The September 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington
DC changed the world in many ways. One of these changes is the new-found
patriotism that Americans are displaying - from flag-waving to gun-buying,
Americans seem to have discovered a powerful, profound feeling for their
country. As a native New Yorker who has lived overseas for almost two
decades, I watch this display with a combination of surprise, astonishment
and fear. That a country built on liberty decides to flout its founding
values, those inscribed in the Constitution, and curtail civil liberties
for many people in the name of greater security, is a truly frightening
In the wake of the September 11 attack, many discs,
books and other media products were released (this one on November 6,
2001, which means that it was made pretty quickly). While not totally
cynical, I shudder at the number of products that bear a label, as this
disc does, saying "proceeds from the sale of this CD will be donated
to the American Red Cross". Far be it from me to criticize any
such operation, but this label neither says "all proceeds"
nor any specific amount.
This CD contains 15 "classic" American songs,
from the Star Spangled Banner to America the Beautiful, by way of such
classics as Shenandoah, America and God Bless America. Adorned with
a sepia-toned picture of a white clapboard chapel, bearing the American
flag on its steeple, this is as American as apple pie.
All of these songs are the type of light music you
hear at half time of the Super Bowl, in school assemblies or at county
fairs all across the United States. Musically, they are undemanding
and familiar - nary an American over the age of 40 could not sing along
with most of them. Denyce Graves does have a compelling voice, though
- one of the powerful gospel voices that carries the music and gives
it true energy. But the selection is far too banal to be of interest.
Many other famous classical performers (read, the ones
people not interested in classical music are familiar with: James Galway,
the Boston Pops, Robert Shaw, Marian Anderson) are present on this disc.
One is surprised by those not included; how could such a disc be made
without John Williams or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Nevertheless, there is one performance that makes it
all almost worthwhile. When Marian Anderson sings Heís Got the Whole
World in His Hands, one can truly forget the rest and be overcome by
the melody and Andersonís fine voice. This subtle performance, with
only a piano accompanying Anderson, is an example of folk music at its
Perhaps Iíve been away from America too long to appreciate
what this CD represents. Or, perhaps my being away lets me see what
it truly shows. Sure, these are all classic songs; each one on its own
has a certain resonance. But I cannot picture sitting in a living room
and listening to the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle Hymn of the
Republic. This is the stuff of school bands, the CD for you if you need
to have a disc of American hymns to play at the next Tupperware party
or NRA meeting.