Singing the Anthem

I’ve always thought that the Star Spangled Banner was a poor choice for our national song.  It is very militaristic for one thing.  For another, it is very difficult to sing.  I would much prefer America. But since I don’t think there will be a change in my lifetime, I have fun by watching the rendition before ball games and other events and seeing how it is done and whether the singer makes it all the way through it without an error.  Or adding horrible extra notes.  (And I don’t blame Beyoncé for lip-synching at the Inauguration.  She was singing outdoors with the band on a totally different level of the platform.  Besides, she totally nailed it live at the Super Bowl.)  But watching and listening is a spot in itself.

We went to the Brockton Rox opening game a few weeks ago.  (They play in a Futures League.)  An elementary school band played and were terrific.  But we’ve also seen some clinkers.  When it is a kid, you want to give them an “A” for trying.  An adult, not so much.  The New York Times had a recent story singing at ballparks.

It is a notoriously difficult song to sing, a musical high-wire act, with an octave-and-a-half range and a devilishly spaced melody. You usually sing it a cappella in a stadium where the echo hits your ear a half-beat behind the melody, and the lyrics are so familiar and fraught with meaning that every fan in the stands can hear the slightest mistake or botched note.

“It’s certainly nerve-racking,” said David Cook, the pop singer and “American Idol” winner who will sing the anthem on the Fourth of July in Kansas City, Mo., just before the Royals take on the Cleveland Indians. “For every person who wants to talk about Whitney Houston killing it years ago, 10 people want to talk about Roseanne Barr butchering it, so there is always that fear that ‘I better not forget the words to this song.’”

And most people like it done straight.  No Jimi Hendrix.   Me, I like his version.

Not all baseball anthems are done traditionally. Pop musicians who are ardent baseball fans often jump at the chance to do the honors. Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist of the band Metallica, who grew up in San Francisco, and James Hetfield, the band’s lead singer, opened a game for the San Francisco Giants with a distorted guitar duet of the anthem in May this year. Steven Tyler and James Taylor have done the anthem in their own inimitable styles for their home team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Mr. Steinberg, a senior adviser to the Red Sox who has worked as an executive for the Dodgers and the Orioles, said it has become common for rock stars to try their hands at the anthem ever since Joan Jett had success singing it for her beloved Orioles in the late 1980s. Boston being the cradle of the Revolution, however, the Red Sox tend to go with a military theme on the Fourth of July, Mr. Steinberg said, so the team has asked Musician Second Class Nina Church, a vocalist with the Navy Band Northeast in Newport, R.I. to do the honors in her dress whites.

Petty Officer Church, 29, said that as a member of the Navy band, “you could call me a professional at singing the national anthem.” The key to pulling it off, she said, is to start on the right note. “The range of the piece is an octave plus a fifth,” she explained. “A lot of people start a little too high.”

But even Petty Officer Church stumbled a little, but recovered well.  I wonder if the Dropkick Murphy’s have done the Anthem at Fenway?  Don’t think so.  That might be interesting.  Or I read someplace that Justin Verlander, the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers can sing.  Maybe he can start a new trend:  Players who sing the Anthem.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Photographs: Clockwise from top left: Elise Amendola/AP; Stephen Dunn/Getty; Jason O. Watson/Getty; Andy Hayt/AP; Ray Stubblebine/Reuters; Kevork Djansezian/AP

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