- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - A tune that reverberates through American ballparks, school auditoriums and all manner of community celebrations is getting an amped-up workout this weekend during its 200th anniversary.

One of the biggest and flashiest salutes to “The Star-Spangled Banner” is set for Saturday at the University of Michigan, when the Ann Arbor school’s marching band, a 500-voice choir and a dance team combine during a football halftime show. On Friday, the university also was hosting a sing-along and opening an exhibit on the cultural history of what became the national anthem.

Major festivities also were happening in Baltimore, including concerts, re-enactments, fireworks and a flag-raising ceremony on Sunday at Fort McHenry National Monument, where Francis Scott Key wrote the song’s lyrics on Sept. 14, 1814, during a pivotal War of 1812 battle against the British.

Smaller events have been taking place across country, many aided and encouraged by the nonprofit Star Spangled Music Foundation. It was founded by Mark Clague, a Michigan musicology professor and co-director of the university’s American Music Institute.

“I really wanted to get more people thinking about it,” Clague told The Associated Press. “I think there’s a great story here about the power of music in American life.”

The durable yet mutable nature of the song is among its more intriguing aspects. The slower, statelier anthem performed today “is not the upbeat song of victory” Key wrote, Clague said, and the tune synonymous with American patriotism came from a musician’s club in England.

“Key didn’t do anything exceptional writing this lyric to this very common tune,” Clague said, but added the “magic” came from “the connection between the song and the flag and success of the flag as a symbol for us.”

Beyond the heavy symbolism lies a heavy challenge: The melody requires a wide vocal range and the lyrics don’t necessarily trip off the modern tongue. All that spells pressure for any singer - as evidenced by the parade of flubs by amateurs and professionals alike.

“It’s come to mean so much to us,” he said. “Any little mistake is magnified.”

Clague, who worked with the Michigan band on its tribute, said the vocal treachery shouldn’t dissuade people from singing along in the stadium or elsewhere. Plus, there are many versions that inspire, including those by Whitney Houston in 1991 and Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969.

Both are cited in a display opening Friday for a month at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. “Oh Say Can You Sing: ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in Popular Music” is billed as a “contemporary exploration.”

“I think it’s great when people stand up there, make a commitment and maybe don’t make it all the way,” said Susan Key, the foundation’s executive director. “It makes it that much more powerful when we do hear a truly brilliant performance.”

Key, who isn’t related to the composer as far as she knows, added that his song has more impact than “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” which uses the same tune as the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”

“I just can’t imagine suffering through (it) at every baseball game,” she said, adding “The Star-Spangled Banner” ”wasn’t imposed upon us by above.”

“It was the consensus of the American people,” she said. “It had become our national anthem before it was declared the national anthem.”


Follow Jeff Karoub at https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub

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