Friday, May 13, 2011

Notional Anthem

Growing up an army brat, I couldn't begin to count the number of times I had to stand up in a movie theater on a military base while the national anthem was played. I thought then that it was all the more annoying for being so obligatory. I had gone in there to watch a movie and suddenly I was being compelled to attest to my patriotism.

When watching a baseball game or a boxing match on TV, my father always used to grumble whenever some singer made mincemeat out of the national anthem. Having been a professional soldier for thirty-one years made it a matter of simple respect for him that it should be sung note for note as it was written.

Jimi Hendrix's rendition at Woodstock drove my father to near apoplexy. It did me no good to tell him that Hendrix had served in the army, too.* By far the worst offender was Roseanne, who had evidently taken leave of her senses when she was asked to sing the national anthem at a baseball game. Unable to carry a tune, she screamed the words and, when she was done, spat on the ground and grabbed her crotch.

Last Sunday, every Filipino was watching the satellite TV broadcast of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight from Las Vegas. A Filipino recording star and a regular on the American TV show Glee named Charice sang the Philippine national anthem. Charice is noted for the power of her voice, despite her diminutive size (4'11" is a generous estimate), and for her interpretive talents. But she sang her national anthem, "Lupang Hinirang", note perfect. She was followed by Tyrese, who sang the American national anthem with a great many vocal embellishments - what my father called "yodelling".

Without knowing the song, I doubt that most Americans noticed how restrained Charice's singing was. They would be surprised to know that there is a Philippine National Historical Institute that has managed to get a law passed enforcing the proper way in which the song is to be sung. Any interpretation that varies from the official one is subject to the censure of the NHI.

While I don't believe that any such law could or should be passed in America, it would be nice if American singers called upon to sing the national anthem would remember that, to so many Americans, it is more than just a song.

*A recent biography of Hendrix revealed that he had faked being gay to get a discharge from the army.

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