Hi everyone. It’s certainly been a while.
I’ll be honest: I won’t be blogging nearly as frequently as I had in the past. Which I’ve said previously. But I’m taking another crack at it due to my recent increased involvement in the social mediasphere. More on that later.
In the meantime, let me tell you about what I did yesterday morning:
This is not what the announcement on the Nats website looked like several weeks ago. At that point, it mentioned that in-person auditions would be on Saturday, March 12. And it gave instructions on how to apply. Only the first 100 applicants would be accepted. My trusty wife, K, nudged me to get in my email, a headshot, and my cantorial resume I had used for high holiday gigs a few years back. She submitted hers as well.
A week later, we received confirmation emails: we were in! And earlier this week, another email with specific instructions: the centerfield gate for Nats Park would open at 9:30 to let auditioners in. They’d be locked again at 10:00, so make sure that you get there on time (or even early). Renditions of the Star Spangled Banner could only be up to a minute and a half; after that one could get cut off by the judges.
Even with this information, we really didn’t know what to expect. Would we be auditioning in the stands? In one of the conference rooms? Would auditions take place simultaneously? What would the caliber of the other auditioners be like?
As for me — I’m no stranger to the Star Spangled Banner. I was even chosen to sing it at my high school graduation over two decades ago. And since then? I’ve led high holiday services and sung for upwards of a thousand people at a time. Surely this would be no problem. K was also in the same boat with her singing and cantorial experiences. And she just has an awesome voice.
We arrived to the stadium at about 9:00 yesterday morning. It was cold — colder than we had dressed for. But at least we could park in the adjacent garage — something we could never do on crowded game days. It looked like we had a good 50 people ahead of us in line. We saw people of all ages, some dressed up nicely more casually. The couple in front of us seemed to know just about everyone in line — overhearing them made it feel like K and I were the only ones there who weren’t somehow associated with the Washington Choral Arts Society.
But they opened the gates, allowing us to march right in. We checked in at a table and were assigned numbers. We sat in order in the front section of the park, right behind home plate. These were the seats we’d never sat in before — because we’re cheap. And prefer spending considerably less than $65 a pop for the privilege. But today — we had front row seats to — well, the first two minutes of every single baseball game. Repeated over and over again.
Because that’s precisely what happened. In groups of five, singers lined up at the visitor’s dugout. And then, one by one, they came out onto the field to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Our national anthem. Over and over again.
Did I mention that there was a microphone on the field? Connected to the sound system in the park? With a noticeable delay? This was the big time. Yikes…
So — #1 came and went quickly. It was a man in his 40s with a pretty good voice. We all applauded after he finished. Next up was a woman with an incredible voice. We clapped for her, too. And then the next one — great. The one after that? Amazing.
I suppose I was expecting at least a few people who would fit the “outrageously abysmal American Idol audition” level of talent. But no. Every single person who was there had some talent. There were a few who started too high. Or stopped in the middle. Or changed keys several times during their renditions. But because of the moderate level of hoops people had to jump through to actually get the audition slot, people took it quite seriously. Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that there would be less of a chance to get on national television by making a fool of yourself.
We kept on listening to each of the singers, one by one. Singing the same anthem. Some of them sang it straight, others were more intricate. Some held the microphone; some left it in its stand. Some were more reminiscent of opera singers; some were totally Mariah-ing it up.
And the fumes! I forgot to mention the epoxy fumes from the repainting which was going on right in the next section. The painters were wearing full-on gas masks, but we got to experience the odor straight on while we listened. It was sort of like the sensation we all have experienced when getting completely smashed on a Saturday night and finding yourself waking up in the alley behind a Home Depot with your iPod playing Celine Dion on repeat.
There were also a few choral groups auditioning together. One was a high school group that and a bunch of kids who looked like the anti-Glee. There was an adult choral society with some nice harmonies. A group of four kids, probably all younger than twelve, were practicing their harmonies behind us — but lost them as we only heard the melody as they came up. A few young girls were there with parents in tow.
And the steel guitar guy. The only instrumentalist of the bunch, he played beautifully. He was somewhere around number 30. It was getting closer to my turn…
As each participant sang, I felt less confident in my own abilities. Had I practiced sufficiently? Had I picked a good key? Did I look okay? Would the delay between my voice and the P.A. system royally screw me up?
It finally came time for me to get “on deck” and stand near the dugout. The guy singing in front of me chose a note on his iPhone, sang the anthem beautifully, and ended the last word, “brave,” having it ascend two more steps. So it was more like “braaaaa–aaaaa–aaaaaaave?” (The question mark, by the way, is there because the anthem itself is simply a bunch of questions, albeit rhetorical. I like that idea. Instead of having a declarative “We’re number one!” approach, it’s more Chandleresque, as in “Could we be any more number one?” But I digress…)
I walked towards the microphone, passing the guy who had just finished. I offered my hand and he shook it. My body continued shaking as I walked the rest of the way. I decided I would hold the mic in my hand so I could control the volume myself.
I announced my name in the microphone when prompted, and was taken aback by how loud it was. And the delay! It was like the voice of God repeating what I had said — only if God had a whiny and somewhat nasal inflection. I was told to start when I was ready…
Oooh say can you see? By the dawn’s early light…
Dammit! I had started slightly too low. My intonation was off. And at that moment, things started to unravel. I remember perilous fights, but I’m pretty sure the words before that were a jumble of mixed up ones that simply didn’t make sense. HOW COULD I FORGET THE WORDS TO A SONG THAT I HAD JUST HEARD 46 TIMES IN A ROW?!? At that moment I forgave Christina Aguilera for her stint at the Superbowl. Even though it wasn’t a huge crowd, it was intimidating — singing for a group of three or four who seemed so far away in the stands. (Turns out they were only about five rows out.)
But you know what? I think I reclaimed it at O’er the ramparts we watched. I don’t have video of me (camera issue), but perhaps that’s for the best so I don’t overly criticize myself. I did the best I could, and I remember people clapping for me. That’s a nice feeling at the end of any performance.
As I walked back and it was K’s turn, we gave each other a quick kiss and kept walking. I was able to get her on video from the dugout:
We waited for the next wave of singers and then were led out, around the field through the loading dock. We were told that the singers selected would hear via email over the next few weeks.
It’s unlikely that I’ll get chosen. There were people there with far more talent than I. But I’m certainly glad I did it.
I’m starting to practice for the 2012 season just in case…
By the way — I’ve blogged recently at Aiming Low, a wonderful site with some great, talented writers. You can find my piece, Of Slugs and Groupon Codes, here. And I’m also co-hosting a podcast with the wonderfully talented Faiqa of Native Born. You can find us at http://www.HeyThatsMyHummus.com.