WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE SUPER BOWL ANTHEM ? | Grant Norsworthy
Did you watch the Super Bowl last month ? More importantly ( for the purposes of this article at least ) did you see the singing of the American National Anthem that preceded the big game ? In case you missed it , here it is :
You may be familiar with one or even both of the vocalists performing “ The Star-Spangled Banner “ duet . That was massive country music star Eric Church singing with R & B / Hip-Hop star Jazmine Sullivan . Both are recognized as excellent singers in their respective genres . Both are very successful recording artists . Although it was perhaps a bit of a clash of vocal styles , in my opinion they delivered a very polished rendition of the song that was enjoyable to watch and listen to .
But did you notice that no-one else was singing with them ? Or at least , if they were , I did not see them and could not hear them . But isn ’ t the crowd supposed to sing the anthem before the Super Bowl - and any other big national or international sporting event ?
Maybe the COVID-19 restricted smaller-thanusual crowd was not allowed to sing . I don ’ t know the details . But I would suggest that the way that Church and Sullivan sang the song made it nearly impossible for others to join in anyway ! Maybe that was intentional .
Did you notice how both Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan radically altered the wellknown melody ? Traditionally , “ The Star-
Spangled Banner “ has a 3 / 4 waltz time signature . With the time signature changed to a swaggering , country-feel 12 / 8 , our star vocalists “ made the song their own ” by shifting the timing , syncopating , adding extraneous notes and even managed a stirring key change and a time signature switch to the more familiar 3 / 4 .
They ’ re free to do all that of course . They are both , after all , well-known recording artists . With a viewing audience of perhaps 100 million , this could be seen as a chance for them to entertain the audience . Maybe even win some new fans .
But their decision to express themselves artistically through the arrangement and their vocal performances made it absolutely clear ( at least subconsciously ) to the 25,000 plus people in the stadium that they should listen and not attempt to sing along . To us at home too . Their vocal embellishments may have made for better listening entertainment , but denied us the chance for the deeper , more moving and unifying experience that only happens when a crowd of people sing together .
Compare the recent Super Bowl anthem to a different anthem in another land from a few years back . Kiwi vocalist ( and local superstar ) Hayley Westenra leads the crowd to sing the New Zealand National Anthem “ God Defend New Zealand ” ( first in the Māori te reo language and then in English ) before a Rugby World Cup final .
Can you hear the crowd ? Did you notice how “ straight ” the leader sang - using only the traditional melody without embellishment ? Can you hear how the men are able to sing one octave lower than Hayley and all the women and children are able to sing with her ? Did you notice how harmony vocals from the small , supporting choir are only added later in the song so as to clearly establish the melody first ?
Even as you watched the scene from YouTube , did you feel the “ vibe ” in the stadium rise ? The national pride , solidarity , and excitement of the crowd build ?
The way Hayley Westenra sang clearly communicated to the crowd that they too should sing . This was not our star vocalist ’ s chance to strut her stuff - to express herself artistically and vocally . Instead , this was a moment when the voice of the crowd became the most important musical element .
For those of us singers who lead congregations to worship God through songs , I think there are some important lessons for us to learn here . When we have that privileged opportunity to sing in front of our congregation , let ’ s be very clear on what we ’ re trying to do . Are we inviting our congregation to listen to us sing for them ? Or are we guiding them to find their own voices - to sing prayers to God , praises of God and declarations of truth about God ?
We must make our choice . This will affect how we choose to sing and how well we lead . We must not send the mixed message of , “ Sing with me , but don ’ t !” But that ’ s exactly what we do if we project the words of our songs on screens and ask people to stand and sing but then we select a key that favors the leading vocalist ’ s voice above the congregation ’ s and embellish the melody like a performing , solo vocalist .