Since most official sports events kick off with the national anthem, I figured I'd do the same for the debut of the Huffington Post's sports page. Well, almost....
You see, we're in Star-Spangled season. It's the overlap of football and basketball (and, yes, hockey) seasons, meaning athletic directors and public relations folks are scrambling to fill their game slate with national anthem singers, meaning at some point as a fan you'll probably attend a game this winter where the anthem gets butchered. It just happens.
Fortunately, I've got a little experience in the subject. As a singer in the high school chorus (way before 'High School Musical' and 'Glee' made it almost cool), we were tapped to kick off events, and if called upon to do so for my life I believe I could still nail the tenor part of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' with fair accuracy. A few years later I covered prep sports for a local newspaper and through various interpretations of Francis Scott Key's famous work experienced the highs and lows of the high school performing arts scene. I once witnessed a version of the anthem botched so badly, in fact, that the home coach had to bench the announced starters for giggling during the poor girl's bungled attempt. And while I respected and admired the coach for his lesson, I can sheepishly confess that his starting five were not the only ones suppressing laughter.
With that in mind, I'd like to offer a few simple tips to the folks who are courageous enough to brave an arena sound system and an unforgiving crowd to deliver us a moment of patriotism:
1. Know the words - Just like a good coach seeks hustle and hard play more than just a victory, most crowds will tolerate at least a fair effort in performing the anthem, since most of them would rather be shown naked on the jumbotron than to have to sing a solo in front of a group. But woe to the singer who forgets or, worse, disregards the words. Know the song by heart? Review the lyrics anyway. Sung it a hundred times? Bring a copy with you and review them anyway. It was a 'perilous fight', not a 'perilous night'. And no ad-libbing, either.
2. Keep it on the down low - Many of the brave souls who undertake the task of performing the anthem will be forced by conditions (understandable) or choose (don't do it) to sing a capella, which is a music term meaning "hold on, this could get interesting." If you choose to go this route, be warned: start as low as you can. Nerves, excitement, your desire to come out of the gates pipes blaring...all of this will have you wanting to start too high. But the third note you hit ('say') is the lowest of the song, meaning if you 'Oh-h, say' yourself down a C-chord, you're going to be 'rockets' red glare'-ing at the G an octave and a half above it in a few lines, and it won't be pretty. Remember Carl Lewis' now legendary crash-ional anthem? (hard to forget when google search practically begs you to watch the video any time you look for something related to the former Olympian). While his running chatter throughout his rendition was ridiculous, ostensibly his only real flaw was starting too high in his range. Don't let it happen to you.
3. Wrap it up, B - This is not American Idol auditions. You will not be asked to give an encore. There will be no forthcoming record deals. Therefore, there is no reason for you to hold out long notes, take dramatic pauses, or otherwise delay what should be about a 90-second song. Since you are in the unenviable position of performing before a crowd that didn't come to see you, don't expect much fanfare. If anything, you'll get the opposite of the standing ovation, since pretty much folks see your continued singing as the only thing keeping them from comfortably sitting again. At best, when you finish this dialogue will take place:
Fan 1: Hey, I was getting some popcorn, but that dude singing the national anthem sounded pretty good.
Fan 2: He was--totally crushed it.
Fan 1: Solid. Why's Johnson not starting?
And that's it. You're forgotten. The sad truth is that you're much more likely to be remembered (or virally mortified) if you screw something up than if you knock it out of the park. Which is all the more reason not to swing too hard. Give us a short, simple Star Spangled special and we'll loan you a football player to be in the "Beast" suit for your spring musical, deal?
And a tip for the fans: Take a cue from former Trailblazers head coach Maurice Cheeks. If you see an anthem singer stumbling, pick her up by singing along. It's lonely out there. Oh, and is there any chance that we can nix the "shouting out the one word in the anthem that somehow remotely relates to our team" tradition? It's played.
Finally, I leave you with the best rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I've seen (sorry, Whitney). He can take as long as he wants to sing it...Marvin"s the man.