Vale Tommy Tycho and a lesson for national anthem singers

The Hungarian-born Australian pianist, conductor, composer and arranger Maestro Tommy Tycho AM MBE passed away on 4 April 2013 aged 84.  He was responsible for the music that Australians heard at openings, sporting events, film and television.

Perhaps his most significant and recognisable work is the recorded version of the National Anthem Advance Australia Fair that is now usually used to accompany singers at major sporting and community events.  Of all of the  great works Tommy Tycho produced, this is by far the most significant and important.

At the schools I attended, the national anthem was sung at any major assembly, so there was plenty of opportunity to practice.  We never ventured into the second verse or the supposed subsequent verses, but we will never forget the words to the first.

Tommy Tycho’s arrangement added a few lines before the more familiar intro.  The ending holds the notes for “advance Australia fair” about 3 times longer than the normal phrasing too.  Apart from that, the meter, phrasing and pitch stays the same throughout the song.

One advantage is that the audience can sing along.  Audience participation must be worth a few extra points to Australia when we’re playing another country.

Contrast this with the US National Anthem, which appears to require a rewrite for every singer booked to sing it.  And the infamous performances by Roseanne Barr and recently Beyonce at the Superbowl where the sacred was reduced to farce and controversy show that consistency is lacking.  I’m not aware of any complaints about the 26 minute rendition from Bleeding Gums Murphy on The Simpsons.

Had Tommy Tycho had his way, the US National Anthem would have been standardised, performers would have their confidence restored and audiences would have joined in.  And he would have probably taken out the bit in the middle that sounds like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” too.

Vale Tommy Tycho


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