Oh, Say, Can You Sing?

When the Provo Angels begin their inaugural season June 16, fans will be in for a special treat: free beer for anyone wearing Speedos and a tank-top!

I’m lying, of course. Beer, free or otherwise, is not permitted at Larry H. Miller Stadium (formerly The Place Where the BYU Baseball Team Played), not even by the twilight’s last gleaming. What fans will get, however, is a fine rendition of the national anthem, sung by some of Utah Valley’s finest amateur singers.

That’s right, they’ll be regular people, folks just like you or me, except they can sing. Auditions were conducted Wednesday and Thursday to find area talent willing to warble that notoriously difficult song “a cappella” (literally, “with a cap on”) in front of the hundreds of baseball fans who will presumably fill the stands.

“We’re looking for showmanship,” said Michelle Kramer, one of two energetic young gals in charge of public relations for the new team, which as I understand it still consists of hypothetical players. “We need someone who’s not nasal, who’s clear, and who will get the crowd going.”

(For getting the crowd going, of course, nothing beats the national anthem, what with its 3/4 time and use of popular words such as “perilous” and “ramparts.” Well, free beer might, but we’ve already addressed that issue.)

There are 34 home games scheduled this summer, each of which needs a different singer. The auditioners Thursday night ranged from old to young and male to female, though mostly young and mostly female. Michelle and her partner, Amy Jo Fluharty, had them each sing the first verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as it matters very little whether someone is adept at “Phantom of the Opera” tunes when it comes to opening a baseball game (and let us thank goodness for that).

A few singers obviously had operatic training, trilling their R’s and keeping strict tempo. Others sang like pop stars, some with the attitude that there’s no reason to sing only one note per syllable when you can sing nine, much like Destiny’s Child or Mariah Carey or any of those other people you kids today are so fond of, with your rock ‘n’ roll and your MTV. There were basso profundos and basso terribiles. All of them showed courage for even getting up in front of that stadium full of … well, full of no one, because there wasn’t a game. But when there IS a game! Oh, buddy, then it’ll be nerve-wracking.

It’s not easy to sing in public. When I was 8 or so, I had to sing a solo in church as part of a children’s program, those children’s programs being designed, like youth sports, to humiliate young people and instill shame in them at an early age. I expressed no desire to sing the song, mind you, and while I did my best, my performance caused several members of the congregation to convert to other faiths. When I protested to the woman in charge of the program during a rehearsal that even the other children were making fun of me, she insisted it was because I was so good. (I failed to see the logic then, and I fail to see it now.) I’m sure I’m a better person for the experience, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me.

So I could relate to how these brave souls felt. It was nerve-wracking just watching them, in fact. The national anthem is a song that, if sung badly, is sung REALLY badly. There’s no middle ground. You root, root, root for the singer; if she doesn’t nail that high note on “free,” it’s a shame. We heard MANY bombs bursting in air that night….

I was entertained by the unusual, uh, interpretations I heard of the song’s lyrics. Several people sang “perilous” as “pair-oh-luss.” A few more sang “for the land of the free” instead of “o’er the land of the free.” One singer clearly began the song not with the word “oh,” but with the word “whoa.” Fortunately, no one sang, “José, can you see?,” because that’s a really old joke. (Also old: “And the home of the Braves.”)

It’s up to Michelle and Amy Jo who gets to sing at a Provo Angels game, and perhaps even get touched by an angel. But one thing’s for sure: I was kidding about the Speedos and tank-top thing. Please, don’t wear them, not even by the dawn’s early light.

Column-writing by assignment: My bosses thought it would be fun to send me to these auditions and write a column about it. It ran on the front page of the paper, instead of the usual A-2 spot, as what we in the business call a "centerpiece." Quite a good spot, and flattering indeed to be sent somewhere specifically for the purpose of writing something funny about it.

Flattering, yes, but also highly pressurized. Not only did I HAVE to come up with a column from the experience, but I had to write it in about an hour, too.

The style of it is slightly different, what with the actual quotes and relative sticking to the facts, but it still has that "Snide Remarks" scent to it. Considering it's not something I'd have written about normally, and considering how little time I had to write it, I think it turned out pretty well. I'm pleased with it, anyway, and so were my bosses.