Two hundred years ago today, Francis Scott Key witnessed British soldiers firing on Fort McHenry as they tried to gain entry into Baltimore during the War of 1812. American soldiers, however, remained fearless and defeated the British. To celebrate their victory they hoisted the U.S. flag and seeing those stripes and stars inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Since then, the song has been immediately cherished by the country, proudly sung during the Civil War and as act of patriotism in the days after September 11.
As much as the song is beloved by millions, the national anthem poses some problems for singers. It is one of the most challenging songs for a singer due to its high notes, lyrics that use antiquated words and wide-ranging melody. In fact it’s common for a singer to feel honored and utterly frightened upon being asked to perform the song publicly.
In honor of the 200th anniversary, we are offering some tips on how to successfully sing the national anthem.
1. Learn what the song is about and what the words mean, says the National Association for Music Education. The song was written 200 years ago when people spoke differently and it’s easy to butcher the lyrics if you don’t know the definition of “o’er” or the meaning of “rampart.”
2. Now that you know what the song is about, sing with meaning. In so many ways, singing is like acting. You cannot just recite the words, they have to be sung with emotion.
3. Start the song slightly lower than your normal range to avoid singing out of your range when the song’s high notes approach, advises singer John Legend.
4. This is a song to honor your country, not to show off your vocal talents. Unless you have the vocal range of Whitney Houston (see video above) most singers are criticized for excessive embellishments and flourishes. Just keep it simple.
5. Remember that other people like singing the song too. If you have ever attended a sports game you’ve seen a lot of people singing along, proudly taking off their hats and placing their hands over their hearts. If you improvise too much the crowd won’t be able to follow along with you causing them to lose interest or be unhappy with your performance.
The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.