To be scrupulously accurate, Gaga sang the first 16 bars in 4/4, the next four bars (“and the rockets red glare. . .”) in a deceptive 4/4 that pretended to be 3/4, the next four bars (“gave proof through the night. . .”) half in 3/4 and half in a rubato stop time, the next four bars (“oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave . . .”) in 3/4 and the last four bars in Eastern Standard Time.
This is not the first time a new interpretation has heralded a new president. Beyonce used a similar arrangement at Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration. (Whitney Houston also launched a stemwinding 4/4 version at the 1991 Super Bowl.)
It’s not a small change, and unlike the overdone melisma that many singers apply to the song, it’s not unwelcome.
Three-quarter time is for waltzes. Almost everything else we listen to is played in a meter that can be divided by two. That’s why our national anthem, an old drinking song that ends in a question, is an unusual piece of music.
Unlike the Spanish, German, Russian and French national anthems, you can’t march to it. You pretty much have to stand still and sing. (Unless you feel like dancing.)
Anyone who has ever played in a street band knows how to turn the Star Spangled Banner into a 4/4 tune so that the trumpet section doesn’t trip and fall.
Is 4/4 a better choice for a song that represents a whole nation? Certainly the stomping 4/4 of the Marseillaise (see “Casablanca”) rouses the heart.
It also celebrates watering your fields with the blood of tyrants.
Our anthem (disregarding the latter verses), is less gory, and whether you feel like marching or waltzing, I think it’s flexible enough to accommodate both rhythms. What I like most about it is that it’s not a song about combat, but a song about perseverance.
Does the Star Spangled Banner still wave? As long as we can answer in the affirmative, then we’re still here.
And we’re still here.