I Wouldn't Really Say I Missed The Olympics

Everything moves in cycles and for whatever reason, getting excited about the 2012 Summer Olympics hasn’t made my to-do list. The only footage I’ve seen was via a television in a public space or when summer festival housemates were watching. Even then, the entire thing was more background noise than anything else but one item that caught my attention was the US national anthem.

medalsGranted, we’ve been down this road before. The version from the 2004 Greek games was simply dreadful and although the subsequent games (summer and winter) were better, none stood out in exemplary fashion.

And although the version composed for the 2012 London games by Philip Sheppard raised the bar a wee bit, it is still lacking. The cadences feel awkward; chord substitutions feel more like an academic exercise than the result of musical inspiration and even the pacing feels lopsided.

And as for the actual playing, I’m going to invoke the old proverb if you don’t have anything nice to say

In the end, it still seems like the simplest solution is one that has the most difficulty gaining any traction: let each country submit their own versions.

Yes, the medal ceremonies have time restrictions so some anthems will need to be edited for length but it’s still better to let each country’s official government send along what they prefer instead of placing this burden on the shoulders of a new composer every four years.

Nonetheless, here is an interesting video chronicling the process behind arranging and recording the anthems for the 2012 games that concludes with the full length version of the US anthem (at the 3:16 mark).

I’m curious to know what you think of the arrangement as well as the performance (courtesy of the London Philharmonic), so take a moment to send in a comment.

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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0 thoughts on “I Wouldn't Really Say I Missed The Olympics”

  1. Interesting look into the process. I had always thought that the various countries did submit their own arrangements/recordings. For this Olympics, I have found the U.S. anthem arrangement lacking; meandering counterpoint, pointless harmonizations, and poorly-voiced orchestrations. I didn’t find the performance itself objectionable.

  2. It does seem ludicrous that the countries themselves are not responsible for providing an appropriate version of their national anthems. I conduct two community-based, semi-professional wind ensembles and both employ the version adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces. It is straightforward and without any kinds of “meandering counterpoint, pointless harmonizations, etc.” In short, I always refer to it as the “virgin version.”

  3. Well, if you let each country submit their own recorded version of their anthem, what do you do about varying quality of the musicians, recording, arrangement, etc? If there was a particulary poor recording, etc.,then the IOC or whoever is in charge of the music for the medals, could be in the embarrasing position of having to “reject” a particular country’s submitted anthem. Might provoke an “incident”.

    • Most of those concerns have straightforward solutions such as technical recording standards etc. As for artistic quality, if it is good enough for the respective country then why would the IOC say anything? In the end, those are all good concerns, but boil down to problems that have answers.

  4. I have so many friends in the LPO, that it would be incredibly impolite for me to comment on the performances of the anthems. My LPO friends who played the marathon national anthem session, I think, could barely walk after recording 205 of them. So bravi to them, for just surviving. And certainly, it’s not the performances that are the problematic part. I do have to admit, though, that I’ve taken to muting the sound for both the U.S. and U.K. national anthems every time either has a gold medalist — these two anthems, especially, seemed to have really borne most of the brunt of Professor Sheppard’s harmonic wanderlust. (It would have to be the two anthems we have been hearing the most.) Traditional harmonies are what make our national anthems most emotionally stirring, and certainly at a Gold Medal Ceremony, emotion should be part of the experience. These 2012 versions, however, are pallid at best. Perhaps it would be best if each nation did submit their own anthems, although I can see some poor NBC music clearance person’s head exploding as they try to deal with primetime network residuals for 205 orchestras in 205 countries. 🙂 But at least if each nation submitted their own, we would avoid the horrendous embarrassment that occurred at a pre-Olympic trial, where the music supervisor got confused and accidentally played the fake national anthem from the movie “Borat” while a poor gold medalist from the real Kazakhstan had to stand there and endure it. (You think I am kidding don’t you. I am not: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B39cenrIQW0 ) Wow, 3,148,142 views and growing!

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