Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem in 1814. He set his lyrics to an old English drinking song with an intentionally difficult melody. The range spans roughly an octave and a half, which is a challenge for any singer. Revelers in pubs would challenge each other to sing the melody without screwing it up; punishments for mistakes would often involve beer.
Even professional singers can’t always get through “The Star-Spangled Banner” unscathed, as Christina Aguilera found out at last year’s Super Bowl.
We’ll never know what Key would have thought of contemporary singers’ habit of improvising and embellishing his song with their own touches. But we do know that Indiana state Sen. Vaneta Baker, an Evansville Republican, is not a fan.
Sen. Baker introduced a bill that would require singers “to sign a contract agreeing to follow the guidelines and would set a possible $25 fine for violators.” It only affects performances at the state’s public schools and universities, as well as private schools that receive state funds. If her bill passes, it would not affect this year’s Super Bowl, which will be played in Indianapolis.
Singing out of key does not violate the terms of the contract. Not singing it “the way that we normally have it sung or heard throughout most of our state and our country” would. The bill would let schools set their own standards. But they will also be required to keep archives of every national anthem performance going back at least two years.
Given the amount of paperwork schools already have to deal with, this is just a bad idea. Surely Sen. Baker has better things to worry about in these troubled economic times.