Instrumentation: Solo Piano
Duration: 6 minutes
Date of Composition: 2006
Several years ago, Marilyn Nonken asked me to write a politically-inspired piano work. Her request came during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not long after the story broke regarding the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib. I was particularly disturbed by the way in which patriotism was being used post 9/11 to justify extreme and legally vague actions and to furthermore bully American citizens into supporting such efforts. A sort of forced patriotism became a widespread phenomenon. Every politician at the time, regardless of party or position on the wars, wore American flag lapel pins because not doing so might lead to accusations of being “unpatriotic" (then presidential candidate Barack Obama caused a controversy in 2007 when he declined to wear a flag pin in an effort to emphasize ideas over appearances). Other ramped-up displays of patriotism occurred in stadiums across the country as Major League Baseball teams complemented the singing of the Stars Spangled Banner with God Bless America during each game's seventh inning stretch. And yet, to much of the world, our flag, songs, and other associated national symbols took on more sinister associations as torture, rendition, and the “Shock and Awe” doctrine dominated the news cycle.
With this in mind, I set out writing a piece that transforms the Star Spangled Banner from a patriotic anthem to a more somber, dirge-like work. Throughout much of the piece, the Star Spangled Banner is played in three different keys at three proportionally related speeds. The extreme slowness of the speeds, combined with the fact that the melodic contour (direction of the melodic pitches) is altered, render the anthem nearly unrecognizable. Ultimately, I wanted National Anthem to portray a sense of loss that seemed (and to some degree still seems) a more accurate representation of what our national anthem has come to symbolize.