​America, Why Is Your National Anthem So Goddamn Hard To Sing?

Illustration for article titled ​America, Why Is Your National Anthem So Goddamn Hard To Sing?

As virtually every American citizen knows all too well, belting out the National Anthem can be a rather precarious proposition. Here's what the experts have to say about "The Star Spangled Banner" and why it's such a challenging piece, even for professionals.

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Over at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Blog, program producer M.K. Macko describes the history of the anthem, from its melodic roots in the early 19th century song "Anacreon in Heaven" to its adoption as the national anthem in 1931. But as beautiful and historic as this piece of music is, it's also extraordinarily hard to sing. Looking to understand why this is the case, Macko spoke to Kenneth Slowick, the Director of Smithsonian Chamber Music Society:

"It has a lot to do with the range," he said. "It's a very wide range. Basically, the notes are very high." Okay, fair enough, but how high are we talking?

"High f—it's traditionally sung in Bb major because going higher than that makes it hard for the altos and basses singing to get to the high note, and going lower makes it hard for the tenors and sopranos to manage," he said.

Educator Dan Holm, a tenor who frequently sings the Star-Spangled Banner for, and much better than, me during the Flag Folding Ceremony, agrees, "I'm always practicing the first part of the song to make sure I'm low enough, but still starting in a comfortable place so I can hit both the high and very lowest note. If I don't, I just switch the octave I'm singing in."

Folk musician Pete Seeger might agree. In this video from Smithsonian Folkways, he invites the audience to join in and assures him he's using a "a very, very low key, so everybody can sing it," which they do.

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Read the entire article at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Blog which includes other tips to sing it right.

Image: Jennifer Hudson sings the anthem (Getty).

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DISCUSSION

AtomicSamuraiRobot
Atomic Samurai Robot

No. It has to do with nearly everyone wanting to "American Idol" it. Too often the singer is trying to make it "their own" by changing up the rhythm; by speeding up or slowing down sections; by holding notes much, much longer than it's originally attended.

Sure the song has a large range, the last "freeeee" is rather high and it's a delight when someone can actually hit it, but it often accompanied by odd pacing before hand.