More National Anthem Nonsense At The Olympics

The 8/22/08 edition of the Washington Post published an article by the ever-sharp Philip Kennicott which reports on National Anthem nonsense at the Olympics. The 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece left the world scratching their heads when it came to arrangements for their respective national anthems. In the US, the majority of viewers shared a collective “what was that?” perspective on the Star-Spangled Banner arrangement but it appears that the Chinese Olympic organizers missed out on that fiasco and as a result have allegedly plagiarized a bunch of arrangements that didn’t make much of an impression on most listeners when they premiered four years ago…

To his credit, the composer of the 2004 Summer Olympic anthems, Peter Breiner, did such a good job at distinguishing his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner from others (public reaction notwithstanding) that a musical novice can recognize the Chinese version of the US anthem is a blatant rip-off. In fact, when I first heard the anthem used in the Beijing games, I simply assumed that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to recycle the anthems from 2004. However, according to the Washington Post article, that isn’t the case and Klaus Heymann‘s new millennium recording powerhouse Naxos, who owns the rights to the anthems used in the 2004 games, is none too happy.

Beyond the obvious “yep, China did a bad thing” and “if China wants world respect, they have to play by international rules” discussions, the entire situation leaves me with a few thoughts.

First, I hope the Chinese government does not offer up some obscure Chinese composer/arranger to serve as a scapegoat for this folly. It is no secret that the Beijing hosts have endured their share of embarrassments when it comes to entertainment and production issues for these games and it shouldn’t be surprising to see them peg the blame on a patsy in an effort to save international face.

Next, I hope this incident is enough for the IOC to wake up and realize that they should simply let each country provide a version of their respective national anthem. Any country that fails to deliver an anthem that meets required parameters (length, recording quality, etc.) then the IOC can use whatever version of the anthem they see fit.

Finally, didn’t the Cincinnati Pops just perform the Star-Spangled Banner during their Beijing visit? If the Chinese weren’t willing to pony up the dough to record and reuse the Star-Spangled Banner for a great group like Cincinnati, they could have at least paid to use one of their previous recordings.

If nothing else, here’s hoping that while planning for the 2012 games the Brits learn from this debacle and that the Chinese pay Breiner and Naxos for trying to slide under international copyright radar. At the very least, perhaps the Chinese government could have that adorable little girl from the opening ceremony come out and sing as an act of contrition; oh, wait

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “More National Anthem Nonsense At The Olympics

  1. What is the latest on this issue concerning the blatant act of copyright infringement by the Beijing Olympic Committee on Peter Breiner’s work? And, do you know what Naxos plans to do about it, if anything?

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