August 19, 2004

The National Anthem at the Olympics.

Maureen Dowd writes (in a column about how our foreign policy has toned down athlete exuberance at the Olympics): "Even our warlike national anthem has been transformed, from blaring horns to peaceful, soothing strings."

I wonder who provided that strange arrangement. I don't have the musical knowledge to express what has been changed about the anthem as played at the Olympics medal ceremonies, but it's beyond "peaceful" and "soothing." It's mournful, even regretful, reproachful, like the reprise of a once-joyful song at the end of a tragic play. Did the U.S. submit the music played like that, or is it a product of Greece or the Olympic Committee? I'd like to know.

And speaking of plays, Dowd uses the Greek Olympics to work in the old Greek play concept of hubris and to lash out against Bush over Iraq, because everything these days has to be turned into an occasion to talk about Bush and Iraq. Good thing she got her column done before Paul Hamm's victory yesterday, because it would have messed up the theme of American defeat she's burbling over. Our basketball players can't win because they aren't allowed to swagger because Bush .... etc., etc.

UPDATE: Geitner Simmons is looking for some answers. One theory is that the mournful sound just happens if your play the anthem without brass instruments. He also has some good material about the words of the anthem: it's not as "warlike" as Dowd assumes. And let me add a few words. Sometimes people say we need a different anthem, one without the word "bombs" in it. But the bombs in the anthem are lighting, making it possible to see the flag from time to time during the night. Dawn, light, twilight, gleaming, stars, red glare, bombs bursting: these words are all about light. Without the words, we have a melody that predates the War of 1812, and isn't even about battles. Here are the original words of the song, which is an ode to drinking. Interestingly enough, for present Olympics purposes, Olympus is mentioned, along with a lot of Greek gods. If Dowd or anyone else hears war in the melody alone, it is the mind calling up a (mis)interpretation of Key's words. I'm sure Dowd could extract a column from the original words. Anacreon, with his sons, is clearly George H.W. Bush. Wisecracks about the younger Bush's drinking are within easy reach. And I can just imagine what she'd do with the line: "So my sons from your Crackers no mischief shall dread."

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Washington Post gets to the bottom of the Olympics rendition of the anthem here.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I really liked it! The harmonies in the 'string portion' were unique and beautiful. To me they were calming and respectful.
As a pianist, hearing different arrangements of very familiar songs is a treat.
If you could tell me where I might get a printed copy of the score, I would be extremly grateful!