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Does Anyone Else Think The Olympic Version Of The Anthem Is, Well, Kind Of Sad?


If you've been watching the Olympics in Rio, then you've been watching the U.S. gold medal totals climbing every day, and you probably also heard the triumphant sounds of "The Star-Spangled Banner" while the athletes stand at the podium.


CHIDEYA: But have you really been listening?


CHIDEYA: Well, Jason DeBord has been listening very closely. He teaches musical theater at the University of Michigan and says he's been noticing something off about the Olympic anthem for years.

JASON DEBORD: I think it was during the London Games in 2012 when I first heard this version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I went, well, that's a very different take.

CHIDEYA: Then last week at a medal ceremony in Rio, he heard it again.

DEBORD: It's so hollow. Oh, it's not triumphant. And it was driving me nuts, and I finally just muted the TV, which makes you sad. You want to be thrilled when you hear, you know, your national anthem and the athletes from your country winning a gold medal.

CHIDEYA: DeBord says the national anthem usually has a boisterous and energetic feel.


DEBORD: But this rendition of it almost has a - I don't want to use the word sad because that's so general. It has an ambivalent feel to it.

CHIDEYA: He says the basic melody is the same, but the music underneath has changed.

DEBORD: I can give you a very realistic simulation here at the piano. It's not exactly what you hear on the Olympics, obviously. But let me show you what I'm talking about.

So at the beginning of the anthem, we have (singing) oh, say can you see? By the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed.

OK? And proudly is a different chord in this version than the traditional version we're used to hearing. Here's the traditional version (playing piano). And here's the current Olympic version (playing piano).

CHIDEYA: The subtle chord changes, he says, happen at key moments throughout the entire song.

DEBORD: At the end of the piece, which is the one that actually kind of bothers me the most, I must say, and that's o'er the land of the free - home of the brave is the same. But listen to the difference of o'er the land of the free. This is the traditional version (playing piano). This is the current Olympic version (playing piano). It's different, right?

CHIDEYA: DeBord admits that most people probably aren't paying close attention to the music when they're watching a medal ceremony. And in the end, he says, the Games in Rio are not really about the music. They're an opportunity to cheer on the USA.

DEBORD: You know what? If I see the United States win, that's enough for me. In the end, it's just a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.