Things are not so bad with the National Anthem as James O. Tate might think (“The Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” The Music Column, December). In October I attended the fall meeting of Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky. On one of the days, the announcer told us that the anthem would now be sung by a young woman who was an opera student at the University of Kentucky. She gave a superb rendition of the song, without operatic ornament until she reached the highest note, on the word “free.” When she got to it, she nailed it, and then she raised the pitch another fifth! The well-dressed horse aficionados in the paddock gave an audible gasp.
One week later I settled in to watch a hockey game on television. The announcer said that a man would now sing the National Anthem, and that he would paint a picture at the same time. A rough-looking, bearded man in his 30’s stepped forward and began singing the anthem, perfectly presentably. But while he sang he also painted, in earth tones, what appeared to be a piece of abstract expressionism on a large canvas. By the time he got to the words “was so gallantly streaming,” the audience, which was made up apparently of what Bertie Wooster would have called “tough eggs,” began mumbling things such as, “What is this guy doing?” His abstract gradually filled in as “The Star-Spangled Banner” reached its conclusion, and when he got to the last notes and hit “the home of the brave,” he reached down and spun the canvas around so that what had been top was now bottom, and what had been bottom was now top. The canvas now showed a profile version of the six Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi.
I didn’t hear any booing from the tough eggs.