When it is sung well, people might remember. When the performance is poor, they never forget.
Getting asked to sing the national anthem at a major sports event is an honor for many artists. In attempting to make it worthy of the occasion some rather creative arrangements have been crafted, giving rise to either great praise or perhaps intense criticism. Performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye and Renee Fleming are considered among the best while some other powerhouse vocalists like Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler and Fergie didn't fare so well, either for forgetting the lyrics or not being able to handle the vocal gymnastics they had planned.
Our own "O Canada" has seen similar hits and misses, like absent instrumental tracks or performers tripping over carpeting. One of the best was by The Tenors prior to Game 1 of the Raptors/Warriors playoff series last year. It was stunning. This was the same group who three years earlier removed one of their vocalists after he changed the lyrics to "O Canada" to make a political statement at MLB's All-Star Game.
I have two favorite performances of our anthem. More on that later.
National anthems became prominent in Europe during the 18th century. Although every anthem has a unique story, there are some common things that emerge in many: references to battles, salute to leaders, and a celebration of the physical beauty of the country. Some anthems struggle with awkward verses, outmoded lyrics, or the need to incorporate different languages into one piece of music. Canada's anthem has undergone a number of additions and re-writes in its history. What we sing today, along with two lyric revisions since, was proclaimed official in the National Anthem Act of 1980. Happy 40th Birthday "O Canada"!
With the re-start of professional sports, some are proposing this is the perfect time to finally do away with the singing of anthems prior to each game. You won't hear an anthem at a stage show, a concert or at the theatre, so why at sports events? Others argue nothing sows seeds of patriotism quite like the connection between sports and an anthem. Then of course, there is deep division over the role of anthems in political protest. Some wonder if it is worth the fallout that is sure to come. Well, it better be.
There are least 10 million people around the world who are considered stateless. There are also more than 60 million who are refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. How many wish they had a country to call home, a flag to call their own, or an anthem to sing by heart?
I have no way to guess how many times I have stood for our anthem, but two instances stand out for me. The first was a goose bump inducing moment as part of 53,000 spectators at the FIFA Women's World Cup opening match held in Edmonton. Massive in scope, big in emotion. The second was the Canada 150 celebrations in Outlook with the singing of "O Canada" led by a small group of people who were new to the country. They learned the anthem to sing to people who were now friends and neighbors in the place they were making their new home. Small in scope, massive in meaning.
No anthem tells the story of a nation. That is comprised of all its moving pieces, its history both good and bad, and the experiences of all those who call it home. So whether it’s 10 or 10,000 voices raised, the beauty of an them should be much less about the performance of any of its celebrities and much more about the sounds of its citizens. Happy Canada Day! That’s my outlook