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So gallantly screaming

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WHEN PRESIDENT Bush was asked last month about a newly recorded Spanish-language version of the National Anthem, he brusquely said the song “ought to be sung in English.”

I’d like to think the president would have reconsidered that remark had he accompanied me to the Kings Plaza Mall last week, where several dozen English-speakers did their best to make me wish I lived in Spain, where the national anthem has no lyrics.

Hosay kenyuzee…

Ranging in age from 6 to 60, the singers took to the stage in hopes of landing one of 30 remaining slots that the Brooklyn Cyclones have for National Anthem singers this season. The renditions were more “American Idol” than American idyll. And that certainly didn’t please Cyclones General Manager Steve Cohen.

“We take the anthem very seriously,” Cohen said. “You have no idea the kinds of complaints we get when there’s a bad anthem singer. It’s an important song and people want it sung properly.”

Bida doarns ilylight…

Cohen’s words were reverberating in my ears, but, unfortunately, they were soon drowned out by a 13-year-old named Erica. Her version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” brought to mind Henry Ford: She could hit any note you wanted, as long as you wanted B-flat.

Waso prowdliwe aled…

Listening to just a few singers made it very clear why television talent shows like “American Idol” remain so popular: Everyone thinks he can sing, yet no one really can.

Most of the time, it’s fun to watch people try — but when the song in question is our notoriously difficult national dirge, it’s excrutiating.

Atta twilight’s lastrimming…

You may think the National Anthem is a time-honored standard, but contestants sang it in virtually every musical style, from sultry R&B to ululating Whitney Houston to hip-hop to the ever-unpopular Roseanne Barr version. After just 20 minutes, I couldn’t help remembering the old Coke commericials: Whatever happened to that guy who offered to teach the world to sing?

Whosbrud strypes nbrayit staws…

With so many ways to sing the anthem — and sing it badly — many listeners were left to wonder why it was such a big deal that some Hispanic crooners recorded a Spanish-language version of the song last month (after all, the Education Department translated the “Star-Spangled Banner” into Spanish in 1919 —“La bandera de las estrellas” — but who expects the Bush administration to remember such details?).

Trew da peralis fight…

The smartest of all the performers was Bradley DeSalvo, 10, of Marine Park, who performed the anthem on his violin (at least he didn’t butcher the song with his vocal chords).

Orda ramberts we watched…

One of the judges was WPLJ DJ Race Taylor, who, given where he works, knows something about sitting through really bad music. But after an hour or so, even Taylor could stand it no more, telling the contestants, “If you don’t know the words, just keep singing, they’ll come back to you.”

Whurso gallintlee screaming…

Actually, not many people know the words to the National Anthem — most likely because we hear it so often that we don’t even notice it anymore. Contestant Joan O’Brian compensated by bringing the lyrics along with her. And she did get every word right (now, if she could just match the lyrics up to the actual notes, she’d have something).

Henda rockis redglaaa…

O’Brian had nothing on my personal favorite singer of the night: the 14-year-old tenor who sang like a “Soprano”:

Da bombs burst trew da air…

To be fair, some people knew what they were doing. Maimuna Thomas from Coney Island gave a kick-ass, deep-throated operatic rendition.

“I was in ‘Eugene Onegin,’ you know,” she said, referring to the famous Russian opera.

Thomas also confided that she knew the almost-entirely-unknown second verse of the anthem. Second verse? I’d be happy with someone who knew the second line!

Gave proust a big knife…

There was even a court officer, in uniform, trying to win a coveted spot (the good news: he only disgraced the anthem, not his uniform).

Data flag wus still dare…

Even a chorus from the Louis Marshall School (which wore t-shirts proclaming themselves the “World’s Greatest Chorus”) failed to, as they say, honor America with the singing of the National Anthem, although one boy did doff his Los Angeles Dodger cap.

Hosay doz dat star-spangeel bana ye’et wave?…

The singers kept coming and coming, slashing and burning their way through our patriotic hymn, and it appeared less and less likely that the Cyclones would have to lower their standards to fill their 30 slots.
“No way,” Cohen said. “If we don’t get 30 tonight, we’ll hold another audition.” (He’d better pencil several dates.)

Orda la-hand of da frey…

It’s times like these when even the president would have to admit he’d rather hear an on-key Spanish singer than a bunch of tone-deaf Americans.

Endaho mada brayve!



Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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