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Support swells for no-frills anthem

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A few weeks ago I took issue with some modern-day arrangements of "Star-Spangled Banner."

Boy, did I receive a flood of e-mails.

Interestingly, none of the messages was negative. They all agreed with me about our national anthem needing to be sung with respect and that it should not to be used to show off singers' vocal gymnastics.

People from all over the country expressed disdain for singers who take musical liberties and hold notes that aren't supposed to be held or ignore the feeling of this patriotic song.

I received letters from music directors and assistant music directors from all over, including my friend David van Alstyne, associate conductor and company pianist for Ballet West.

But there was one letter that especially caught my attention. It was written by Salt Lake resident Vanja Y. Watkins. Included in the letter was a photocopy of "The Code for the National Anthem of the United States of America."

The code was adopted by the National Anthem Committee on April 2, 1942, during a Milwaukee conference. In attendance were two representatives from the War Department — Maj. Howard C. Bronson, music officer in the special services branch, and Maj. Harold W. Kent, education liaison officer of the Bureau of Public Relations. And as far as I know, the code is still in effect.

Here are some excerpts from this intriguing written document (italics are mine):

"The 'Star-Spangled Banner' will be presented only in situations, programs and ceremonies where its message can be effectively projected.

"Since the message of the music is greatly heightened by the text, it is of paramount importance that emphasis be placed upon the singing of the national anthem.

" . . . On all occasions, in singing the national anthem, the audience will stand facing the flag or the leader in an attitude of respectful attention. Outdoors, the men will remove hats.

" . . . It is inappropriate to make or use sophisticated 'concert' versions of the national anthem.

" . . . When the national anthem is sung unaccompanied, care should be taken to establish the correct pitch.

"The slighting of note values in the playing or singing of the national anthem will seriously impair the beauty and effectiveness of both the music and the lyric. Conductors should painstakingly rehearse both instrumental and vocal groups in the meticulous observance of correct note values.

"The statements herein relate to every mode of civilian performance of our national anthem and apply to the publication of the music for such modes of performance."

After reviewing the document, my feeling that the song should not be manipulated for showy purposes seems validated.

And it's obvious that more than half of the singers I have seen perform "Star-Spangled Banner" are in violation of this code.


E-mail: scott@desnews.com