Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Envying Canada

It's unseemly for an American to envy Canada. True, they have universal health care and a functioning national legislature, but someday we will too. And crime in our major cities is way, way down. Nothing against Neil Young or Alex Trebek, but, you know, it's Canada.

Yesterday, however, when Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were getting their gold medals, and the loudspeakers were playing "O Canada," the camera showed the winners, and they were singing along. Not only that, but when the camera moved to their families, they were singing along too! Brian Williams reported that out on the streets of Vancouver, crowds spontaneously began singing the national anthem.

I was envious. How many Americans did you see at the Olympics singing along to "The Star Spangled Banner"? How about at a ball game? How about spontaneously?

We're just as patriotic as Canadians, and three times as jingoistic. The reason we don't sing along is because we can't. It's a really hard song to sing. In the United States, the accepted custom is to listen while a professional vocalist sings the national anthem. The melody was written for the Anacreontic Society, a club of amateur musicians. A good show-off piece.

The difficulties of changing the national anthem to something more singable are many. First, there are the people who will accuse you of being unpatriotic. Can you imagine a bill to change the national anthem making it through Congress? Then, there turn out to be problems with all the alternatives: hard to sing (America the Beautiful), melody already in use by someone else (America), pedestrian (God Bless America), no connection to America in the lyrics (Battle Hymn of the Republic).

The only workable option I can see is to keep the song and make marginal changes to the melody. For example, starting at "And the rockets' red glare" the tune can be shifted down nine half-steps, I think it is (really not my department), and sound very much the same. Still not easy, but a lot more achievable. And who ever said that patriotism was easy?

I just haven't figured out what would be required to make this happen. Who controls the organists at ballparks?

By the way, if you're thinking of making a melodrama with a heroine named Tessa Virtue, it would be hard to find a better name for the villain than Massimo Scali.

One more comment on the Olympics: The Russians (including Putin) get the gold medal in childishness and petulance. Believing you should win the gold because you did a quadruple toe loop and the other guy didn't reminds me, unfairly, of their old belief that the way to win the Cold War is by building a bigger H-bomb than anyone else. You're still not strong on finesse, druzja.


  1. I'm not sure the statement regarding a "functioning legislature" holds up.

  2. Two sports posts in a row!