Former Kensington resident Jason DeBord, a 1988 graduate of San Diego’s O’Farrell High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, did a 17-year stint on Broadway as a conductor, arranger, and musician.
According to DeBord, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played during the 2018 Winter Olympics medal ceremonies in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the wrong rendition.
“It’s not the version we’re used to at baseball games,” said DeBord. “It feels ambiguous, rather than celebratory. This is the United States’ national anthem. This is a time of triumph. The Olympic version is conciliatory.”
Describing in layman’s terms, DeBord explained, “If one were to sing along to the Olympics’ version during a ceremony, they could hear the words where a minor chord has been substituted.”
This isn’t the first time DeBord has challenged the Olympic version. He first noticed the current version used at the 2012 summer games in London. That’s when British composer and film-score arranger Shepard (one name) was contracted to score and record the anthems for all of the 200 participating countries.
DeBord heard the same version at the 2014 winter games in Sochi, Russia. When the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro were coming around, DeBord thought for sure, “Someone would have taken notice. I was sure it would have been re-recorded.”
It wasn’t. During the first 2016 gold-medal ceremony, DeBord said he found himself yelling at the television. “It’s a horrible arrangement,” he said.
So dismayed at the continued use in the 2016 games, he posted his displeasure on Facebook. The next morning he got a call from New York Times reporter David Segal. The Times story was picked up during the summer games by media outlets around the country, including interviews with DeBord on NPR and Michigan Public Radio.
Although signed into law as our national anthem in 1931 by president Herbert Hoover, there is no official rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
So, where exactly are the changes? DeBord pointed out three lines in which he says there’s a de-emphasization of certain words by descending into a minor chord; “What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,” “O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming,” and “O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Others have written that perhaps composer Shepard was trying to diminish the chest-thumping military aspect of that 1814 victory that Francis Scott Key wrote about. DeBord said when arranging a traditional song such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “It’s inappropriate for a composer to express themselves artistically.” Since 2012, Shepard has not commented publicly has to why he chose the current arrangement.
Now, as an assistant professor of music in University of Michigan’s music-theater program, DeBord says he’s enjoying the 2018 games but finds himself “stewing in front of the TV” when USA is awarded a gold medal.