Proudly hailing a stadium-sized singing talent

For Christopher A. Nusbaum, who was born blind, singing the national anthem at Camden Yards is just another way the 8-year-old has hit it out of the ballpark in the game of life

April 16, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Eight-year-old Christopher A. Nusbaum is an accomplished piano player, at ease singing for a crowd and well-versed in radio speak.

There is no note of shyness about Christopher, an engaging second-grader who has been blind from birth. He has taught himself piano, written a few musical compositions and is now testing his mettle on violin.

He likes jamming with his guitar-playing cousin and acting as the DJ at a replica of a sound studio that occupies his "office" in Taneytown.

"We used to call his office the dining room," said Wendy Nusbaum, Christopher's mother.

While fiddling with the dials, Christopher explained that he named his ersatz station WCHR, which includes the first three letters of his name.

"It plays contemporary hip radio," he said. "I like country music, and I am now into rock. But I still don't like rap."

Listeners heard Christopher on WBAL 1090 AM radio Friday. He sang the national anthem at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, just before the team took the field against the Anaheim Angels.

The Orioles had earlier invited him to submit an audition tape, on which he sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" a capella.

"It is not a hard song to sing, not for me anyway," Christopher said last week. "I have known how to sing it for a long, long time, about three years."

And, to add a little emphasis, the superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools, delivered the tape to the team. Charles I. Ecker had heard Christopher sing at the county's Tournament of Champions last month and was certain the Orioles would want to listen, he said.

"Christopher is there because of his voice," said Ecker, who planned to take his wife and two grandchildren to the game. "People are in for a treat."

The Orioles listened and called Christopher with a date earlier this month.

"We get a lot of tapes, but we have 81 anthems to fill, so there is a lot of opportunity," said Monica Pence, Orioles spokeswoman.

Wendy Nusbaum said she was a tad nervous, but her son was not.

"Stage fright? He has none," she said. "Just give him the microphone."

Christopher had never sung to a stadium-sized crowd before Friday, but he has lent his boyish soprano to several Lions Club performances.

He sang the anthem for the Frederick Keys last season and has been invited to do an encore at the minor league team's ballpark in June.

When he was 3, he gave country star Kenny Rogers a command performance backstage at the Baltimore Arena. A photo of that encounter hangs in the Nusbaums' family room.

Christopher also has taped radio commercials for his parents' furniture business and has frequently called in his comments to talk show programs.

"I have to watch what he listens to," said his mother.

He eagerly speaks out for the I C.A.N. Foundation - another play on his initials - that his parents established to help fund technology advances, equipment and camp vacations for other blind youth.

The school system provides the technology and an aide so that Christopher can keep pace with other pupils in his class at Runnymede Elementary. But few families can easily afford the costly Braille printers and embossers for their homes.

"I am the spokesperson," Christopher said. "We are helping blind and visually impaired children get the things they need."

As he prepared for his Camden Yards debut, Christopher said he was "only nervous for one part." He feared the crowd's traditional midanthem "O" would startle him a bit and throw him off key.

But with a little practice, he was ready.

All last week, as he rehearsed at the family's grand piano, he asked his father, Mike Nusbaum, to sound the roaring "O."

Heidi Lippy Sprinkle, a family friend, has twice sung the anthem at Camden Yards and offered Christopher advice.

"When you get to the `O,' you have to go with the crowd and conduct it with your arms," she said. "When they simmer down, go on with the rest of the song. It is an amazing experience."

Sprinkle often sings duets with her young friend, whom she called "gracious and intuitive for all his little years."

"Fans will get a blessing they are not expecting from a boy with an exquisite voice. Christopher has the gift of music."

Christopher donned a new Orioles cap and jersey and made a pitch for team autographs.

He also stayed for the game. It was his first visit to Camden Yards.

Christopher's entourage - his parents had 47 tickets for family and friends - cheered from the stands.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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