Our Nation's National Anthem The Star Bangled Banner, with lyrics by Francis Scott Key and music by John Stafford Smith, is one of the most difficult commonplace songs to master. Whether it be Christina Aguilera forgetting the words or Roseanne Barr blaring like a foghorn, many have tried to best this treacherous ditty and have failed miserably.
It took me quite a long time to navigate the thorns of this piece. I'm a trained classical singer and I still find it a herculean task to try and scale the peaks and valleys. I've sung it on Garry Meier's sadly-cancelled radio show on WGN Radio, at my College of DuPage graduation as well as for numerous charity events and private gatherings.
Just yesterday I sang the song for a charity event for the brilliant Ride, Janie, Ride! Foundation. This organization chooses three families to sponsor each year and thousands of bikers come out and donate their time and money to raise funds for these families. My family was chosen last year, as my niece Jayde was diagnosed with Leukemia, but thank goodness she's in remission. I sang the National Anthem for them last year and, surprise, they asked me to do it again this year! I guess that means I must be doing something right. Also, Bruce Rauner was there and I almost plotzed, but that's another story.
Which is why I decided to share my TOP FIVE TIPS for tackling this behemoth, in the hopes that someone who has to sing this song may find some helpful hints:
1. Start Low: If you start too high, you'll never recover. This song is extremely rangy and if you're sent into the stratosphere, you may never come back to Earth.
2. Take Plenty of Good Breaths: There are a lot of phrases to sustain in this piece and, if you take substandard breaths, you'll lose steam and fizzle out like a dead fish.
3. Learn the Words: Learn the Words, Learn the Words, Learn the Words, Learn the Words, and Learn the Words.
4. Sing It in Front of Someone First: If you've never sung a song of this magnitude before, you may want to practice in front of your family or friends to get used to the nerves that could sabotage you.
5. Treat the Song with Respect: There's nothing worse than seeing a person singing The National Anthem who's disinterested and doesn't know what they're singing about. (Also, did I mention, Learn the Words? Just making myself crystal clear.) Find out what this song means to you and tap into that emotion, relishing in the beauty and putting forth your ideas with grace.
With these five tips in mind, while you may never sound like Renee Fleming, you can toss of this song with aplomb and make many people proud!
The photos that accompany this little article are all snazzy snapshots of me singing at the event yesterday.