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Home of the brave: Austin-area singers audition for national anthem spot at Dell Diamond

A statue of baseball great and team owner Nolan Ryan stands in front of the main entrance of Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT News
A statue of baseball great and team owner Nolan Ryan in front of the main entrance of Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Tex.

The start of the Round Rock Express season is an opportunity for some baseball players to audition in the hope of getting called up to the World Series champion Texas Rangers. But for dozens of Central Texas performers, the goal is to stay at the AAA level and sing the national anthem at a home game for a Dell Diamond crowd.

The Express will play 75 home games this year, starting Friday. Most national anthem opportunities are already promised to community choirs, bands and other organizations. This means of the 100 or so people who auditioned, only 20 to 30 will get a chance to sing for real.

Auditions took place in February at the Kalahari Resort in Round Rock. Singers of all experience levels paced the hallways or tried to chat away their nerves with their neighbors. They were all waiting to sing their version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and gain a spot to perform it before a game this season.

The singers were put into groups of 10 on a first-come, first-served basis.

David Gay sings bass for the a cappella quartet Looking For Treble. They auditioned in the second group for the judges. He said they cleared one of the biggest hurdles for any audition.

“We remembered all the words,” Gay said. “You get to the second page of the song and rockets are going off and everything else, there’s a tendency say, ‘Well, what’s next?’”

This brings up a few key things to know when it comes to singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" for others.

First, it’s a hard song to remember. It’s got “twilight’s last gleaming” near “gallantly streaming,” a combo that can send some performers into a doom loop of made-up lyrics, while they try to remember which verse they’re on. These tend to live on forever on YouTube.

Second, this song is hard to sing — even for professionals.

Gina Chavez is an accomplished recording artist from Austin. She has sung the national anthem for Austin FC games and most recently for the women’s NCAA tournament second-round game at the Moody Center. She wasn't auditioning, but she offered a key insight into her approach on the Vamos Verde podcast. She says the first note is critical to a successful anthem. Otherwise, you end up in a register you can’t sing.

“That’s the main thing,” Chavez said. “When I’m walking out on the pitch, I’m literally singing that note in my head, which I think is a B-flat for me.”

There is a lot of waiting for anthem singers on game day. Announcements for team sponsors and promotions happen on the field, all while the singers stand with a microphone in hand, waiting to hit the first note.

Auditions are performed in front of a group of hopefuls and three judges looking to see what energy the singers bring to the performance.

“We don’t expect everybody to have the most professional voice, but we want confidence, strength. We need it to be march-like so an audience can follow along,” said Laurie Winckel, a vocal coach based in Hutto. “They’re basically song leaders, and we need the audience to have a strong model on the field so everybody can sing, everybody can participate.”

So try to stand out as a performer, but don’t stand out too much.

And there are logistics that the Express — and most other teams — are concerned about. Colin Perry is the multimedia marketing coordinator for Round Rock who helped assess the talent.

“I’m looking for someone to, as goofy as it sounds, stay within those 90 seconds,” he said. “Baseball is really big on time and schedules and it’s important to stay in those boundaries.”

That’s right — all this is for 90 seconds of glory, or perhaps infamy.

Jimmy is the assistant program director, but still reports on business and sports every now and then. Got a tip? Email him at jmaas@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.
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