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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Una Ragazza on Play: The Star-Spangled Banner

The American national anthem is well-acknowledged to be difficult to sing. Spreading over one and a half octaves, it causes the band to start off with the lowest possibly "O! Say can you see..." so that we would not be screeching by the time we reach "O'er the land of the free..."

The original star-spangled banner made in 1813 that now hangs in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. One star was apparently cut out and given to an important official

Having grown up in Singapore, and having memorized the national anthem, “Majullah Singapura” since I was five after being chosen to raise the flag in the kindergarten playground every morning, I had come to assume that everybody knows and sings his own national anthem in the same context that I had back home.

In secondary school (the term for middle school in former British colonies), because I was enrolled in a dominant Chinese institution, the Chinese school song was also sung every day. For many years, including the time when my sister was a student, it was also followed by morning exercises. I soon learnt that this was an import from the Chinese mainland, where physical exercises along with the singing of patriotic songs is de riguer not only in schools but also in some companies (such as factories).

Primary school kids in Singapore singing the national anthem during the morning assembly

When I was a child living in Chinatown in Singapore, I also recall falling asleep in front of the television only to be awakened by the national anthem loudly playing to signal that programming for the day had been completed.

Perhaps because of its connotation as a national anthem, I was under the impression that these associations with the national song were uniform around the world.

The ubiquitous logo of the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, which used to play the national anthem at the end of each day's programming

In a way, the above may explain my slight surprise in hearing the Star-Spangled Banner being played before the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, possibly the most famous pet competition in the world that takes place each February in New York.

I soon learned that the U.S. national anthem is not sung in schools across America, although the pledge of allegiance is. The anthem, in fact, is sung at the beginning of every sporting event and major competition in this country.

Dogs and humans alike stand at attention for the Star-Spangled Banner at the start of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Madison Square Garden

Unlike in Singapore, where I'm used to hearing Majullah Singapura sung in unison with the accompaniment of a brass band, here in America, the Star-Spangled Banner is often led by a celebrity.

Most of the time, the celebrity add his or her personal touch to the song. The result is often positive. Unfortunately, the most recent memory among Americans is that of Christina Aguilera getting the lyrics wrong at this year's Super Bowl.

One especially unusual performance of the song took place on September 12, 2001, after the United States had been attacked by terrorists the day before: it was played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards at Buckingham Palace in London at the ceremonial Changing of the Guard as a gesture of support for Britain's ally.

Perhaps the most controversial, albeit fascinating, rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner is that performed by Jimi Hendrix at the historic Woodstock music festival in August 1969. Dramatically played on a screeching electric guitar that simulated dropping bombs, blasting explosions and firing machine guns, it echoed as a backdrop to what the nation was going through at that time -- the Vietnam War. Modern-day listeners may feel that it is a piece of artwork that may have made its way into the Museum of Modern Art.

Jimi Hendrix performing the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969

Which brings a geek like me to ask the question of how much we all know about national anthems around the world.

With some research, I've come up with the names of 10 national anthems. In English. See how many you can guess correctly. When you're done, click on the first comment to view the answers.


1. The March of the Volunteers
2. My Country, My Country, My Country
3. My Homeland
The Soldier's Song
5. The Hope
6. Up Above the Young Rhine
Hundreds of Flowers
Yes, We Love This Country
Chosen Land
10. Glory to the Brave People

(Some pictures and videos taken from the Internet)


  1. Here are the countries to which the 10 anthems above belong:

    1. The March of the Volunteers - CHINA (Yìyǒngjūn Jìnxíngqǔ)

    2. My Country, My Country, My Country - EGYPT (Bilady, Bilady, Bilady)

    3. My Homeland - IRAQ (Mawtini)

    4. The Soldier's Song - IRELAND (Amhrán na bhFiann)

    5. The Hope - ISRAEL (HaTikvah)

    6. Up Above the Young Rhine - LIECHTENSTEIN (Oben am jungen Rhein)

    7. Hundreds of Flowers - NEPAL (Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka)

    8. Yes, We Love This Country - NORWAY (Ja, vi elsker dette landet)

    9. Chosen Land - THE PHILIPPINES (Lupang Hinirang)

    10. Glory to the Brave People - VENEZUELA (Gloria al Bravo Pueblo)

  2. I still remember those days when our national anthem signified the end of the day's TV! Think that was followed by some colourful grid...

    And my Sg society in university once played Majullah Singapura at the end of a bop to the surprise and glee of everyone, and guess what, everyone knew then that it was time to go!

  3. hm... its Majulah Singapura. One L. Not double L. Sorry babe, I'm Malay and a sucker for good spelling :)