The Star Spangled Banner and the Human Person

Lady Antebellum - Star Spangled Banner

Last night I heard one of the most beautiful versions of the Star Spangled Banner (audio below). It was sung by Lady Antebellum at game 2 of the World Series. It was the best (and only good) part of the night…since the Rangers were shut-out.

I’m not a big fan of versions of the Star Spangled Banner that totally destroy the melody for the sake of the artists ego or “creativity”. I can appreciate aspects of such creative indulgences, to be sure. But they can’t touch artists who can bring to life the actual version of the song by simply uncovering and re-presenting the beauty it already holds within it – all while still being original.

It’s the difference between an artist who says “look at me and what I can do with this song” and one who says “look how beautiful this song is that I didn’t write and which is about something much bigger than myself.” I prefer the latter. No offense, Jimmy Hendrix.

Here’s the version they did last night (although this is a prior performance of it at the Sugar Bowl this year):

They didn’t add any extra vocal runs. They didn’t change the melody. They had a neat lead switch from male to female vocal. And they just sung it beautifully with a couple of well placed harmonies that enhanced what was already there in the song. That’s the key with a song that already works perfectly.

It’s kind of like the human person (even more so). You are most beautiful just as you were meant to function – as much as we struggle to do that sometimes. We don’t need to “hack life” in the sense that we try to figure out ways to short-cut or undermine the natural design. Whether it’s quick-weight loss diets, contraception, superficial relationships, sex outside of a permanent and life-long relationship, unhealthy pursuits of pleasure, searching for love in all the wrong places or whatever, they all attempt to short circuit the way a human person is supposed to function spiritually, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Instead, we should be working to enhance a natural process that, at least in its design, already works perfectly. It’s a really beautiful thing when we can sing life like we didn’t write it and with a realization that we are about something much bigger than ourselves.

8 comments Add comment

Michael McGill October 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm

It’s nice that you enjoyed the song, but before you get carried away with,”the beauty it already holds within it”, it might be wise to recall that the music is from an old, obscenity laced, English drinking song. Neither version has much to do with contraception.

Matthew Warner October 29, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Are you trying to say you didn’t like my contraception comment?

Or are you trying to say that the Star Spangled Banner’s melody and words aren’t beautiful?

Michael McGill October 29, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I wasn’t trying to say anything other than what I wrote, I was inferring that your analysis was contrived.

Catholic pro-lifer October 30, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I’m confused. Who cares what the music came from? That doesn’t make the music any worse.

Sue October 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm

That was a common source of melodic material in those times, which I’m sure you realize. Nothing contrived about Matthew’s comments, which are far from analysis for me, but more reflective. As a musician, love it:-).

Mary S November 4, 2010 at 11:42 am

Sue, you’re correct. Even many of our current church hymnals contain drinking tunes adapted to Christian themes. It was a very common practice in those times, to write songs and poems based on popular tunes.

As a singer, btw, The Star-Spangled Banner is extremely difficult to master, and great credit is given to anyone who manages to sing it well. Though were I ever to perform it, I would most certainly sing the final verse of Key’s poem.

Brett October 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

I once showed my wife the Los Lobos version of La Bamba as an example of a well done cover. She said “It’s like the original died and went to heaven.” The song had become the perfect version of itself.

(But I still think Jimmy’s All Along the Watchtower is a musical masterpiece. Just wish he hadn’t fudged the lyrics.)

Faltzer February 9, 2011 at 7:12 am

Part of being a musician is making a piece of music your own and adding you; your heart into it. Anyone can sing the star spangled banner straight through; sure, purists argue that, it’s for respect of the country, but it’s really not as patriotic or as righteous as they want to seem. I find it disrespectful to have someone sing the SSB and not reflect that they understand the meaning of the song. I’m not Francis Scott Key; I sure as hell won’t be able to sing it to reflect 100% what he wanted with it, but if I can show that MY OWN interpretation was effective and true to the song, then it shouldn’t matter what vocal melisma I add onto it.

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