The Star-Spangled Banner In Beijing

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:00 am

As post number two of three in my Olympic series, I wanted to point out that in watching the Olympics on NBC this year–probably more television than I’ve watched in the past two years combined–I’ve noticed two distinctly different arrangements of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

This news story from the official Beijing Games website details the delivery of national anthem recordings to “BOCOG,” an acronym (somehow) for “The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.” The Beijing Symphony Orchestra, representative music ensemble for the host city, recorded the national anthems of all participating countries (a huge and daunting project that began in May 2007) for welcoming and victory ceremonies–presumably including ours. (Meaning no offense to any TLB readers outside America; but I don’t think there are any of those, as of yet…)

The arrangement of the anthem is typically done in a fanfare-type style, using lots of brass and percussion. But the arrangement that I’ve heard the most is notable because the middle section (“And the rockets’ red glare…”) is played only by the strings, and uses harmonic progressions I’ve never heard used before. It also contains an atypical (but cool-sounding) 4-2-3 suspension on the last chord. It’s not bad, per se (although the “actual expert” quoted in this Seattle Times blog story certainly thinks it is), but it’s certainly unusual.

The most interesting thing, though, is not that arrangement, but the fact that I’ve also heard a more traditional arrangement in which the middle section was played by the brass and the rest of the orchestra, with the typical chord progression. I don’t remember the specific context in which I heard it, but I’m almost positive that I heard both arrangements at medal ceremonies.

While trying to find online corroboration for this strange phenomenon, I discovered that the unusual arrangement is likely being plagiarized from the arrangement of Peter Breiner, as detailed in this story from the Washington Post. Not surprising, considering all the other various controversies and scandals coming from the Beijing Games, but certainly of interest.

Am I off my musical rocker? Or has anyone else heard these two different versions?



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    Albert on 08.27.2008

    The only two versions I’ve heard are the real one and the broken one that played when Phelps got his first gold. If there was a second version, I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.

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