this song from both famous as well as not so famous but fantastic singers. Come visit me next week—you will be able to compare this week’s singers with some inspiring examples.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Please comment on my blog site, or visit my webpage!

Ann Paris

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