So You Want to Sing the National Anthem?

It won’t bring you fame or money, but there is a certain thrill in singing the National Anthem to a crowd of sports enthusiasts. Each year, thousands of amateur and professional singers vie for the honor—or humility—of having their voices amplified and their faces magnified on the Jumbotron screen.

Most singers have a favorite national anthem story. Here’s mine: In 1997, I was asked to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” before the annual Turkey Trot 10K race in Miamisburg, Ohio. (Trust me, it’s a big deal in Dayton!) There were more than 3,500 registered runners, walkers and wheelchair racers, plus several hundred spectators.

I arrived just after sunrise and discovered a construction crane waiting to transport the mayor of Miamisburg, the race coordinator, and me to a nearby rooftop. Conquering my fear of heights, I rode the “bucket” up and then stepped onto the roof of the Baum Opera House. It was a spectacular view! Below me, the racers were assembled at the starting line and as far as my eyes could see. The coordinator gave a short welcoming speech, which no one could hear over the noise of the crowd. With gloved fingers (it was cold!) I fumbled for my pitchpipe as the mayor handed me the microphone. “O-o say…” Amazingly, by that third note the crowd was absolutely hushed. There was not a sound except my voice coming through the massive PA system.

When I hit the high note on “free-EE,” the crowd erupted in spontaneous cheers and applause, and it was an amazing adrenalin rush! At the sound of the starter pistol the crowd surged forward. Hundreds of race participants looked up at the roof as they went by, smiling and waving and giving me a thumbs-up.

The event was covered by all of the local media and if you looked very closely on TV and in the newspaper, you could see me—a tiny speck on a rooftop, singing her heart out!

Many singers are simply invited to sing the National Anthem for events. Other singers are brave enough to attend the open auditions that most sports team hold annually. Major league sports teams often select soloists and groups two years in advance, and usually require a tape or CD and the performer’s résumé. Coordinators select a variety of renditions, from classical to country to jazz to the local Children’s Choir. The online application for the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field (http://indians.mlb.com) specifies an audio or video tape or CD or an MP3 file, and requires a traditional a cappella performance “under two minutes in length, preferably one minute and 30 seconds.”

It’s a bit easier to get a gig with your local professional, university, or minor league baseball team. The New Haven Ravens hold open auditions at the Danbury Mall in Connecticut. In Canada, the Ottawa Lynx anthem auditions are sponsored by a local radio station. Besides the American anthem, singers at the Canadian auditions are also required to perform a bilingual (English and French) version of “O Canada.” “We are looking for people (who) can put some emotion and energy into their performance.”

The Burlington Indians and the Minneapolis Golden Gophers prefer that you send a tape or CD, but the Memphis Redbirds, Bridgeport Bluefish, Missoula Osprey, and Erie Seawolves invite you to audition live in the stadium: “Just show up and sing!” The New Jersey Jackals recently reported that 150 wannabe anthem singers showed up for tryouts. To improve your odds with the Chilicothe Paints or the Los Angeles Dodgers, you might try gathering up to 250 of your closest friends; group ticket benefits include a chance to sing the national anthem.

The topic of anthem singing comes up frequently in online message boards for singers. Honorariums typically range from none to $200. If you have a good manager and a “name,” you may be able to land a more lucrative appearance at an opening day game, play-off, or championship game. Most anthem singers, however, like tenor Todd Angilly, sing for the love of the game and a sense of patriotic duty. Angilly, a New England Conservatory of Music graduate student, has sung for the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, and Revolution (soccer) in the 35,000-seat Fenway Park. “Someone heard me singing in the kitchen,” says the part-time stadium chef. As a kid growing up in a military family, singing patriotic songs was “second nature” admits Angilly, but nothing could have prepared him to sing at Fenway on September 18, 2001. When Red Sox spokesman Kevin Shay asked him to meet with dozens of local and national reporters before the September 18 game, Angilly initially refused. “It wasn’t about my résumé or getting my face on the news. It immediately became something other than what we are trying to accomplish as musicians.” Angilly reconsidered when Shay told him, “Your grandparents can tell you about World War II and your parents can tell you about the Vietnam War. You will be able to tell your children about September 11 and show them the news clippings and videos.” Angilly realized this was his personal way to do something to honor his country. You can hear Angilly’s September 18 rendition of God Bless America and The Star Spangled Banner at the Boston Red Sox link at http://mlb.com

Cynthia Vaughn

Contributing Editor Cynthia Vaughn has had successful private voice studios in Newark, California; Hanover Park, Illinois; Middletown, New York; Arvada, Colorado; and Springboro, Ohio. She is currently a doctoral candidate and Teaching Assistant at the University of Northern Colorado.