Writing for woodwinds is always my favorite part.

This excerpt is 2:05 in the video below – the “rockets read glare” part, highlighting the top vocal note.

As I said earlier, simplicity. Here’s a quickie analysis of what’s going on:

  • Bars 1 & 3 are closed-voiced tremolos of the chords: A♭/E♭ A♭sus⁴/E♭, then D♭m⁶. This gives the shimmer and energy behind the brass chords.
  • Bars 2 & 4 are written-out diatonic glissandos, voiced in thirds, over the chords D♭6/9#11 and C⁷sus♭9. This gives an epic sweeping feel, again over the brass.
  • Bar 5-6 starts with the most important chord of the entire piece (“proof”): Fmin(maj⁷), followed by a unison statement of the melody (“through the night”).
  • Bar 7 is drop-two harmony (“that our flag was still”) since the range is so high, for the B♭9sus and Bb13♭9 chords. In this range, gives a “sweeter” sound than close harmony would. And, it’s more idiomatic for the string parts being mimicked.
  • Bar 8 is my favorite, the flurry of 3-part diatonic chords, with the lead doubled an octave down. This propels the entire bar of otherwise nothing but a held chord, right into measure 9 (“D”, which is the “say” in “oh say does that…”).

All of this is really hard to hear in the recording, and it’s worth digging out. It’s what puts all the energy behind the fairly simple melody we all know, love, and maybe hate sometimes. Without it, you just have a blarrrrr of loud held notes, as gorgeous as those rich chords are.

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