Simple is best way to sing anthem

April 02, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

I like banging my head against the wall and advocating for lost causes, so here is another appeal to those artistes who sing the national anthem at sporting events: Can we please get on with it?

Can we please keep the anthem up-tempo and not turn it into an American Idol audition with a long, overwrought version that has everyone rolling their eyes and looking at their watches?

Is this too much to ask?

My new hero in the cause of speeding up the anthem is Michael Ian Borts, who has sung it more than 600 times in front of major league baseball, pro basketball, pro hockey and college sports crowds.

Borts wrote an essay a few years ago called "Sing the National Anthem With Confidence."

Here is one of his top tips: "Sing it straight. Time constraints determined by the teams, network and local television do not allow you to add your own melodic interpretations." (Unless you're a major recording star at the Super Bowl.)

Unfortunately, Borts' advice is uniformly ignored by many singers, who apparently think they are major recording stars and that the crowd has come to hear their stylistic interpretation of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and not to watch some stupid baseball game.

Borts says he sings the anthem "very traditionally" and believes in keeping it to about one minute, 10 seconds.

"A stylized version that [lasts] 1:30 or 1:50, I think it's too long," he says.

Amen, brother.

Any anthem that lasts that long is torture. It should be covered under the rules of the Geneva Conventions.

Borts, 49, feels that too many singers forget the words to the anthem were originally inspired by a battle, namely, the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. (For the history-challenged, see: Francis Scott Key, War of 1812.)

"To me," he said, "you're singing about the excitement of the battle. And you're not going to do that slow."

Borts even sang part of the anthem over the phone from his home in Lewisville, Texas, and delivered a tight, snappy version.

He said he was not in particularly good voice, having just returned from a barbershop quartet competition with tired vocal cords.

But I don't care if you croak the lyrics, as long as it moves along.

If you sing it badly and slowly, you should be smacked over the head with a box of Crackerjacks.

Borts, by the way, sang the national anthem before an Orioles game at Camden Yards back in 1992, the year the ballpark opened.

Team officials had warned him that the lunatic Orioles fans had this habit of shouting "O!" at the line that begins: "Oh, say does that star spangled ..."

But he was still knocked for a loop when the "O!" came, bellowed by some 48,000 souls, many of them already into the Budweiser.

"You see it on the videotape," he said. "I jumped about a half a foot."

But he got through it and still delivered a brisk rendition, people.

And that should be the goal of every anthem singer, it says here.

What we don't need is a rendition like the infamous one delivered by aging diva Diana Ross at the Super Bowl some years ago.

She dragged out all the high notes, holding each one for an eternity, while alternately dropping her voice into these low, dramatic whispers.

To make it even worse, she threw in all these schmaltzy, theatrical asides, such as the classic: "Oooh, yeah!"

Did Key write "Oooh, yeah?"

That was in the original lyrics? Because I don't remember seeing that.

Anyway, Ross' version of the anthem lasted, I don't know, an hour and a half.

Or maybe it just seemed that way.

I think I took a nap, woke up, read the mail, got something to eat - and she was still singing.

Uh-oh, in re-reading Michael Borts' "Sing the National Anthem With Confidence" piece, I came upon something disturbing.

In a bio note at the very end, it says: "Michael's up-tempo rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" reaches its melodic and emotional peak by his holding of the word "free" for as many as 12 seconds."

Mike, Mike, Mike ... couldn't we cut that to five or six seconds?

It would really help move things along.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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