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Countdown with Keith Olbermann

March 8, 2005

Keith Olbermann MSNBC Anchor, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"

Coming up, tonight's top story, one man's bid to put an end to centuries of tuneless renditions of the national anthem.


OLBERMANN: Ever since Francis Scott Key set his vision of the Battle of Fort McHenry to the music of an old British drinking tune, Americans have wondered if he had really done us much of a favor, not the words to the national anthem, mind you, certainly not the patriotism, the—how can I put this gently? -- the fact that only one in 75,000 of us can sing it without making a screeching sound at some point.

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, in a moment, you'll meet a man who has a solution, a solution to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): O, say, can you see by the dawn's early night?

ROSEANNE BARR, ACTRESS (singing): What so proudly we hail at the twilight's last gleaming, whose bright stars (INAUDIBLE) through the...

LESLIE NIELSEN, ACTOR (singing): ... the Ramparts as the da, da, da, da, da.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): And the rocket's red glare...

Uh-oh. I'll make up for it now.

NIELSEN: (singing): Bombs in the air.

BARR (singing): Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. O, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): For the land of the free.

BARR (singing): And the home...


OLBERMANN: And a million dogs howl in the moonlight.

Dr. Ed Siegel, a psychiatrist and resident of Solana Beach, California, has a way to fix this. He joins me now.

Dr. Siegel, thanks for your time tonight.

DR. ED SIEGEL, NATIONAL ANTHEM ALTERATION ADVOCATE: Well, thank you so much for having me. Delighted that you're here.

OLBERMANN: First off, what is your solution?

SIEGEL: It's a very simple solution, just lower the high notes.

Lower the whole song.

It was—it's been played now in the key of B-flat now since the armed forces started playing it in 1916. And I would like to lower it to G-major. So, instead of la, da, da, da, da, it will be, and the rockets red glare. Most people can sing that, the vast majority.

OLBERMANN: Now, we should explain where you are at the moment. You're standing outside the town council there. In about five minutes, you're going to go in and plead your case for them to change the key in which the national anthem is played, as you say, going from B-flat to G-major.

Why your town council? Are they in charge of the national anthem and we just didn't know?

SIEGEL: Well, about four years ago, I thought I was making progress. My congressman, Duke Cunningham, felt very strongly, along with me, that it should be lowered. And he took it to the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, asking me to play it at the opening of the second session of the 106th Congress.

I thought it was a go. And two months later, we got a letter saying that it just wasn't customary to accept such requests. So it's back to the drawing board.

OLBERMANN: Why is it important that the drawing board is an official one? Why do you have to have a key change for a song, even the national anthem, on the books? Can't people just sing it in the lower key without having some sort of legislative mandate?

SIEGEL: Well, ever since the armed forces adopted it in B-flat major, all the bands now play it in that key.

And I think that, when an audience is asked to sing our national anthem, it ought to be singable. We're probably the only nation in the world that can't sing its own national anthem. So I'm hoping that, by my city council, which is very forward-thinking, I'm hoping that, by them accepting my resolution, that other communities across the land will pick up on it and maybe then Congress will hear us.

OLBERMANN: Do you have critics? Are there people saying you're toying with history here? Are there people actually opposed to this?

SIEGEL: Very, very few. As with most things, there are always a few naysayers. But the vast majority of the people have been very, very supportive.

OLBERMANN: If you shift this thing down into a lower key, will there not still be some people who have the same problem at the other end of the spectrum, singing like this?

SIEGEL: Well, that's true.

But the low notes are not the notes that we feel the most. When we sing, in the land of the free"—in the home of the brave and the free, the free and the brave—I can only do it when I'm singing it. I can't recite it.

OLBERMANN: You can't pick it up in progress, yes.

SIEGEL: When we hit those high notes, that is the passionate time. That's when people want to feel the stirring aspect of that song and feel the patriotism involved. It is thrilling. My dream is to lead it at a baseball game and have thousands of people singing in pride our national anthem.

OLBERMANN: Just give me G-major version of and the rockets' red glare. Just sing that for me right now right now as we leave.

SIEGEL (singing): And the rockets' red glare, the bomb bursting in air.

OLBERMANN: I can do it. I can do it.

SIEGEL: Instead of, and the rockets—there you go. All right.

OLBERMANN: Beautiful.

Dr. Ed Siegel, psychiatrist, resident of Solana Beach, California, continued success. I think you'd better get into that meeting. I hear them singing the anthem.

Thank you, sir.


SIEGEL: Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.


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