This Is Why Singers Dread Singing the National Anthem
"It's nerve-wracking for even the best of us!”
For many people, getting to belt out the National Anthem in front of a crowd seems like a dream come true. You're singing a classic tune in front of a captive audience, and you can all but guarantee a thunderous applause when the performance concludes. (Possibly with a military jet flyover!) However, ask most performers if they relish the thought of delivering a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and you’ll hear the same answer: definitely not.
The question is: Why?
“[It’s] a tricky song,” says actress and vocal coach Kate Vander Linden, who starred as Jovie in the First Broadway National Tour of Elf the Musical. “If you start in too high of a key, it’s inevitable that you will have to completely change keys half way through, or the high note at the end is unreachable (unless you’re Beyoncé). You’ll sound like a squeaky toy unless the key is just right.”
That's why you're all but guaranteed to hear seasoned performers of the song at sporting events starting the song on a very low note ("Oooooooo say….?")—they're preparing themselves for the roller coaster octave-ride upward that comes later.
And while the song’s one-and-a-half octave range isn’t necessarily a stretch for elite performers (Mariah Carey has a five-octave range, for example), the sudden leaps between low and high notes and changes of pitch make it a very difficult song to sing.
That's not the only reason singers dread the National Anthem.
With most songs, it’s unlikely the entire audience will know each and every word and note. Not so with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Remember: performances of the song are typically done in front of thousands of people who’ve heard it and sung it thousands of times before. (As musicians say, you can hit 99 out of 100 notes. It's that one missed note the audience will notice.)
“It's the setting that raises the stakes. Typically there is a lot riding on this,” says singer Mella Barnes, who notes that, despite the large groups typically present for the performance of the song, hearing the National Anthem is rarely the main event—and impatient audiences can be tough crowds.
“There are also so many examples of great anthems (Whitney Houston comes to mind) or terrible examples (Fergie) that a lot of singers can psych themselves out," Barnes says. "It's also the only song a singer will perform that night, so they only have one chance to do a good job as opposed to a whole show or even a couple of songs. It's nerve-wracking for even the best of us!”
And for more awesome earworm trivia, don't miss these 40 Facts About Music That Really Sing.
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