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Country Stars Share Their Tips on Singing the National Anthem

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CMA Close Up/CMA/ Nashville, TN -- By Nancy Moran
At one time or another, almost every Country vocalist sings the national anthem at one or more events. Settings could range from a county fair to the Super Bowl, but each performance has one thing in common: All are challenged by one of the most difficult and meaningful songs anywhere in the American repertoire.

Here’s what five artists — Burns & Poe, (Keith Burns and Michelle Poe) Edens Edge (Dean Berner, Hannah Blaylock and Cherrill Green), Brett Eldredge, Matt Gary and Neal McCoy — have to share about tackling the song’s technical and lyrical hurdles.

GETTING STARTED

Eldredge “When I was 6 years old or so, I went to a neighbor’s house and got paid to sing the national anthem in this manly voice because I was trying to sound like an older guy. My whole body shook when I did it, but I sang all the way through and got my $5. That was my introduction to show business.”

HONOR THE SONG

McCoy “One of my pet peeves is singers taking liberties with the melody of the national anthem. Don’t mess with it. Don’t screw it up by changing the tempo and some of the melody. Take pride that everybody in the place is singing one song, they’re singing it together and you’re leading.”

Poe “I’ve seen so many people go off the melody and sing every lick they know and then forget the words because they’re concentrating on what they are doing.”

FIND YOUR KEY

Gary “I was so afraid of making sure I started off the right note. I had it on my iPhone so I could listen to it. And when they called me up on the stage, I just tried to hum it and keep it in my head until they said ‘Go!’”

Berner “When you’re singing in a group, the melody voice is the one that you pay the most attention to. So we made sure Hannah felt comfortable in the upper parts of the song. With our group, we all fit together like little pieces, as far as our ranges. So when a key works for Hannah, generally it works well for me and Cherrill too.”

Burns “Sometimes, when it’s a bigger production, like the (Nashville) Predators or the (University of Tennessee) Lady Vols game where there are 14,000 people in the stands, I’ll strum my guitar to get the right key. When we do it a cappella, I hit the high note in my head before we walk out to the microphone because I know I start an octave down from it.”

FLYOVERS, ECHOES AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS

McCoy “The most difficult part is the slap-back echo you hear. If I ever worry, it’s about that. I don’t wear ear monitors, so you just concentrate on listening to yourself and not wait for the note to come back over the loudspeakers.”

Blaylock “Ear monitors are your best friend for sure.”

Berner “One time we sang at a NASCAR race and they shot off a lot of fireworks at the end of the song. We had no idea what was happening. We just heard this loud boom behind us. You just have to stay focused and really in tune with each other.”

Gary “Right before I went on the stage, a guy from the crew said, ‘We have these A-10 bombers and they’re not the fastest planes. We can’t speed them up real quick, but just watch me and I’ll give you this motion if I need you to speed it up and that motion if I need to slow down to help with the timing of the planes.’”

REMEMBER THE WORDS

Burns “The biggest fear for me is the words. I just sing them over and over, pretty much all day. And I never do it on any other song I perform or any other thing I do. I never worry if I mess up a word that’s just part of the show; I’ll make a joke about it. But the national anthem is the most scrutinized of any performance that you do.”

Gary “I don’t worry about it, but you never know. Sometimes your brain just forgets. If I miss a note, they’re not going to remember that. If I forget the words, I’m going to be on a really short list of people who have forgotten the words. And I haven’t forgotten them yet!”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Eldredge “People are so passionate about the song, because it’s our anthem. That’s America completely. Remember that the people in the crowd want you to do well, and they’re going to be singing along with you. So just do it like you were singing in your living room and knock it out.”

McCoy “Just relax. There’ll be plenty of places for you to show your voice off. This is not it.”

Gary “Practice. Take a deep breath. Know it’s going to be OK and just enjoy it. I did. I loved it.”

Burns “And don’t forget to take your hat off!”

On the Web: www.BurnsAndPoe.com, www.EdensEdge.com, www.BrettEldredge.com, www.MattGary.com, www.NealMcCoy.com

© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

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