Oh, say, can you sing?

Audition: Professionals and amateurs, kids and adults, try out for spots in Bowie's national-anthem lineup.

March 04, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

For those few minutes, there will be no arguments in the stands about who gets to hold the cotton candy, no gum chomping or tobacco chewing. And if Marilyn D. Wills gets her wish, she'll stand along the first-base line next to the home team dugout and sing a slightly gospel version of America's greatest hit: the national anthem.

She closes her eyes and can see the Stars and Stripes in all its glory. "It gives me chills every time I sing it. I love this country, and I love this song," said the 40-year-old Army lieutenant, who was among dozens of soloists and groups auditioning yesterday at Prince George's Stadium -- home of the Orioles' Double-A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox.

Synonymous with baseball and apple pie, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an especially important feature in minor league stadiums such as this one south of the Anne Arundel County line.

This is the place where people like 5-year-old Luke Block are stars.

His partly shouted, partly sung "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch has won standing ovations and wild cheers from the crowds in past years.

Yesterday morning, Block was the youngest soloist to audition to sing the anthem.

He got a nod from his mother, Julie, and belted out "Oh, say can you see ..." without seeming to notice that the microphone was nearly as big as his arm.

"He's got more guts than me," his mother said, smiling in the stands.

Phil Wrye, the team's assistant marketing director, heard "The Star-Spangled Banner" 36 times yesterday morning. "Everyone's got a slightly different style. We hear operatic, jazz, gospel and then just straightforward versions," Wrye said. "But with 71 home games, we like to mix it up."

Yesterday, Sarah Hoyes of Prince Frederick and her teacher, Sarah Moran of Dunkirk, played a violin duet.

A vocal duet by Darlene Edwards, 15, of Glen Dale and Kelli Ryan, 14, of Bowie was interpreted in sign language by Melissa Bronson, 18, also of Glen Dale.

None of them has performed before a crowd as large as the 5,000 to 10,000 people who regularly attend Baysox games.

Thrill of a lifetime

"For a lot of people, a chance to sing at the game makes their whole week, their whole year, their entire lives," Wrye said. "It's a thrill for them."

When Virginia Saunders finished her audition, for example, she announced, "Play ball!"

"I've always wanted to say that," she explained as she walked off the field.

Saunders, a vocalist who graduated from Catholic University and works as a talent agent, has performed for decades. But, most of those auditioning yesterday have never performed before audiences much bigger than a gymnasium full of people.

"We want to make sure the performers are going to be comfortable in front of a large crowd," Wrye said. "And we make sure they know all the words."

Lyric sheet needed

James L. Murphy Jr., a 17-year-old Largo High School student, acknowledged that he had to look up the lyrics.

"I printed them off the Internet last night," he said after a professional-sounding performance. "You hear the song a thousand times. But when you sing it solo, you realize what they're really saying ... "

It is a point of pride for Baysox promotional staff that during the team's seven-year history, the anthem has always been performed live.

"We have a tape, just in case," Wrye said. "But so far, we've never had to use it."

Last year at Camden Yards in Baltimore, a taped musical version of the anthem was played twice for Oriole games.

"We only use it in very extreme conditions," said Kristen A. Davolio of the ballpark's entertainment division.

Back-up roles

Performers offer to be available to fill in when the scheduled singer can't make the date, she said. At Camden Yards, about 400 performers and groups send audition tapes each year. The majority of the opening acts at the Orioles' 81 home games last year were local, said Davolio.

"It's very competitive," she said, noting that most of the performers have experience. "Forty thousand people can be intimidating for someone who has never sung before a large audience."

Local and national talent

Choruses from Timber Grove Elementary School in Owings Mills, Pikesville High School and the Calvert School are among past performers in Baltimore. Professional groups such as the Baltimore Symphony Chorus and the Handel Chorus of Baltimore have also sung the anthem, along with national stars such as Jewel and Lea Thompson.

The biggest name to perform at the Baysox stadium was country star Shane Minor for last year's minor-league all-star game, which was broadcast on ESPN2.

But, Wrye said, "We're a community team. We want the fans to sing the anthem. They aren't going to sign any record deals this way, but we want everyone to have fun."

Those interested in auditioning next year should watch for announcements in local newspapers or check the Baysox Web site at www.baysox.com. Audition tapes for Camden Yards appearances may be sent to: Orioles Anthem Audition, Ballpark Entertainment, 333 W. Camden St., Baltimore, Md., 21201. A letter indicating dates of availability and experience should be enclosed.

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