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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 11, 2008 2:43 PM

Star-spangled outrage continues to build

Posted by Ron Judd

medals.JPGThe U.S. men's 400 freestyle relay team -- L-R, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak -- on the medal stand. Do they even recognize the tune? (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.)

Another missive has been launched at the hideous Chinese version of our national anthem played during gold medal ceremonies for U.S. athletes -- this one from John, an actual expert and a reader of this blog responding to the recent item about the botched anthem during the first Michael Phelps medal ceremony. He opines:

Yes, they cut-off the National Anthem... BUT what is worse is that the
"arrangement" of our National Anthem is AWFUL. First, it is played by an
orchestra and should be performed instead by a BAND like the US Marine Band
in Washington DC.

Second, the arrangement is "tricked up" and is filled
with harmonic suspensions which smply don't fit. It frankly creates a
very "feminine" kind of impression, almost "impressionistic" in the French
musical composer's tradition. It sounds AWFUL! And, it is way too slow!

I have a doctoral degree in music and conduct a university band... I know
what I'm talking about -- get me the US Marine Band or US Army Band in
Washington and burn the recording that they have in Beijing!!!

Amen, brother.

We could not concur more, and hasten to add: We're going to have to listen to this thing a LOT in the next couple weeks:

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Posted by good ol' george

6:15 PM, Aug 11, 2008

It could be worse - Carl Lewis could be singing it.

Posted by Dana

7:22 PM, Aug 11, 2008

"It could be worse - Carl Lewis could be singing it."

No, it could have been Rosie O'Donnell's version from that Cubs game a few years ago. Absolutely awful!

Did the Chinese select this version to skewer the Americans or did the USOC select this?

Posted by Bruce M.

10:49 PM, Aug 11, 2008

This is the same musical arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner that was used in Athens in 2004. I didn't like it in 2004 and I don't like it today. The arrangements used in the 1984 and 1996 Games were far superior. I wish the USOC coulod go to the organizers and get them to change it. But that won't happen.

Posted by Texas

4:52 AM, Aug 12, 2008

They are, quite simply, not playing the US national anthem. When you play music that does not fit the words of our national anthem, it's not our national anthem. They don't want to play music which speaks of "the land of the free and the home of the brave," so they don't. It's the equivalent of honoring a British athlete by playing "God save the" and leaving out the note for the word "Queen" every time it occurs. My opinion is that China has excellent athletes and a beautiful stadium, but butchering the US national anthem is a mark that their government utterly failed in exhibiting the idea of the Olympics.

Posted by arby

5:52 AM, Aug 12, 2008

The Air Force comes through! An mp3 of the Air Force Band's Rendition of the Star Spangled Banner can be found here or go to their official website here and look for the Star Spangled Banner recording link (chorale or instrumental) and download.

Posted by curious

10:42 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Is this really all you have to write about? What about all of our wonderful athletes? This is a ridiculous story. So they screwed up the national anthem one time. i'm sure whoever was responsible has probably been disciplined more than if it would have happened here in the US to another country. Ya'll need to chill and enjoy watching our athletes.

Posted by schwastl

8:08 PM, Aug 14, 2008

I actually completely disagree. I love our national anthem, and this is a really sonically interesting version of it, adding some non-traditional chord structures underneath everything.

Posted by David Simmer

10:22 PM, Aug 14, 2008

Since when does a descending minor chord progression (quite a nice touch of complexity at that, in my opinion) considered objectively "feminine"?

If you want to pull some sort of historical argument about the proper ensemble to perform the anthem, you should be arguing for the piece to sung by a bar full of intoxicated Brits (the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner originated as a pre-colonial drinking song).

Really, this is a pathetic argument about a non-issue. The orchestral version being played in Beijing is beautiful, majestic, and fitting. I for one am glad that Mr. "I know what I'm talking about because I'm a band director" didn't have any say in the musical direction of the games.

Posted by Michael

2:27 PM, Aug 15, 2008

This version of the national anthem is stunning and fully in line with the spirit of the Olympic games. Do you think American athletes want to stand atop the podium and listen to a marching band? Every version of the Star Spangled banner has its own merit and qualities, but I don't think a loud, blustering, and militaristic version of the national anthem is appropriate for a friendly athletic competition atop the world stage. Save it for the military parades and Football games.

Posted by FRANK

6:06 AM, Aug 16, 2008


Posted by RGS

8:44 PM, Aug 16, 2008

I am also a band director and a professional musician. Regardless of whether one prefers the arrangement (I happen to not care for it), the performance being used is just not of the caliber I would expect for the Olympics. There is little sense of shape, ensemble, or balance and it has some tuning and tone issues as well. It's just not ver stirring.

BTW, Anacreon in Heaven, the tune on which the National Anthem is based, was not a "drinking song" in the modern sense of rowdy drunks singing in a bar. That cheapens the song (is that your intent?).

It was a published piece of very popular music that was commonly used at British and Colonial social organizations. While drinking was certainly involved, think in terms of lodge meetings, wedding receptions or reunions rather than your neighborhood bar.

Posted by Larry Likes Anthem

9:01 PM, Aug 16, 2008

I rather like the arrangement, particular the quiet strings under "rockets red glare." De Gustibus non disputatum est. Meanwhile, I'd like to know the facts of who arranged and who performed this recording.

Posted by J R

9:05 PM, Aug 16, 2008

Simply one of the best versions of the Star Spangled Bannner I've heard. I much prefer it to the bombastic versions often played at sports events. Ps -I'm a musician too.

Posted by Faerie

10:19 PM, Aug 16, 2008

I am a musician and I love the arrangement being played at the Olympics. It is definitely harmonically different but not so different that it is jarring.

Yes, it is orchestral but does our national anthem need to be limited to military band arrangements?

We are a diverse nation and the arrangement played at the Olympics has a level of musical diversity that is a nice change.

And really, a feminine impression? Give me a break. Because what this nation really needs right now is a rousing, in your face, military rendition to show the world we are tough.

Sometimes immersion in a field results in a narrowness of vision rather than true expertise.

Posted by Bryant

10:25 AM, Aug 17, 2008

I love the version of the National Anthem being played in Beijing. I tear up everytime I hear it.

Posted by Kajones

4:56 PM, Aug 18, 2008

Hey smarty pants. I have a masters degree in music and a nearly completed doctoral degree. I couldn't disagree more, and this that it is a lovely arrangement. Several of my hoity-toity musical friends agree. So go stick it up your sousaphone.

Posted by Roy

6:43 PM, Aug 18, 2008

Put me in the "like it Column"...
Great Version that fits the Olympic spirit...

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All Hail NBC, part 43

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Aug 17, 08 - 10:02 PM
A look back at the first half







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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
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