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'Sad Sounding' 'STAR-SPANGLED BANNER' Annoys at Rio Olympics...

'Sad Sounding' 'STAR-SPANGLED BANNER' Annoys at Rio Olympics...

by David Segal, NEW YORK TIMES

RIO DE JANEIRO — The playing of the United States’ national anthem at Olympic medal ceremonies is bringing tears to the eyes of American athletes here. Elsewhere, the song is having a very different effect.

“It is driving me crazy,” said Jason DeBord, a 45-year-old living in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I hit the mute button, or I make dinner, or I just sit there and brace myself.”

DeBord has nothing against displays of patriotism, nor is he simply eager to return to the action. What irritates him is the version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” being used at the Olympics. Put bluntly, it has been butchered.

O.K., that might overstate the problem. Maybe it would be more accurate to say the song has been altered in ways that rob it of its oomph, its power and its optimistic essence.

Specifically, DeBord said, this “Banner” segues several times to minor chords, which in the Western canon are considered melancholic, in places where major chords, which are heartier and more upbeat, are the norm. The effect, DeBord said, is a rendering of the anthem that is darker and sadder.

“It has a totally different emotional feel,” he said. “It is supposed to have an ascending chord structure. Instead, it sort of has a descending chord structure.”

In short, this is a defeatist “Star-Spangled Banner,” and it is broadcast, around the globe, at a moment of ecstatic, international triumph.

DeBord, who spent 16 years on Broadway as a conductor and pianist, is on the faculty at the University of Michigan’s department of musical theater. He is the first to admit that few people are likely to notice, let alone be bothered by, the elements of the song that annoy him. But when he posted his feelings on his Facebook page, he quickly found that he had company. Lots of perturbed company.

“Glad it’s not just me,” one commenter wrote.

Another person posted: “Sounds like a music school project gone awry. Just awful.”

“I’m not on Twitter,” someone else added, “but there must be a way to tell ‘them’!!!”

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