When I watched the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics two weeks ago, I loved almost everything about them – except the singing of our national anthem. It took me a while to decide why I was so bothered by how Nikky Yanofsky performed the anthem – well, apart from the fact that it was sung like a dirge. I really like the young woman’s singing, and am proud she had this opportunity, yet I was irritated well beyond what the performance deserved. So I had to ponder why.
Then I realized that it’s because the singing of the national anthem before sports events and other occasions has indeed become a “performance.” And as such, the “performers” seem to feel they have to do something to make the anthem “their own.” To put their own individual stamp on their “performance.”
No no no no no!
Haven’t you watched a Canadian or American football game, or a baseball game, or some other big event on television, and cringed at how the performer butchered the national anthem or made a fool of themselves as they sang it? Didn’t you feel that they had dishonoured the anthem in some way?
It’s almost as though many of these performers somehow feel that they are bestowing an honour on the country and the anthem, rather than the other way around. Doesn’t that seem fundamentally wrong?
Think about it. Why is the anthem played or sung before these events? Why is the anthem of the gold medal winner played at Olympics medal presentations? It’s because everyone is stopping to honour the country of the participants in the game, or the winners of the medals. Olympic gold medalists who are visibly moved as their anthem is played are not standing there thinking, “That song’s being performed so well, it’s bringing tears to my eyes.” What they’re thinking is, “I am awed that I was able to win this gold medal for my country.”
When a national anthem is sung or played before a game or at an awards ceremony, it’s being played to honour the country. And what that means for everyone who sings or plays the national anthem before some major event is: “It’s not about you!”
A national anthem should never be “performed.” It should be sung, simply, as it was written (and for gods’ sake, not at half speed!), so people will stop for a moment and honour the country that is hosting and making the games possible. People should never be thinking of the singers of the anthem at all.
If these “performers” can’t handle leaving their ego and public relations machine at the door, they should not be given the honour of singing the anthem of their country. And if the people who choose the singers of the anthem have forgotten what the real purpose of the anthem is, they need some sharp reminding.