10 Basics of Singing 8: Standard Venue Songs
One issue beginning singers experience is the need to find a performing venue. Other than performing for family and friends, at karaoke, or open mic, there is two standard places singers can perform with little trouble: singing the National Anthem at a sporting event, and singing at weddings. In this lesson, we will explore the first in depth, while touching on the second venue briefly (more to come in next lesson).
Every professional and amateur sporting event (including sports clubs with children) in America begins the game with the National Anthem. In many cases, the sporting event must resort to recorded versions of the National Anthem because a live performer is not available. In most cases, the organizers would love to have a live performance over a recorded one, as long as it is “good.” Simply contacting a team or club organizer and asking if they would like a live performance is a good starting point. For top amateur and professional teams, a recorded audition of singing the National Anthem is typically required, as demand for those events are higher. Although the National Anthem singer is rarely paid in money, usually there is some perk, such as seeing the game for free. It is great experience to sing in front of a large audience (and practice microphone technique in a sound delay environment).
Before discussing technique specific to the National Anthem, look here to learn the history of our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner: http://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/the-lyrics.aspx
Many people do not know the history of both the lyrics and the melody of the Star Spangled Banner, nor do they know there is more than one verse. After reading about the history of the lyrics and melody, take a new look at both the flag and lyrics of the first verse:
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
First, notice the description of the flag is in the lyrics, but the events at Fort McHenry are the main theme of the verse. Second, notice the punctuation. We will discuss later on about breaths, but the use of question marks exhibit doubt. If you thought there was only one verse, that question mark at the end would add confusion. The whole picture is necessary to know the full meaning. Here are verses 2-4:
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Notice the punctuation in these verses, particularly the last line (which is the only repeated text in each verse).
It is intriguing that an English drinking song is chosen as the melody to these lyrics, considering the circumstances of their writing during a second war with the British. It is equally intriguing that although the song was highly regarded as a patriotic hymn, it was not adopted as the National Anthem until 1931.
In terms of singing technique, the Star Spangled Banner is not an easy song to sing. The melody does not follow standard folk song practice, and moves by leap in different directions. The melody also moves through different ranges of the voice (low, break, and high) relatively quickly, which is not easy to negotiate by the inexperienced singer. The lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner are consistently misconstrued. Singers over the years thought the first line was “Jose can you sing.” The third and fourth lines are forgotten the most, even though the melody is the same as the first two lines. The last word of the seventh line is often interpreted as “way” instead of “wave.” If a singer were to follow the Rule of Punctuation, the song would sound quite different than the standard rendition. Most singers breathe after every two measures, or half a line. The main breathing issue, in my opinion, is in the seventh line. The majority of singers breathe after “Star Spangled” and before “Banner.” Since this is the title of the song, it would not make logistical sense to breathe there (it’s not the Star Spangled….Banner).
Many singers forget the environment in which this performance occurs. The people who came to the sporting event did not come to hear the National Anthem singer. They came to see the game. It is not surprising that a cheering crowd drowns most singers out of the last line of the song. This means a long, drawn out version of the Star Spangled Banner is not appropriate for this venue. At major sporting events, professional singers are ridiculed for the extra length of their performance (and in some cases their lack of singing the correct lyrics). This is not to say singing the Star Spangled Banner is a race to complete as fast as possible. It simply means to fit the style to the environment. Most people love a dramatic high note on “free,” but other elongations (or added riffs for that matter) are not typically welcomed. Remember to always tell the story.
Another venue for singers is weddings, particularly of friends and family. On many occasions, a bride or groom will ask a friend of family member to sing at their wedding, and depending on the couple, will request a traditional song. We will explore one of those songs in the last lesson.
Assignment on Videos
After watching the demonstration video, enter the secret number at the top of your assignment.
Write in complete sentences answers to the following questions.
1. In your own words, what was the content of the video?
2. What are two things you found most interesting about the content of the video?
3. Think of a singer you have seen and heard. Who are they, and what do they demonstrate in terms of this concept?
4. Name 3 positive things you do while singing that relate to this concept.
5. What 2 things can you improve on relating to this concept?