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New Harmony: It's all about the song and not the singer

Published: Wednesday, April 27 2011 3:30 a.m. MDT

The powerful rendition of the national anthem offered by LDS missionaries in the Texas San Antonio Mission at a Spurs basketball game is still a hot item on the Internet.

And chances are it will be for some time to come.

Memorable versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" are not easy to find.

Some have been more notorious than noteworthy. I'm thinking here of Roseanne Barr and Jose Feliciano.

In "The Electric Horseman," Robert Redford hints at why the anthem is such a bear to sing. He implies the song takes effort because freedom takes effort.

What's more, the words don't exactly trip off the tongue.

Back in high school, my father — the choir director — had us memorize all the verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was like memorizing the Magna Carta.

I wrote about the national anthem a couple of years ago when Kenny G. performed it at a Los Angeles Angels game.

Since then, I've thought about it many times.

To work, I think, the anthem has to be about the message, not the messenger.

It has to be about the song, not the singer.

In fact, I've come see that as the cardinal virtue of most things patriotic and religious. The focus must be on God or country. They supply the real power, not the performer. When the focus is on the performer, the power ebbs away. Theatrics take over.

In the LDS Church, you find little room for theatrics. Actually, we're often accused of being "dry" and pedestrian.

Our sacrament prayers are usually spoken in direct, understated tones.

The talks in our meetings and conferences are seldom filled with spit and vinegar.

Our prayers are sometimes barely audible.

But that is the LDS way.

Mormons feel uncomfortable with a style of worship where there's a pose, a posture — a performance.

For instance, whole swaths of the Book of Mormon seem to cry out for dramatic reading. They seem to have been written at a fever pitch.

But we never read them that way.

Turning the book into a script to be "punched up" would throw attention onto the person "performing" the words — not the words themselves.

The same goes for our hymns, prayers and blessings.

And so it is with the national anthem.

Feelings of patriotism are so powerful, singers don't need to embellish them. All they need to do is showcase them.

That's what that little choir of elders did in Texas recently at a San Antonio Spurs basketball game.

They allowed the words of the national anthem to speak through their hearts.

And it made for a memorable moment that will last for years.

Jerry Earl Johnston shares his take on the Mormon experience in his column “New Harmony,” which appears on MormonTimes.com on Wednesdays and Sundays.

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