The weather today was clouded and dreary, but still warm enough to throw open the doors and windows. Sadly, the neighbors were outside too, and their whooping and hollering led me to throw on some CDs.
By accident, I put on a classical comp that had John Philip Sousa's march The Star & Stripes Forever on it. Man did that pick me up! I love this song.
I was in band in junior high (Yes, I'm a band geek.), playing clarinet and bass clarinet. While I never developed a real love of classical I've always been grateful for the musical education. And nothing beats being inside an orchestra playing the music. Playing Star and Stripes back then is when I fell in love with the song. I've since heard a lot of variations on it, some good and many bombastic.
In my head, I always heard the song as a battle song-- two armies clashing on a field, Liberty wins, the victors march off. The famous back and forth between the cornets and the trombones sounds like the volley of shots and artillery. When the orchestra is seated properly, it plays that way.
The piccolo, to me, stands for Liberty. She (always a she) leaps and dances across the song in wild abandon, the very embodiment of freedom unleashed. But the orchestra shouldn't mute itself under the piccolo. That's a mistake. It should quiet just enough, and no more, to let the piccolo be heard.
It's the final coda where, to me, so many bands and orchestras screw it up. I like it played big and only slightly slower. Way too many play it much slowed down, huge and bombastic. Way overdone. Lots of cymbal crashes and fireworks, everyone playing full tilt. No, no, no. Ideally, it should be only slightly slower, to acknowledge the change, but just as before. Let the slight changes in the music speak for themselves.
Even bad versions will get me, but a properly played Star and Stripes will touch some deep patriotic chord in me that resonates throughout my whole body. It's a guarantee that I cry during this one. I kid you not.
For current and former band geeks, follow the link at the bottom of the above page. Much discussion of performance changes and styles.
I had forgotten the song had lyrics! Try these:
Hurrah for the flag of the free!You Lefties go and cringe. I don't care!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.