To: Singers of America
Date: Jan. 21
Subject: Land of the free
You’re doing a great job. Really crushing it out there. Believe me.
But there’s a little matter we need to discuss — just a bump in the road, really.
I’m hoping to have it cleared up by the time pitchers and catchers report, and I’m going to need all of your help.
It has to do with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Specifically, it has to do with the last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” You know how it goes (even if you couldn’t quite remember it that one time before the JV football game):
“O’er the land of the free / and the home of the brave?”
You’ve probably heard singers break the word “free” into two syllables, and take the second one up four extra notes to the octave.
In fact, you probably saw Beyonce doing it at the presidential inauguration this morning. You probably thought: Ain’t no thing. I could do that.
1. That high note? It’s not in the song. The national anthem is not a vehicle for improvisation. Sing it like it’s written.
Seriously: The world is full of songs you can screw around with without repercussion, from “This Land Is Your Land” to “Mairzy Doats” to “Quando, Quando, Quando” to “Chuck E.’s In Love.” You wanna color outside the lines? Stick to one of those.
2. That high note? It’s not creative. It’s been done enough times that it will never be original. But at the same time, because it’s an affectation, it will never seem authentic. That’s the worst kind of gray area to get stuck in.
Going high on the “free-eeee” is like being the fifth girl in to a high-school slap fight. You’re not doing it ’cause the principle moves you; you’re just doing it ’cause everyone else is.
3. That high note? It’s not necessary. For anyone who’s paying attention, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a perfectly affecting song the way it’s written. It doesn’t need to be kicked up a notch by vocal showboating. (And indeed, it usually isn’t. See No. 2 above.)
4. That high note? It’s not in your range. Have Beyonce’s pipes? Maybe you can pull it off. Filling in at the Little League opening ceremony because the other singer in town has to man the snack booth? Trust me: Try for that high note, and no one there will ever look at you again without smirking.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation on this important national matter. I’m glad we could get this ironed out.
Now, let freedom ring!