Sometimes something happens that is so unspeakably weird, but happens so often, that no matter how weird it might be, it becomes normal. Like people who wear sunglasses at night. Or people who go on Jerry Springer.
Or when someone publicly sings the Star Spangled Banner.
It’s quite common now to see divas and boy bands and all matter of wannabes all stylizing their way through our National Anthem. They scoop for the lows, stretch for the highs, interject a few gospel growls, throw an interminably long descant on “freeeee!,” and then add a few unnecessary tags at the end. (I keep expecting someone to add “Oh baby!” at some point.) It probably began simply enough; some celebrity vocalist added a simple flourish to the song, is applauded for it, and since then, scores of singers have been trying to outdo it since.
And while most of these renditions have been well performed, somewhere down the line, we lost sight of why we were singing it to begin with. The Star Spangled Banner, rather than being the Song of a Nation, has become the de facto diva showcase song.
We have forgotten that the National Anthem means something much greater than the person who sings it. By it’s very nature, it has gravitas. Penned during a battle, sung during every Independence Day, Olympic victory, and war, there is almost a sacredness to it. This is why we stand at attention and put our hands over our hearts when it is played. It represents two centuries of freedom, and honors the people who paid a price for it.
It is like leading worship during a church service. A worship leader must never draw undue attention to him or herself, for that person is merely the conduit upon which some greater and mysterious Truth is revealed and reverentially recognized. God then becomes the rightful object of our worship. And as the worship leader is simply a representative of our commonality of faith, his or her job is to simply point people to the Throne.
I think this is really the shame of it all. Any person who sings the Star Spangled Banner is simply a representative of our commonality of country. Their rendition of the National Anthem, while reflecting their uniqueness, must never try to supercede that which the song represents.
As a society, we seem to have forgotten this. Through our cultural culpability and our unhealthy obsession with celebrity, we have allowed an entire generation of people to see the National Anthem as simply a showcase for singers. And on this point, we are all to some degree guilty.
When I was a kid (I sound so old now), the Star Spangled Banner wasn’t a solo. Our elementary school teachers would prompt the class to begin, and we would all sing the National Anthem together.
Isn’t that the way it should be still?