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God Ble-e-e-e-sssssss A-me-e-e-e-e-rrrr-i-i-c-aaaaaaaaaa-aaa

November 2, 2010

images.jpegIt's been hard to avoid baseball in San Francisco lately. Last night in particular was a symphony of blaring car horns and shrieking, gimme-five-slapping pedestrians as citizens made their excitement about the home team's victory over the Texas Rangers strongly felt.

One of the things that's kept me in a state of semi-attention in recent weeks has been the mid-game singing of "God Bless America." Some of the performances have been tuneful (such as the wife of a soldier who sang the song last night in Dallas with soulful tones). Others have had the opposite effect (the actress Martha Plimpton's rendition lacked basic intonation accuracy a few days ago.)

But good or bad, all the versions I have heard this year have one detail in common: An obsession with being melismatic.

The florid embellishments of R&B divas have a lot of show-off appeal and they help to spin out lines and make them sound fuller and more wave-like. But they sound horrible when they're not done properly. And even if such ornamentation is handled skillfully, it's kind of boring to hear this approach used constantly in all of the games.

There is more than one way to approach a patriotic song. Sounding like Whitney Houston isn't a prerequisite for putting "God Bless America" across in a sports stadium. Next world series, should I choose to pay attention, I'd like to hear singers give the song a different spin. They might consider taking out all the curlicues and simply sing it straight like a shaker hymn or shape note tune. This might not help the teams to hit more home runes, but it'll certainly make the song stand out.

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